Is your dog sitting home alone while you work to buy him biscuits? Perhaps you don’t have a dog daycare nearby, or it’s simply not in the budget. We all know bored dogs can get into trouble, like barking at the neighbors, digging, chewing, and seeking out things to do that may not please you.
Understanding what Environmental Enrichment means and the various types of enrichment can help you choose and balance activities that lead to a calmer, less stressed dog, one less likely to engage in troublesome activities.
Environmental Enrichment is the process of making your dog’s world interesting and stimulating, decreasing his boredom and lowering stress levels. It’s an important part of providing a great quality of life for dogs because of its proven positive effect on their health and well-being.
Techniques used in Environment Enrichment fall into several categories: Physical, Social, Sensory and Nutritional.
Dogs need daily exercise to be healthy. Most dogs do not get enough exercise being in the backyard alone. In our daycare and boarding programs at Dog Sense, we use jumps and agility equipment, a modified version of lure coursing, and play with other dogs to provide some of the physical activity a dog needs. These activities help to keep your canine agile and well exercised while meeting his muscular and cardiovascular needs.
For physical enrichment at home, a Flirt pole can be used to provide some of the same benefits. The Flirt pole is essentially a toy on a string at the end of a pole that the handler can make bounce and fly as it moves away from the dog -- simulating the thrill of chasing live prey. Your dog gets to run, jump, watch, and change direction as he chases his prey, the flirt pole.
It’s also possible to set up a simple agility course using common articles to form jumps, tunnels and weave poles.
However, physical enrichment is not just about exercise. Interaction with toys is also an effective way to physically enrich your dog’s world. When you offer a new toy to your dog, you’ve probably noticed that he’s excited by it at first, but he loses interest quickly because he gets used to the toy. Provide your dog with different types of toys in varying shapes, sizes, textures, colors, and scents.
For puppies, I have long recommended a rotational toy program, keeping your dog’s toys off the floor in a basket and offering only one at a time, replacing a toy with a new one from the basket when your dog isn’t playing with the previous toy and seems to need something to do.
For adult dogs, you can provide several toys at a time, and every day or so replace them with more toys from the basket, putting the old ones away. Much like a child who finds a toy at the bottom of the toy box and spends all day playing with it, dogs will get excited too when a much loved toy suddenly reappears.
Social enrichment fulﬁlls your dog’s need to interact with other dogs and people. Dogs will have varying degrees of interest in interacting with unknown dogs and people, but all dogs appreciate having a social circle of friends.
Play dates with other dogs can be an excellent enrichment activity for the socially-minded dog. For the people-oriented dog, a visit to see your family or friends may be enjoyed. For others, a cuddle session with their owner is all they need.
For the dogs who enjoy having a canine circle of friends, dog daycare can provide safe opportunities with known canine friends for dog-to-dog interaction and play.
For the people-focused dogs who are less sure about having canine friends, training classes, such as agility, obedience, and rally, are great social and physical enrichment activities.
At Dog Sense, your pet can participate in either individual or group training classes.
Taste, touch and smell are all used during sensory enrichment activities. Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell and giving them the opportunity to use it can be quite beneficial. Channel your dog's keen sense of smell and love of sniffing into an enriching activity, such as Nosework, Barn Hunt, or Tracking.
You can provide opportunities to taste different things by providing stuffed Kong’s layered with a variety of foods, such as treats, Cheerios, cheese and carrots. Or smear some peanut butter on a toy and let them clean it off. Hiking or walking your dog over a variety of surfaces provides the opportunity to exercise touch, sight and smell!
One of our favorite activities at Dog Sense is Barn Hunt, which is a sport where the dog uses its nose to find rats hiding in ventilated plastic tubes that have been buried in a hay bale maze (no rats are harmed).
Dogs in the wild were hunters and foragers. Tapping into this natural instinct by having your dog hunt and search for his dinner is an excellent enrichment activity. Rather than filling one bowl with all your dog's food, try dividing his food into 3-4 bowls and hiding them around the room so he has to search for them.
Or use a Snuffle Mat, a special mat made of strips of fabric that hide the food and cause the dog to push them out of the way with their nose while hunting each piece of Kibble.
In our Boarding Kennel at Dog Sense, many dogs get slow feeders. Originally designed to slow down fast eaters to help keep them from choking, slow feeders are also a great enrichment activity, as the dog uses its nose and tongue to locate and reach the pieces of Kibble.
Environmental Enrichment means enhancing your dog’s life so that he is presented with new things in his environment, opportunities to learn, and encouragement to engage in instinctive behavior. Experts agree that Environment Enrichment -- both early and later in life -- can help to slow cognitive decline. The principles of Environmental Enrichment should be an essential part of your dog’s excellent quality of life, whether provided at home by you or through supervised care at a facility like Dog Sense.