Easy Enrichment for Your Dog

enrichment

Enrichment for your dog doesn’t have to be complex, nor does it have to require expensive gear, toys, or other dog related things. We’re going to talk about simple ways that anyone can enrich their dog’s day and why it’s important to have some level of regular enrichment for your dog. 

What is Enrichment?

In the most simple terms enrichment for your dog is any activity that is a boredom killer. Things that serve to mentally occupy, that are fun, new, perhaps exciting, and break the monotony of home life. 

The reality for most dogs is that they have very little going on for them on any given day. They get to be in a house and maybe have a yard, and maybe some walks here or there. Maybe dog parks or doggy daycare (both which have a slew of negative consequences).

Enrichment doesn’t mean you have to leave your home, and there really are an endless variety to choose from, which means that there are solutions for every household!

Why is Enrichment Important?

To understand why these are a vital part of maintaining your dog’s behavioral health we have to take a look at what happens to animals that are lacking normal enrichment in their lives. These animals are often in conditions that are not natural, like is the case of dogs living the majority of their lives in homes/apartments. 

Animals in these types of conditions develop what are called stereotypic behavior. The behaviors themselves vary depending on the animal, and are defined as:

“behaviours that are repetitive, morphologically identical and which possess no obvious goal or function” and “do not arise in ‘normal’ animals in their natural environments. These behaviours may be maladaptive, involving self-injury or reduced reproductive success, and in laboratory animals can confound behavioural research. Stereotypical behaviours are thought to be caused ultimately by artificial environments that do not allow animals to satisfy their normal behavioural needs. Rather than refer to the behaviour as abnormal, it has been suggested that it be described as “behaviour indicative of an abnormal environment.”

This is a very well documented phenomenon that our dogs aren’t free from. In dogs we tend to see several different variations that can occur such as:

  • Heightened sensitivity to changes in environment or lack of ability to cope with changes
  • Restlessness or hyperactivity – struggling to settle or rest during down time
  • Destructive behavior or excessive chewing
  • Aggression and conflict between housemates
  • Light or shadow chasing
  • Obsessive behaviors like tail chasing, over grooming/licking
  • Overexcitement or uncontrollability out of the home
  • Obsessive window watching, often with strong reactions to things outside
 
These issues are not static either and tend to become worse over time, evolving into truly messy situations that take a lot of training to untangle! The good news is that enrichment is something that can help prevent these problems from developing in your dog and even ease current issues that you might be seeing with them.
 
Dogs that I see regularly who have problem behaviors all have weaknesses in their regular enrichment that often is part of the catalyst for their behavior issues. Providing proper enrichment for your dog is part of good animal husbandry and comes with taking care of a dog. 

3 Easy Activities to Ease Boredom

Changing up mealtime

The easiest way to add regular enrichment to your dog’s day is by changing how they get their meal. There are tons of different food toys, puzzle toys, and slow feeders to choose from, and it’s as simple as just using those instead of your dog’s bowl. Dogs are part of the scavenger niche and are meant to search out or hunt for their food so giving them an activity that takes a little more work than just mindless vacuuming from a bowl is a good place to start.

Another benefit is that with some toys you can easily prepare food in advance. With a toy that can be stuffed with food, such as a classic Kong, there are pretty much an infinite number of recipes for what to stuff them with, and it’s easy to start with just a mash made from your dog’s food. All that takes is a bit of water to make the mash, and time in the freezer to solidify. Then just take them out as needed!

A few minutes of prep leaves you with meals simplified and more beneficial to your dog’s overall wellbeing, a good trade off if you ask me. 

Sniffy Walks and Adventures

That scavenger side of our dogs has other facets as well, one being that they have a desire to explore and smell their way through new places. Having sniffy walks that are specifically focused on letting your dog smell their environment thoroughly are a very powerful way of providing enrichment to your dog and fulfilling one of their strongest biological needs. Adventure style walks are a tool that every owner should take advantage of.

Sniffing may not be the primary sense that you use to make sense of your world, but for our dogs it is and sniffing is not negotiable. Setting aside an hour for your dog to really get into sniffing and exploring will tire them out in ways that physical exercise alone cannot do. Plus, being out in nature is good for us as well! 

Scavenger Hunt

It’s time to up your treat game with your dog by turning treat time into a scavenger hunt. This is quite simple and all you have to do is hide the treats. The rules that I like to use are that you would hide things as if you’re doing an egg hunt for small children. Everything should be low to the floor if not on the floor, and not hidden soooooo well that it can’t be found within 10-15 minutes. I also don’t hide anything that would cause the seeker to climb or otherwise seek to go upward. 

This can be done with just your dog’s kibble if you’d like, it doesn’t have to be fancy at all. Simply make 10-20 portions out of their meal, even just 5 kibble in a portion is fine, and hide them while your dog is shut in a different room. Then release your dog and tell them to find the food. Within the first couple of times your dog will become a pro and happily be searching out their meal. 

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