WHAT IS CANINE ENRICHMENT, AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
By definition, enrichment is "the act of improving the quality of something, often by adding something to it" (Oxford Dictionary).
Before we start to find enrichment activities to entertain our dogs, it's important to understand the whats, the whys, and the hows, so we can first gain confidence in the subject to help our dogs live fulfilling, happy, and enriched lives.
Our aim with this blog is to give you a little introduction into what is a massive subject, but don't worry, we'll be following up with more information in bitesize blogs.
Rather than overwhelm you, we will start by looking at the different types of canine enrichment at a basic and broad level. If you find an enrichment topic that you would like to pursue a little more, then fantastic, we will have further blogs to help you learn more.
ENRICHMENT. IT'S A WORD BOUNCED AROUND A LOT, BUT WHY IS ENRICHMENT IMPORTANT FOR OUR DOGS?
The key to a happy and healthy dog is regular enrichment and allowing them to engage in their innate behaviours, such as playing, chasing, smelling, chewing, and scavenging. Often undesirable behaviours in our dogs can be borne from a lack of enrichment, or more simply put, a lack of mental or physical stimulation.
I'm not a qualified behaviourist, so I'll not begin to discuss the advantages of enrichment in addressing behaviour problems. In my personal opinion, enrichment simply allows 'dogs to be dogs.'
It's not hard to do in some form or another. In fact, you probably allow your dog to seek some form of enrichment daily without giving it a second thought. Enrichment is everywhere for our dogs if you just stop to notice it.
It's something we avidly focus on in Moo Moo & Bear's lives, ensuring they have opportunities to gain confidence in their surroundings and live an exciting life (possibly more exciting than mine.)
In a nutshell, that's why enrichment is essential for dogs. It gives them an outlet for their natural, instinctual behaviours, so they don't show up in other ways. Enrichment activities can help your dog to build confidence. Ensuring your dog has the chance to explore, sniff, and think a little can both tire your dog and relax them.
Oh, and did I mention it's easy to do? What's not to like?!
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CANINE ENRICHMENT?
- Environmental Enrichment
- Social Enrichment
- Cognitive Enrichment
- Physical Enrichment
- Sensory Enrichment
- Food Enrichment
ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS - DO YOU VARY WHERE YOU WALK YOUR DOG?
Simply put, environmental enrichment is giving your dog a multitude of environments to enjoy. This is one that I focus on daily with the girls. I think it's important for your dog's health and wellbeing to experience a wide range of stimuli from varied environments. To achieve this, we simply visit several different places each week..… which is great for them and great for me too.
We are very lucky where we live we are just on the outskirts of the city and have the countryside right on our doorstep too. We have some beautiful city parks, Golden Acre Park is on the outskirts of the city of Leeds, and both the girls and I love it!
It is 137 acres of stunning parkland, woodland, open spaces, and beautiful gardens, varying in colours and scents throughout the year. In particular, the girls absolutely love the hidden gem of the woodland garden, where they hunt for squirrels.
MINNY BEAR SCANNING FOR SQUIRRELS ON A LOCAL WALK
SOCIAL ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS - ALLOWING YOUR DOG TO INTERACT WITH OTHERS SAFELY
We are big fans of the social part of owning a dog here at Moo Moo and Bear; it's a great benefit to both them and us. Whether in enclosed parks, on an organised group walk, or simply meeting other dogs while out and about, it's a vital part of your dog's wellbeing.
When dogs are together, they read each other's signs, learn from each other, and can interact with each other as 'dogs.' There is nothing I like to do more than to stand and watch either one or both of my two playing with another dog on our walks.
Not all dogs like to play, but even parallel walking with other dogs is a social activity that your dog can gain a lot from. For nervous dogs, they may gain confidence from another well-matched dog, or for over-excitable pups, they may learn to tame their bounce a little if paired with a calmer dog.
For dogs who are not keen on other dogs that are perhaps more people-focused, going for a walk with friends or having people over to your home is social enrichment. All those different smells and energy levels are all interesting and add something to your dog's day.
COGNITIVE ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS - STIMULATING YOUR DOG MENTALLY
Cognitive enrichment is any activity that gets your dog's brain whirring. Did you know that mental stimulation is just as crucial to a dog as physical exercise? It's actually more tiring than a dog walk. Only five minutes of using your dog's brain equates to an hour of physical activity. Isn't that bonkers?
So if you want your dog to be calm, relaxed, and content, adding some mental stimulation to their day is a no brainer. Boom boom!
SEVEN HAPPY BENEFITS OF MENTAL STIMULATION FOR YOUR DOG:
- Alleviates boredom
- Releases happy hormones
- Activates their brains
- Lowers stress levels
- Reduces destructive behaviours
- Increases your bond with your dog
- Builds your dog's confidence
Providing your dog with daily mental stimulation doesn't need to be complicated. Look for simple opportunities where your dog can problem solve and use their brain. It doesn't need to take long.
You can play Hide and seek games with their favourite toys or treats or teach simple training cues such as paws on or high five. If you need inspiration for ideas of training games to play with your dog, then these calm dog games are fantastic.
They are beautifully illustrated and have 52 different games and tricks that you can teach your dog, categorized by bond, play, focus, calm, and puzzle. When you have five minutes, you just draw a card and follow the instructions. They provide an effortless way to make sure you enrich your dog's day without having to think too hard about what to do.
There are also so many canine enrichment toys you can make yourself. One of our favourite DIY dog puzzles requires several toilet roll tubes, a box and some treats or dog food. This has always been a firm favourite for puppies and older dogs alike, and encourages confidence building. Simply scatter the tubes into the box and pop some treats in too, and hey presto! To make it harder, you can add some play balls (which are harder to remove from the box).
Another easy DIY dog puzzle requires only a toilet roll tube and some treats or kibble. All you do is take the tube, fold one end, pop some treats inside and fold the other end, and hey presto! To make it harder, you can use a bit of sellotape on each end once your dog gets the hang of this game. Another easy variation of this is an empty egg carton. Or an empty bottle with the lid off and kibble or treats inside.
Beware though; once you start making these toys, you will never look at your recycling in the same way!
PHYSICAL ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS - DIGGING PAWS, TORMENTED SQUIRRELS AND SHREDDED TOYS
Stop the press. Physical enrichment isn't just about going for a walk or having a run-around. Our dogs have natural instincts to engage in certain physical activities. These will vary by breed but include digging, chasing, burying, shredding, tugging, and retrieving.
OK….Own up… Who has holes in their beautifully manicured lawn? Yep….we do.
It's not very often that our two dig, but when they get a scent, their paws do get to work. Digging is an ingrained natural behaviour for some dogs…if they don't dig up your garden (you lucky folk), then I bet they dig up their dog bed, getting to the comfy spot!
There are ways to add enrichment that suits your dog's natural desires and keeps your beautiful garden hopefully intact. A dedicated sandpit or a ball pit can be an ideal solution for those that love to power their paws.
For dogs that enjoy tug, simply make time for a good game together a few times a week.
Allowing your dog to satisfy their natural urges is not just an excellent way to keep them out of mischief but a lovely way to increase your bond.
SENSORY ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS - DOG NOSE THEY NEED TO SNIFF!
Sensory enrichment is anything that uses any of your dog's five senses. So that's sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. As with most of the types of canine enrichment in this article, there is some crossover.
Dog's noses are incredible. Their sense of smell is 40 times greater than humans. It's been said that a dog could sniff out a single drop of liquid in an Olympic pool! They are also known as neophiliacs, which means they are attracted to novel and exciting smells.
Scentwork or nosework is an ideal example, linking both mental enrichment, food enrichment, and sensory enrichment. Our favourite game to play with Moo Moo & Bear is to scatter feed. Simply put, I throw a handful of delicious and smelly treats on the grass for them to snuffle on. Boy, you can hear their noses at work! Their noses are working at full pelt, finding the next treat, gaining confidence, and sniffing out the lot of them. Yum!
Treasure hunts are another great and simple game to play to put your dog's nose into action. Just place delicious-smelling treats around the room, on different surfaces for your dog to hunt out. You are sure to spot a waggy tail whilst they find them…..
FOOD ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS - YOUR DOG IS GONNA LOVE YOU FOR THIS
Most food enrichment activities intertwine with all other types of enrichment; they can be mentally stimulating, enriching for the senses, and physical.
Examples of enrichment activities that include food are:
Most dogs are driven by their tummies, and that makes for an enthusiastic dog to engage in any food-based enrichment.
By simply ditching the bowl and opting for a slow feeder or puzzle feeder you have found a super easy way to introduce a bit of enrichment into your dog's day. How easy is that?
HOW WILL YOU ENRICH YOUR DOG'S DAY?
So there you have it, from sniffy walks in new locations to raiding the recycling to make your own dog toys, there are so many ways to enrich your dog's life. None of it need cost a fortune, take up loads of your time, or be difficult for you to do.
For the most part, enrichment is just allowing your dog to live their best lives, doing the things that dogs love to do.
We'd love to hear about your favourite enrichment activities. Will you leave us a comment and share?