Canine Enrichment

Enrichment is an important part of improving our dogs’ lives, but why and how should you go about it and why is it important?


What is enrichment?

Enrichment means adding things to your dog’s life to allow him a more fulfilling experience. It can be as simple as letting him stop and sniff as much as he wants on a walk or as complicated as you want to make it.


Benefits of enrichment

Enrichment can reduce undesirable behaviors. Many undesirable behaviors are simply a result of boredom, and stimulating your dog’s mind can reduce boredom and thus the behaviors. In addition, it can also increase a dog’s ability to cope with stress in the environment. 


One study done in a lab setting, found that just giving dogs treats in a Kong reduced barking and increased normal activity and behavior patterns.


Types of Enrichment


Types of enrichment can be roughly broken down into five groups, with a great deal of overlap between them. Not all forms are appropriate for all dogs, but you can pick and choose a variety to give your dog the life he deserves.


Social enrichment is time spent with other animals or people. Remember, your dog does not need to greet every dog he sees on a walk (and in fact this is not recommended), but having a known friend over for a play date is one form of enrichment. Even just spending time with you is social enrichment. 


Nutritional enrichment can come in the form of puzzle feeders, chew toys, or stuffed kongs. You can also play “find it” around the house with kibble as a form of nutritional enrichment. Whatever you do, the goal here is to allow your dog to use his foraging instinct in a safe way.


Occupational enrichment is when your dog works for a reward. This can take the form of positive dog training, teaching anything from manners to tricks; or even playing fetch where the reward for bringing the ball back is getting to chase it again. Puzzle feeders can also fall into this category as well, as the dog has to work to get the treats out.


Sensory enrichment engages the dog’s senses. While this can include playing music or adding visual stimuli, it often means engaging with dogs’ strongest sense–smell. This can be done by adding scenting tubes to the area for the dog to smell, with scents ranging from herbs to commercially available prey scents. 


Even just going for a slow walk and allowing your dog to sniff everything he wants is great sensory enrichment. 


Physical enrichment means adding complexity to the environment the dog lives in. Ways this  can be done include a dig pit in the backyard, which can be made from a kids’ sandbox. You could also add a kiddie pool for wading in water, or a sprinkler.


Putting it all together

Depending on the amount of enrichment your dog needs, you can pick and choose from these categories to create a program and environment that suits your dog. For example, for my standard poodles I use puzzle feeders (nutritional and occupational), trick training (occupational), fetch in the yard (occupational), time spent with me and other humans and playing with each other (social). In the future I will be adding scenting activities (sensory) to their daily routine.


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