Dog Enrichment

Dog Enrichment Activities: Stimulating Their Mind

Tired of coming home to scenes like this?

Dog Enrichment Activities. Tired of coming homes to scenes like this one?

What Is Dog Enrichment?

Enrichment is best described as anything that will mentally or physically stimulate an animal.  Enrichment helps give your dog something productive to focus her energy on, rather than destroying your house or becoming worried about the fireworks outside. Enrichment can also strengthen the bond between you and your dog as you work together during training and enjoy the results together.

What Dog Enrichment Activities Are Right For Your Dog?

Enrichment can come in many forms. When deciding on what enrichment to give your dog for the day, you’ll want to look at the natural history of your dog.  Is it Herding, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Working, Hounds, Terriers, or Toy breed? Looking at and identifying your breed’s history will help you make the enrichment successful for its purpose. Look at what highly motivates your dog to engage; is it a hound and scent drives them places or a herding dog that needs high-intensity exercise and problem-solving situations. Maybe your dog is a mix of multiple types of dogs. Consider what you already know about the things your dog enjoys and use those activities to design enrichment.

Physical Stimulation

Running, playing fetch, and wrestling with other dogs are all forms of physical stimulation and enrichment for your dog. There is an old saying that “a tired dog is a happy dog.” While this isn’t always true, it is a good guide. Going for a jog or playing fetch in the yard before everyone leaves for work and school can help your dog relax better while you are gone.

Mental Stimulation

No matter what breed you have, one of the first enrichment steps you can take is training your dog.  Mental stimulation is one of the most powerful enrichment tools to use on your dog. Many people forget that dogs, like people, can get tired from using their brain to solve puzzles, learn new tasks, and focus for extended periods of time.

Dog Enrichment Tools

Mental enrichment can be as simple as a stuffed Kong, or as complex as a puzzle feeder. For dogs who need more, there are interactive products that get harder as your dog learns.

Low-Cost Enrichment

Enrichment doesn’t have to be expensive, or really even cost anything. A few treats placed in the cardboard left when you finish a roll of paper towels can keep your dog occupied. Just fold over the ends and let your dog rip through the cardboard to get the treats. Of course, keep an eye on your dog so he doesn’t eat the cardboard.

Advanced Training: Mental and Physical Enrichment

A great way to enrich your dog on a rainy day is to practice going to the vet for stress-free vet visits when you don’t have a health concern. Most veterinarians are more than happy to accommodate these sessions and will help in any way they can by providing space to practice an exam with your dog. Doing this specialized training is a good way to give your dog a sense of control over an otherwise potentially scary situation. The more your dog understands what will happen and knows how to respond, the better the veterinary visit will be for everyone.

Dog Sports and Other Team Activities

Nose work, agility, field trials, and even herding training are becoming increasingly available all across the country. There is something for every type of dog. Training to be a therapy dog for nursing homes and hospitals is a great form of enrichment for laid back dogs – just because they aren’t destroying the couch doesn’t meet they won’t benefit from enrichment.

How to: Positive Reinforcement Training

Training with positive reinforcement will first and foremost build the bond and relationship between you and your dog.  Training will be most effective if you create a plan and break a behavior into steps. It’s always easiest if you start with something your dog already knows and build on it.

Rewarding Your Dog

Positive Reinforcement Training means rewarding your dog for doing the correct behavior while ignoring incorrect efforts. Positive Reinforcement Training is the method recommended by Veterinary Behaviorists and practiced by most trustworthy animal trainers.

Several Short Sessions a Day

If a dog shows signs of frustration or confusion, then take a step back and ask for a behavior that your dog knows well.  Remember you want to keep each session positive and short.  Ideally, do several 3-5 minute sessions a day.  Dogs really do enjoy learning and one recent study found that a dog would prefer to work for a reward than to just get the reward for doing nothing (McGowan et al 2014). 

Benefits of Dog Enrichment

Enrichment is really beneficial in preventing/lowering stress on a daily basis but can also come in handy during fireworks or thunderstorms.  If you create games and activities that are moderate to high intensity, it will lower their stress and actually promotes and encourages dogs to want to learn.  Studies have shown it increases their problem-solving skills and allows you to have a more confident dog.   A more confident dog can handle stressors like fireworks, vet visits, and unexpected visitors better.

Enrichment is Interaction

Training your dog gives him another way to interact with you, and another way to make you happy. Our dogs love us and do everything they know to make their people happy. Teaching them tasks you want them to do tells your dog.

Customize Your Dog Enrichment Plan

Often we think of enrichment meaning we have to buy new toys for our dogs which can become expensive.  Instead, pick certain favorite toys that are on a rotation schedule for your dogs.  Put the toy away for a week or two and then bring it back out again and you will receive that same reaction of a brand new toy. 

Put Your Dog’s Nose to Work

Did you just receive a package?  Use that box and shredded paper (junk mail works perfectly) to hide food in.  Put your dog’s nose to work!  Use perfume samples in different spots in the house, hide his toys or hide his treats. 

Dog Enrichment Playing with Bubbles.

The ideas for enrichment are endless, just always make sure that the item you create or buy is safe for your dog!   Plus, enrichment can also help you get that great photo because your dog is calmer and isn’t trying to come up with ways to bust boredom herself 🙂

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