How to Create an Enriching Environment for Your Dog.
Environmental enrichment in the lives our pet dogs is an important part of responsible ownership. The significance of enrichment in dog rescue centres has, in recent years, become the focus of behaviourists. As a result, the need to improve welfare standards in rescue kennel establishments has been recognised.
What is canine enrichment?
When a dog engages in instinctive behaviours such as chasing, digging, sniffing, fetching and chewing, this makes him feel happy and content. In essence, this is what canine enrichment means. Every dog needs opportunities to engage in natural behaviours.
By doing so, it helps them to keep well in body, and in mind. In addition, it tends to help your dog become more focused. Appropriate enrichment can also play a major part in modifying undesirable behaviours.
Enrichment, therefore, is much more than just training your dog; it is about stimulating your dog’s mind and body, which in turn reduces stress and boredom.
Enriching activities include anything that your dog will find satisfying and stimulating. This could be something as simple as scattering food around the ground for him to forage for, or building a digging pit.
Different breeds may appreciate different styles of enrichment. Border collies are bred to chase and herd, so flirt sticks, or frisbee games will help to keep an active border collie engaged and enriched. Dachshunds love digging, so dig pits are ideal. Retrievers will enjoy hunting for tennis balls in long grass.
Interactive toys are great for any dog and can keep them occupied for a good amount of time. This is ideal if they need to be left at home for a while, but enriching your dog’s life should also happen when you are with him too.
Other types of enrichment include the social kind. Dogs are incredibly social creatures and they need contact with other dogs, as well as humans.
You could take your dog to the pet shop, the pub, or round to a friend’s house, for instance. Anywhere where your dog will encounter new sights, sounds and smells, will all help to keep his brain active.
Dogs have to be caged individually in rescue centres to ensure there is less risk of disease, or conflict. Therefore, it is essential for them to have environmental enrichment.
This might include toys, novel objects, or even novel sounds. Playing music, increases a positive state in dogs and knowing this, some rescue centres pipe soothing music into the kennels.
Similarly, when kennelled dogs are provided with food dispensing toys, for example, they have been found to be less vocal and more relaxed. Indeed, amongst domestic dogs, research has demonstrated that environmental enrichment reduces aggression, fear and anxiety. In addition, it can improve a dog’s ability to learn new things.
Pet dogs, too, can benefit from environmental enrichment. It is also beneficial for owners too, as it is likely they will find their dog is calmer, easier to handle and better able to learn. Ultimately, this creates a stronger bond between dog and owner.
Exercise is of course very important for dogs, but there other ways to create a stimulating environment for your dog. Here are a few ideas.
- Food dispensing toys.
These are excellent boredom busters for dogs and are great for times when the dog has to be left home alone. The Kong is one of the most popular.
- Scent games.
Dogs have a brilliant sense of smell and they love using their noses. There are lots of scent games you can play with your dog and this is a good way of entertaining the busier four-legged fellow.
- Tricks and training.
Any kind of reward based positive training is really enriching for dogs. Clicker training is easy to learn and you and your dog can have loads of fun learning new skills together.
- Follow my leader.
This sounds odd, but sometimes it is fun to let your dog take you on a walk. It is important to allow dogs to sniff their environment because this is how they make sense of the world.
Sometimes your dog may enjoy a leisurely stroll having change to stop and sniff, rather than a quick brisk walk around the block
Following scents and gathering information on the way, can have a calming effect on dogs. So, why not set off on a walk and let your dog follow his nose. You never know where he, or she, might take you!
- Novel Sounds.
Play your dog different sounds and noises and see what his reaction is. As well as music specifically arranged for dogs, you can even purchase sound effects of nature as well as dog and cat vocalisations.
Make sure you start with the volume low and if your dog appears startled by any of the noises, move onto a different one.
- Unusual foods.
There are lots of different things you could give your dog to try. Check out our other Holidays4Dogs article on safe foods and which ones to avoid. In the summer, you could provide your dog with frozen lollipops made from sugar free fruit juice, or yoghurt.
- Foody treasure hunts.
Scattering food around the house, or garden, is a great way to keep Fido interested and occupied. He will be using his powerful sense of smell and lots of brain power to seek out the treats. Rather than provide your dog’s dinner in a bowl every day, scatter it around the garden for him to find.
- Back garden agility.
Set up an obstacle course using broomsticks, or other articles found around the house and garden and teach your dog to negotiate it. You can also buy lightweight equipment suitable for use at home.
Dogs just love to dig and it will be even more fun if you hide some treats, or toys, for him to find.
Many dogs just love a game with bubbles! Make sure you purchase the non toxic variety meant for pets – very inexpensive but great fun for dog and owner.
Variety is most defiantly the spice of life – dogs do get bored with the same old routine, or the same old toys, so varying activities always helps to keep dogs happy and engaged with their owners. Just like people, dogs need mental stimulation and activities to do. Luckily, there are so many easy ways to make life more fun our furry companions. It can also be a lot of fun for owners too!