What is Canine Enrichment?
Welcome to part 2 of the enrichment blogs! Next up, is canine enrichment.
Let’s recap a bit:
Enriching an animal’s environment will enhance their quality of life by making it more rewarding and meaningful. It is also important to ensure that animals have reduced fear and distress.
Creating a pet-friendly home is a fundamental component of responsible ownership and becomes very rewarding as the relationship between an owner and their pet strengthens.
Dogs are very social animals; this makes social enrichment for dogs a necessity, not a luxury. Physical and mental stimulation should also be met via appropriate outlets for exercise and interaction with the environment and social stimuli.
TOP 3 CANINE ENRICHMENT IDEAS FOR DOGS:
The first 2 recommendations are based on opportunities for natural feeding strategies.
Dogs are omnivorous scavengers and to provide enrichment, dogs should be fed in a manner that encourages exploration rather than simply eating from a bowl.
Implementing these ideas can be more beneficial because they allow for problem solving opportunities.
Canine enrichment #1: Food/treat puzzles
These are a great investment because they are usually long lasting. They are available in a variety of difficulty levels and ready to use.
There are also many DIY options that are more cost effective and may also be fun for you to make. It’s also a great way to keep things cost effective AND to reuse some things before they go into the bin!
Use your imagination— empty egg cartons, toilet rolls, tissue boxes (any boxes really), newspaper etc. It is very important that you monitor your pet during these activities to avoid any choking or injury during their fun.
Depending on your individual dog, some may be completely confused or excited when presented a puzzle/alternative way to eat a meal. I have had experience with both, and it has really confirmed how different animals are to each other!
Adapting to individual dogs
My young female, “Scarlett”, grew up in a shelter in the Caribbean and quite often expresses some street dog behaviours. This makes her VERY food motivated (Lab owners know what I’m talking about!). I first started using puzzles for her because she ate incredibly fast.
Now, I realise how much it has benefited her mentally and physically. She tends to figure puzzles out within a few minutes. This has steered me to find the most challenging ones for her. I also ensure I rotate puzzles to change things up and prevent boredom.
On the other hand, my big lazy Mastiff mix, “Cash” is the complete opposite. He is a finicky eater, and usually doesn’t like to eat his meals immediately. I use more DIY feeding options for him in order to make them customisable to his specific level of problem-solving skills and motivation.
This is also a good idea for first timers to allow them ease into the new idea of enrichment and non-bowl feeding. If your dog is not food motivated at all (yes, they exist!), there are enrichment toys that do not involve food.
These are typically toys that have an outer material (such as a fabric tree stump with holes) filled with a few smaller toys on the inside that the dog will try to remove (such as little squirrels with squeakers). You can also throw some kibble or treats in there as well to make things even more exciting!
Be patient with your dog when first introducing this method of enrichment. It may take a few attempts for them to figure out the game and for you to figure out what is best suitable for their skill level and motivation.
Ideas for puzzles and toys:
- Treat dispensing balls
- Roll up towel with treats/kibble
- Freeze canned food, pumpkin puree, peanut butter etc. in rubber toys
- Ball pit with kibble/treats at the bottom
- Scavenger hunt (Hide kibble/treats/toys around the house)
I have no affiliation with Kong Company*, but I am slightly obsessed with their products. See what you can find and get creative. They are great for both wet and hard food. Some favourites include Wobbler, Wish bone, Gyro, Genius.
I also have no affiliation Nina Ottosson*, but these puzzles are another obsession. I have several of these and they are very durable and come in different levels. They get a lot of use from both my dogs and my cats
*Find links to products at the end of this blog.
Canine enrichment #2: Clicker training & teaching new behaviours
This is a great way to really strengthen the pet-owner relationship and enhance welfare. Using reward-based, operant conditioning methods allow the dog a degree of choice and encourages problem solving.
It creates a new, incredible understanding bond between you and your dog and also makes you feel very proud seeing your pet actively learn.
Teaching basic behaviours is important for successful navigation through life. The fundamental of clicker training is to capture a “natural” behaviour when your dog executes it.
It is completely up to the dog to figure out what behavior you are capturing, and they will have a trial and error period until you “click and treat” the behavior you are waiting for them to do.
There is no forcing the animal to do something which is very welfare friendly. Whatever is suitable for your dog, make sure to use their favourite treats and keep things positive!
Looking for the ideal training and reward treats for you pooch? Try our Puppy Lamb Treats.
Canine enrichment #3: Socialisation and adventure walks
We can all agree that most dogs are very sociable with humans and/or other dogs. If your dog is safe to interact with others, it will likely be very enjoyable for them to go on excursions and interactive walks.
These can be in addition to regular daily walks or replace them all together. The goal here is to change things up and allows for exploratory behaviour and choice.
Animals do prefer some predictability. But including some minor deviations from their typical walk will encourage exploration using all their incredible senses.
Let them take the lead of the walk and follow their noses. You can engage as well by picking up items, showing it to them, letting them smell it, see it, etc.
I really enjoy the one-on-one time with my dogs. The interaction between us and the environment really strengthens our bond and understanding of each other. If your dog gets along well with other dogs, you can also include them on these walks or allow them to play off leash in an enclosed area.
Canine Enrichment: Making your Dog Happy
I hope this two-part series has enlightened you about the importance of enriching your pets’ lives. This is not exclusive to cats and dogs. If you have any other pets there are many resources that have species specific information. I also hope that you feel confident and motivated to incorporate these practices into your pet’s life. Please ensure you monitor your pet during activities and seek veterinary advice/attention if required.
Links to products:
Hammerle, M., Horst, C., Levine, E., Overall, K., Radosta, L., Rafter-Ritchie, M., & Yin, S. (2015). 2015 AAHA canine and feline behavior management guidelines. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 51(4), 205-221.
Heath S, Wilson C. Canine and feline enrichment in the home and kennel: a guide for practitioners. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2014;44(3):427-449. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2014.01.003
Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W., & Ackerman, L. (2011). Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat-E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.
About the Author
Lorena S. is a Veterinary Student at The University of Queensland
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