If you’re new to enrichment and looking for some inspiration, we’re sharing our top tips on how to choose the activities your dog will love.

Enrichment is defined as ‘something you add to your dog’s environment that they choose to interact with and that has a positive impact on their psychological or physical well being.’

Although this sounds complicated, it’s really easy to do and just involves adding some simple but fun activities to your dogs day – it can be as simple as just scattering some of their food on the floor!

Providing our dogs with adequate mental stimulation can be just as important as meeting their physical needs, and can help to prevent a wide range of problems that occur when our dogs become bored and under-stimulated such as excessive barking, destructive behaviour and hyperactivity.

To provide the best possible activities for our dogs, we need to look at the natural behaviours and activities that they enjoy. These will vary from breed to breed and dog to dog. For example, if you have a scent hound, providing some activities that involve sniffing are going to be really popular, whereas a Border Collie might enjoy the challenge of a puzzle type activity. There are so many ways we can enrich our dogs lives so get creative and you’ll find perfect activities your dog will absolutely love, whatever their age or personality. 

Sniffing

We all know how much our dogs love to sniff – there’s always that spot on a walk they just can’t tear themselves away from!

Our dogs sense of smell is their primary sense and the way in which they explore the world around them. Dogs have a sense of smell that’s over 10,000 times better than ours. They have two chambers within their noses, one for air passing to the lungs, and one entirely dedicated to smell. 

The part of their brain that processes the information they receive from the olfactory receptors in their nose is 40 times larger than ours, so letting our dogs sniff really does give their brain a workout as they process so much information about their environment through their sense of smell. This incredible sense of smell would have been vital to our dog’s ancestors as a way to find food and avoid predators.

While our pet dogs today have their meals provided and are safe from the threat of predators, they still love nothing more than to make use of this incredible sense. There are lots of activities we can create really easily that let our dogs enjoy a good sniff – it can be as simple as hiding their food around the garden, or dedicating time to let them sniff to their heart’s content on a walk.

Chewing

Chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs that goes way beyond the dreaded puppy teething stage. Our dog’s ancestors would chew on things like bones and the desire to chew is very much in our pet dogs too.  

There are some huge benefits to allowing dogs to chew:

  • It’s a stress-relieving activity creating a release of endorphins
  • It’s a great boredom reliever – perfect for when your dog isn’t able to be physically active as it provides them with something to do while they’re stuck indoors more than normal
  • Chewing is great for their teeth and oral health, helping to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy

Socialising

Dogs are naturally very social animals and enjoy interacting with both other dogs and humans. Providing your dog with the opportunity to interact with you through things such as training, grooming, enrichment activities or just spending time together is a great way to build your relationship while alleviating boredom.

It’s important to remember that socialising doesn’t mean your dog wants to interact with every person and dog they meet – while some find this enjoyable, others can find it very stressful so it’s important to make sure your dog is always comfortable with any social situations you put them in.

Simple DIY Enrichment activities to get started

Scatter Feeding

Scatter feeding is the simplest way to add some enrichment to your dog’s day – it’s as easy as scattering your dog’s food on the floor instead of feeding from a bowl!

To start with, scatter a small amount of your dog’s food on a small area of the floor and let them find it, we want to make the food really easy to find to begin with so our dogs get some quick and easy wins and want to continue.

If your dog is happy finding the pieces of food, then you can start to add in some more complexity and give them a little bit more to think about. You can begin to spread the food over a wider area so it takes them a little longer to get all the pieces, then try scattering some food out of sight so they really need to use their noses .

You can also make it more interesting by scattering the food on different surfaces/ textures or around different objects too. As well as being great fun, it’s a great way of building your dogs confidence  – just be careful your dog doesn’t find the objects scary or too exciting, we want this to be a calming activity rather than an exciting one! 

It’s important to add in the steps gradually, and always go back to easier levels in between – you want to make sure you’re adding fun to their day, not making it difficult or frustrating to get their food! If you feed raw or canned food, this is a great activity for the garden. If you want to try it inside, you can try putting the food in cupcake cases to help keep hygienic.

Cardboard Boxes

We love cardboard boxes – there are so many fun activities you can create for your dog with a simple cardboard box!

If your dog has enjoyed scatter feeding, then adding a cardboard box into the mix is a great next step! Try sprinkling some of your dog’s food inside a cardboard box (the box your Canine Brain Box came in is perfect for this!). They’ll have great fun rooting inside the box for the food and it’s a great confidence builder too!

If they’re enjoying routing round in the box then you can add other items to the box that they need to rummage around to find the food – crumpled up paper is great for this as are some empty plastic bottles, or even adding a few of their toys. Again, this a great confidence builder, but if your dog seems worried at any stage then take it back to the simple cardboard box and build things up more gradually.

If your dog is likely to eat the cardboard or the contents of the box try using a tastier, higher-value treat to get started so they’re going to find the treat more interesting than the cardboard.

Apples

Apples make a fun and edible food dispensing toy. Simply core the apple making sure all seeds are removed,  stuff the inside with some food or tasty treats, and give it to your dog to enjoy. It’s perfect for power chewers too as it’s all edible!

Amanda Griffiths
Amanda is currently training to become a professional dog trainer, and is passionate about the benefits of enrichment and mental stimulation on dog health and behaviour. She’s the founder of The Cognitive Canine Company, providing enrichment and behavioural support to owners of dogs that require crate rest, restricted exercise or have a long term condition that impacts their mobility. In her spare time, she enjoys trick training and rally obedience with her Shetland Sheepdog, Poppy.
http://www.cognitivecanineco.co.uk

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