We all know how important is to meet our dogs daily exercise needs, but making sure we provide them with enough mental stimulation can be just as important and have some huge benefits to their health and wellbeing.

In this article, we are going to look at the benefits of enrichment for dogs, and how you can provide this within day to day play and training.

Is your dog bored?

When our dogs become bored they can start getting up to all sorts of things we’d rather they didn’t! These include excessive barking, destructive behaviour like chewing or digging, attention seeking, hyperactivity, restlessness, tail chasing, or even becoming quiet and withdrawn. There can be many other reasons for these behaviours too so if you’re ever concerned about your dogs behaviour, it’s important to seek professional advice. If you think your dog could be bored, enrichment is a great way to help keep them occupied and they’ll find it just as tiring as an extra walk!

How can you help your dog?

Enrichment is defined as something you add to your dogs environment that they choose to interact with and that has a positive impact on their psychological or physical wellbeing. While this sounds daunting, there are lots of really easy enrichment activities we can create – it can be as simple as scattering some of their food on the floor rather than feeding them from a bowl!

There are lots of benefits to enrichment – it relieves boredom and stress, preventing all the problem behaviours that occur as a result. Just like humans, stress can really impact our dogs health, so relieving stress is really beneficial to their overall health and well being too!

To choose the best enrichment activities for our dogs, we need to look at the natural behaviours they really enjoy:

  • Sniffing and exploring their environment – their sense of smell is their primary sense, and the way they explore the world around them. 
  • Chewing – this one isn’t just for puppies! Dogs of all ages love to chew, and it’s a really calming, stress relieving activity that will help them to relax
  • Socialising – most dogs love spending time socialising with both humans and other dogs (just remember that not every dog is a social butterfly, so make sure they’re comfortable around people and dogs)

One of the easiest ways to add some enrichment to your dogs day is to get creative with how you feed them. Instead of feeding them from a bowl once or twice a day, we can use their food to create some really fun activities – and as we’re just using their normal food they’re not piling on the pounds with lots of treats!

Scatter Feeding

This is the easiest way to add some enrichment to your dogs day –  it’s as simple as scattering some of their food on the floor and letting them use their incredible sense of smell to find it! 

To start with, scatter the food in a small and easily accessible area so it’s really easy for your dog to find the food. If they’re happy doing this you can start to add in some variation – perhaps by scattering the food over a wider area, scattering some of the food out of sight, scattering the food over different surfaces/ textures or on different levels. You could even try putting some of the food in a cardboard box for them to rummage through. This is a great activity as it lets your dog make use of their incredible sense of smell, gives their brain a work out and it’s a really good confidence booster too!

Long Lasting Chews

Chewing is a naturally calming activity for our dogs, so it’s a great way to encourage your dog to settle down and relax – especially if you’ve got things you need to do without a dog under your feet! There are lots of healthy long lasting chews on the market so what you use is down to personal preference and what your dog enjoys – Yak Sticks are a favourite in our house at the moment. As chewing releases endorphins, it leaves your dog calm, relaxed and ready for a snooze, so it can be a useful activity to help calm down after something exciting like a walk or playing with their favourite toy.

Providing your dog with something to chew is also really useful in preventing unwanted or destructive chewing of other items – if this is a problem you have with your dog then rather than punishing them for chewing the wrong thing, try to redirect your dog to chew something they’re allowed to have. They’ll quickly realise that chewing on the right things will lead to praise, and they’ll probably find it much tastier than your favourite shoes too!

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are a great way to get your dogs brain working, and spending some time helping them to work out what to do is a brilliant way of strengthening your bond at the same time. There are some great puzzle toys on the market with varying levels of difficulty, but you can also easily create your own. You can create a simple DIY puzzle using a muffin tin and some tennis balls – place some of your dog’s food (or some tasty treats) inside the compartments of the muffin tin, then cover each compartment with a tennis ball. Your dog then has to work out how to get to the food by moving the tennis balls around! If your dog prefers tennis balls to treats, you can try using something else to cover the compartments as long as it’s safe and easy for your dog to move.

Training

Training is a brilliant way of spending time with your dog, building a stronger bond and fulfilling their need for companionship. You don’t need to be an obedience champion to give this a go – if you’re new to training you might want to start with some simple commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘lie down’. If your dog already knows the basics then you can start to introduce some fun tricks – things like paw targets and nose targets are not only great fun for you and your dog, they’re also a really useful way of keeping your dog still for things like grooming or vet examinations. You can find some great training videos on Youtube – just make sure you look for trainers that only use positive training techniques! 

Whether your dog is a real live-wire or a total couch potato, there are so many benefits to adding some enrichment to their lives – you’ll have a happier, healthier dog, and build a really strong bond with them at the same time.  Don’t forget to let us know how you get on!

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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