While it’s important to make sure your dog gets enough physical activity each day, it’s equally important that they get enough mental exercise, too.
Canine enrichment refers to natural behaviours, activities and experiences such as sniffing, foraging, playing, shredding, licking, chasing, and chewing, that are designed to allocate these needs to positive outlets. Canine enrichment enhances the mental and physical well-being of dogs. These activities can include providing toys and puzzles to stimulate the dog’s mind, taking the dog on walks to provide physical exercise and mental stimulation, and providing opportunities for safe socialization with other dogs, humans, and species. Canine enrichment can help to prevent boredom and frustration in dogs, and can also help to improve their overall health and behaviour. Canine enrichment is an important aspect of caring for dogs, and can help to ensure that they live happy and healthy lives.
Enrichment is making adjustments to the dog’s environment and to the way they interact with their world. It is the goal to enhance the mental and physical wellness of the animals that we share our lives with.
A dog’s world is quite small when we bring them into our lives. Things such as fences, leashes, and couches can block their innate needs. While it’s important to make sure your dog gets enough physical activity each day, it’s equally important that they get enough mental exercise, too. A mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog.
Why is Canine Enrichment Important?
Canine enrichment is important as it helps to keep dogs physically and mentally healthy by providing them with activities and experiences as an outlet that stimulate their minds and bodies, as well as choice and control over how they spend their time. This can help to prevent boredom and frustration, which can lead to problem behaviours such as destructive chewing or excessive barking. In addition, canine enrichment can help to strengthen the bond between a dog and their owner, as it provides an opportunity for them to engage in activities together and to build trust and communication. Overall, canine enrichment is an important aspect of responsible dog ownership, and can help to ensure that dogs live happy, healthy, and well-adjusted lives.
Enrichment keeps a dog’s day interesting. It is just as essential to animal welfare as veterinary care.
Canine enrichment is an important aspect of caring for dogs, and can help to ensure that they live stimulating lives.
Enrichment: Increasing Mental and Physical Wellness
What Science Says about Canine Mental Enrichment
Many studies on the benefits of enrichment have been conducted on zoo animals, where the benefits range from decreased reactivity to stressors, improved learning, improved memory, reduced aggression and fear, reduced stereotypical and self-injurious behaviours.
In dogs, enrichment both early and later in life, have been shown to slow cognitive decline. Use of behavioural enrichment in dogs may act to promote neurogenesis later in life. Cognitive enrichment early in life appears to protect against development of age-associated cognitive decline and dementia.
A pilot study demonstrated that the welfare of dogs can be positively impacted by utilising a range of environmental enrichment (EE) activities.
Benefits of Canine Enrichment
- Allows your dog to engage in natural and instinctive behaviours
- Allows for a more balanced and happy dog
- Builds confidence and social skills
- Improves problem-solving skills
- Prevent boredom
- Prevent behavioural issues (destructiveness, barking, digging, escaping)
- Stimulate and assists in brain growth
Animals that are under-stimulated are at an increased risk for behavioral problems.
Canine enrichment can help with a wide variety of issues including:
- Cognitive decline
- Coprophagy (eating feces)
Many canine behaviour problems are caused by a lack of mental stimulation, and these problem behaviours improve with appropriate enrichment.
Dogs can be left feeling bored, frustrated, anxious and depressed when they lack an occupation, social activities, the opportunity to engage in normal canine behaviours and new experiences. Pet owners must give their dog an outlet for appropriate behaviour.
Proper enrichment for dogs builds confidence, releases stress, and strengthens your bond. Increased mental activity results in improved mental health and cognitive function in dogs.
Types of Canine Enrichment
There are different tiers of enrichment. Canine enrichment comes in many forms and can be administered in a variety of different ways. 15 minutes of mental exercise can tire your dog out just as much as a 30-minute walk. These types of dog enrichment work separately and together to improve behavioural health and overall quality of life:
Mental Enrichment is engaging the brain for cognitive function so the dog is participating actively.
This involves social interaction between your dog and others. Social enrichment is not to be confused with socialization, but fulfills a dogs’ need to interact with other dogs and humans through housing and other encounters. Socialization is a guided and safe exposure to the dog’s environment they live in so that they learn to be calm when exposed to new things.
A well-socialized dog will not become over-stimulated, fearful, or aggressive when exposed to new people, dogs, places, or objects.
Examples of Social Enrichment:
- Interact with friends and family
- Participating in obedience classes
- Supervised play groups
- Trip to pet friendly store
- Group housing of compatible dogs
Use Sniffspot’s private dog park locator for a safe and enriching experience for you and your dog.
Our Picks for Your Dog for Social Enrichment:
This challenges a dog by giving them a “job” that encourages physical exercise and mental stimulation. While some dogs do in fact have a formal job (e.g. service dogs), most dogs can be provided informal forms of occupational enrichment to fulfill them mentally.
All dogs were bred with purpose, to do something. However, with their unemployment rate high, “underemployed” dogs need stimulation.
Examples of Occupational Enrichment:
- Dog Sports
- Fly ball
- Pit to dig outside
- Food puzzles provide nutritional enrichment while requiring dogs to think and “work” to get the treat out from the puzzle’s interior.
Our Picks for Your Dog for Occupational Enrichment:
This involves altering the quality and complexity of the dog’s living space and giving aerobic exercise. Veterinarians recommend that dogs get between 30 minutes – 2 hours of low to moderate exercise per day. By keeping up with your dog’s exercise routine, you are helping keep your dog fit and healthy. Physical enrichment is an outlet for positive expression of natural behaviors.
Providing toys is one of the most common ways owners attempt to enrich dogs’ environments.
Examples of Physical Enrichment:
- Adding physical features to a run or kennel can increase the complexity of the environment
- For kenneled dogs
- Beds to sleep on
- A raised platform
- Doors that allow the choice of being indoors or outdoors
- This provides dogs with more control over their social and physical environment
- A better view of their surroundings
- A more comfortable place to rest
- A place to hide if frightened
- Access to outdoors
Our Picks for Your Dog for Physical Enrichment:
Sensory Enrichment – olfactory, auditory and visual stimulation
This includes stimulating the different senses of your dog including hearing, sight, smell, and touch.
Examples of Sensory Enrichment:
- Chew toys
- Food puzzles
- Playing music
- studies show that classical music reduced stress levels and increased resting and sleeping in dogs.
- Scent Work
Introduce your dog to novel odours
It’s been reported that placement of lavender-scented clothes in kennels had a calming effect, reducing the amount of barking and other activity.
Wells, D.L., 2009. Sensory stimulation as environmental enrichment for captive animals: A review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 118, 1–11.
- Introduce your dog to new textures (like a massage, brush, or bedding)
- Take your dog for a walk on a different route
- Being able to see inside or outside their environment
Our Picks for Your Dog for Sensory Enrichment:
This involves having your dog work for his meals rather than being served in a bowl, allowing your dog to more closely practice the natural behaviour of hunting or scavenging for food as a reward rather than eating out of a bowl. This prevents boredom. Feeding enrichment may also help to increase physical activity.
Examples of Nutritional Enrichment:
- Food puzzles and treat-dispensing toys are a great way to stimulate your dog’s brain while they are eating. They also work well in slowing them down to eat at a healthier pace.
- Snuffle Mats
- Treats in a muffin tin
Pet owners have lots of options to choose food puzzles, as this selection has exploded recently in the pet market.
Our Picks for Your Dog for Nutritional Enrichment:
We also love these products for enrichment.
Check out these DIY homemade puzzle toys.
Our Tips When Selecting Toys:
Safe, dog-appropriate activities gives your pet a richer, fuller life.
How do you know when you are overstimulating your dog?
Your dog will show stress signals, and are not engaged in the environment but rather actively avoidant and disengage in ways of trying to calm themselves down. You don’t want to overstimulate an environment.
- When you introduce your dog to a new mental enrichment tool, always start at an easy level and increase the difficulty gradually in order to avoid frustration and over stimulation
- When picking out an enrichment toy, consider your dog’s preferences and capabilities, making sure it is appropriate and safe for your dog
- Activity toys should be cleaned and dried after each use so that they remain sanitary (a lot are dishwasher safe)
- Keep your expectations realistic
Providing your dog with ways to exercise his natural instincts in safe, appropriate, and fun ways are activities that encourage your dog to problem solve, learn new skills and become more confident.
Enrichment activities are great not just for all dogs and their mental and physical health, but for those dogs not wanting to go outside in the cold or wet weather, elderly dogs who can no longer walk very far, or dogs recuperating from an operation.
Although we all appreciate the importance of physical exercise, for over 7,000 years humans have been selectively breeding dogs to meet our requirements. Pets deserve to use their brain and it is our responsibility to fulfill all their needs.
Sheepdog Riggs, Forever in Our hearts
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