Canine enrichment is all the rage, but is it all that it is cracked up to be?
Like so many popular focuses and activities, not all canine enrichment activities are created equal.
In short, yes, canine mental enrichment is an essential part of every dog’s life. Not only can a bored dog become destructive, anxious or socially inept, he or she can also become depressed, unwell with a poor quality of life.
Good canine enrichment is balanced by stimulating the body and the mind without causing injury or frustration.
It is necessary to take into account your dog’s physical health – is there an existing injury to be considered, is my dog overweight, what type of injury could my dog be predisposed to?
It is also essential to review your doggo’s demeanour. What does or doesn’t she like? What does she like too much? (I once had a staffy who was obsessed with any kind of ball that we would hurt himself or overstress himself if we didn’t manage it).
Has she suffered an unexpected lifestyle change such as a loss of a companion (of any sort)? How does her brain work – does she like puzzles or high energy activities?
These questions and more need to be answered before choosing an activity to enrich your dog’s life. The activities chosen need to promote the health and wellbeing of your dog – mentally and physically. Once you’ve done this, I recommend using a range of different games to get the most benefit.
Here’s a few top picks – remember, these may not be suitable for your dog. If you are unsure whether to use them, don’t.
These are very popular and for great reasons. The bonus is that these are very easy to make yourself !
Basically they are a mat that has a multitude of fabric knotted through. A woven rubber mat from your local hardware store will do the trick. Any scrap material can be used – fleece is the most popular by far.
Once you have your snuffle mat made (or purchased), scatter dry treats, kibble and tidbits through the fabric. Dig it down so your dog really needs to sniff it out and work for it.
I’ve used this with Marlo’s daily food allowance to help maintain a healthy weight.
Food Dispenser Toys
Just Google “food dispensing toys” and you’ll find a host of online businesses selling these types of products.
Again, you can make your own, there are plenty of DIY videos around. One I particularly like for Marlo is “Spin The Bottle”. Essentially, it is a few plastic bottles with a variety of holes in it and filled with kibble, treats and tidbits. These bottles are threaded onto a string or piece of dowel which in turn is secured onto a frame or sturdy furniture.
She then uses her nose (most dog’s would also use their paws, but not Marlo) to spin the bottle to get the treats out.
You guess it, I use this with her daily food allowance for weight control.
But what if my dog isn’t food motivated or is a little chonky?
Easy. If it’s weight control your pupper needs, it is best to use their daily food allowance as their treats. Or use different enrichment games:
I have only recently heard of this one and I absolutely love it!
Instead of taking your dog for the usual walk, take him on a “sniffari” instead. This is great for any dog, but also for those who are on exercise restriction but need mental engagement. Believe me, it works!
The premise of this activity is that your dog leads the way. We all know that dogs will follow their noses. If he stops to sniff, you stop immediately and let the sniffing continue for as long as needed to satisfy your doggo.
That means no calling off, encouraging forward motion or hurrying them up. The only exception to this rule is if the sniffing occurs in an unsafe location.
The only time the human should be engaging their dog is to mark and reward when your dog “checks in” with you.
Important to note: your dog may take you along your usual route – or not! The sniffari can be adjusted to your available time frame. Even 15 minutes out the front of your house can do the trick.
Best tip: take a long line lead to really give your dog freedom.
If your dog is a digger – celebrate the trait. This one is simple!
Just use a small paddle pool (The twin clam shell ones are great as you can close them when not in use). Fill the pool with dirt or sand and away she goes!
To make it really worthwhile, hide treats, toys or whatever spins your dogs wheels in the dig pen. It will give your dog a go-to place for digging and save your garden too.
5 Minute Attacks
This one is my favourite and is great for the high energy dog. I love it because it promotes play and engagement between and owner and dog and that equals a stronger relationship.
5 minute attacks are in some ways ambushes. It involves suddenly engaging your dog in play outside of your normal routine.
It’s so simple, you don’t even need to buy, build or set up anything. My favourite starter is the Laundry Dash.
I will suddenly run from one end of the house to the laundry (which is at the other). The reason I choose the laundry is because I can grab some treats to continue the game with. I dash from room to room and reward Marlo when she catches me (which is often!).
Sometimes mid-game I’ll stop and start her doing tricks – it is a great time to practice these because now I’ve really got her focus!
Other times I’ll stop mid-game to play tug, just to dart off again.
The best thing about this is that it is literally 5 minutes. It reenergises me, especially after hours in front of the computer as well as get’s Marlo’s attention.
**Please consider your dogs physical health and abilities before playing this game. Some systemic conditions may be exacerbated by sudden or intense exercise**.
The long term goal is to improve your dog’s quality of life – for today, and all of his tomorrows.