Let Them Be Dogs: The Power of Canine Enrichment
Canine Enrichment has grown in popularity recently. Enrichment refers to activities that enhance a dog's quality of life. It is less about keeping the dog out of the way, and more about celebrating our dogs' needs. Enrichment allows dogs to engage in natural behaviors, something that all animals - including humans - thrive on. Being allowed to act like dogs helps reduce stress and improve health. The healthier our dogs, the better they are at fitting into our busy human lifestyles. Enrichment isn't just good for our fur-kids, it's good for us. That's why I make sure to offer my dog, Hope, as many enrichment opportunities as my hectic schedule can handle. Here are some of her favorites: *Activities should always be supervised!
Whether we like it or not, our four-legged fur-kids are natural-born chewers. This is actually a wonderful thing for busy dog parents because providing chew time to our dogs requires minimal effort on our part. I like to encourage pups from a young age to chew on appropriate things. This makes for adult dogs that know how to burn off steam on their own. My dog, for instance, regularly picks up an antler during my morning workouts. Quietly chewing on her toys is much more agreeable than nipping at my feet or tearing up my shoes. Let your dog chew, and you'll be giving them a mental and physical workout that can't be replicated.
Scenting and seeking games are a surefire way to light up any dog's brain. It's no secret that our dogs experience the world through their noses first. In fact, it is estimated that roughly a third of the dog’s brain is devoted to scenting. That is why so many enrichment activities involve dogs using their noses to get to food rewards. Specialty feeders, like snuffle mats, wobblers and puzzle toys are popular. But you can easily create scenting opportunities with regular household items. We make puzzles out of toilet paper rolls, toss kibble onto the overgrown lawn, and give our dog "sniffy" walks. Allowing my dog to sniff her little heart out helps wear her out in a good way.
Shredding and dissecting things are natural pastimes for dogs. That is why many dogs get a real kick out of destroying their toys. Some are quite messy about it, ripping toys into pieces like a bomb went off. Others are rather meticulous, perfectly unraveling seams and gently collecting the stuffing into a pile. As annoying as it may be to pick up the remnants from these shred-fests, I have always enjoyed watching my dogs shred. Seeing their little brows furrow as they strategize (or don't!) their destruction. It is an all too convincing sight that shredding is a worthwhile workout. To prevent my dog from breaking the bank, I give her my old shipping boxes to tear down. It's a win-win for all!
Squirrel! Just like Disney's beloved Dug, many dogs come hard-wired with a desire to chase things that run away. It seems that many humans are equally fond of chase, since so many parents live for fetch with their dog. If you can't play fetch, give a flirt pole a go. Flirt poles are also a great way for kids to safely play with their dog. I am fortunate enough to live on some acres populated by feisty squirrels. My dog gets to scratch her chase itch in the mornings, though she wouldn't know what to do if she ever actually caught a squirrel. Her satisfied saunter back onto the porch after a good chase is the perfect start to every day.
Along the same lines as chase is a dog’s need to explore the world off-leash. Leash laws have really tied up our dogs over the years, which I suspect has contributed to many of the common behavior issues we see today. Unlike tethering, going off-leashing gives dogs the chance to choose their pace and path. Choice boosts confidence and alleviates stress. Having a choice in the matter is the best gift we can give our dogs. Find ways to safely and legally unleash your dog, because it’s good for their health. Of course, you'll want to make sure you've installed a solid recall (come back cue) before going off-leashing.
Socialize with Other Dogs
Dogs are first and foremost social creatures! They also happen to learn a lot from playing with other dogs. In animal shelters, we absolutely love facilitating dog play because of its laundry list of benefits. Dog play teaches dogs how to communicate and how to mind their manners. Dog play can also be very rehabilitating. Not to mention, dog play is loads of fun to observe! I recommend finding a force-free dog daycare in your area to satisfy your dog's dog-play needs. You'll love coming home from a long day of work to a happy, tired dog.
Play! Play! Play!
Scientists have found that behaviors learned through play are retained faster and longer than behaviors learned through punishment. I don't think it takes a scientist to understand why this is true. I always know I've made a breakthrough with a fearful dog when he starts playing! Play is as good for the mind as it is for the soul. So, encourage your dog to play. The more your dog is rewarded for playing, the more he'll choose to offer it on his own. Dogs who offer behaviors are fantastic learners and tend to breeze through training. If nothing else, they know how to keep themselves and us entertained!
You can find countless other ideas in the Canine Enrichment Facebook Community. Does your dog have a favorite enrichment activity? Share with us in the comments!