Canine enrichment is taking the dog world by storm just now, but what is it and how can you get involved?
The act of enriching your dog’s life is a vital part of canine guardianship. We know so much about the dog’s mind nowadays that we can’t possibly think a walk and sleeping the day away is enough anymore. Dogs want to do things, they get bored and need mental stimulation just as we do.
Some beautiful aspects of investing some time and energy into canine enrichment is that it’s bespoke, it’s free, every single dog will benefit and it makes our dogs happy. Why is it so good for our dogs? It’s good because it fulfils many of their natural needs which include foraging, problem solving and working out how to eat.
Our dogs have little choice in their lives, we chose them and even if we took them from bad situations, we forced ourselves into their lives. We made them our family, we expect them to fit around us and adapt to our lifestyles with no question.
We also live in times where people have a lot of expectations of dogs. They shouldn’t growl, they should put up with children leaning all over them and they must work out what we want from them, even when our requests are confused and sometimes confrontational. They often have little choice on when they walk, when they relax, when we interact with them, feed them or give them something to do. Then, if they find something to do on their own, we often complain because it doesn’t suit us.
Enrichment isn’t about training, it’s not about changing your dog’s behaviour and whilst their behaviour might change because they are happier, the objective is to give your dog something enjoyable to do. A dog that is enjoying an activity, is naturally having his life enriched. We don’t even need to be involved, in fact it’s better if we are not, because the dog is given a problem to solve and then the space and time to solve it.
Enrichment activity has some wonderful side effects. The dog is naturally calmer because they have spent some time problem solving. Mental energy use leads to mental relaxation, so gentle problem solving will alleviate boredom. Anxious dogs that are low in self-esteem benefit from the boost of solving a problem all on their own. Dogs get to choose their approach to solving the problem, which naturally provides them with an extra choice in their lives.
An enrichment activity is pressure free. No expectations are placed on the dog, they are just provided with a problem to solve and left to it. Whether it’s scentwork fun, treats in a box stuffed with easy rip paper balls, breakfast in a Licki-mat or dinner from a towel, snuffle mat or ball doesn’t matter. It should be within your dog’s current mental confidence and capacity, fun and enjoyable.
This earlier blog on canine enrichment will give you some basic ideas and if you’re on Facebook it’s well worth joining the fast-growing canine enrichment group, it’s totally free and packed with ideas. Your dog will love you for it!