Quite a ‘buzzword’ bandied around at the moment is ‘enrichment’, so here I’m going to take a look at what it actually means and involves.
So lets start right there – what is enrichment? Put simply, enrichment is an all encompassing term referring to the addition of something which enhances the quality of something else. If we put this in the context of our dog’s world, we can talk about 2 main forms; social enrichment and mental enrichment.
Social Enrichment refers to enhancements we might make to our dog’s environment. Maybe providing variation in surroundings and lifestyle and incorporating novelty.
Mental Enrichment refers to the addition of new and often problem solving tasks which offer mental challenges for the dog. Certainly one question I hear often is ‘what more can I do to entertain my dog?’.
Increasing enrichment gives owners lots of opportunity to become inventive!
- Feeding part of a food ration from activity/puzzle toys – there are hundreds out there.
- Hide and seek feeding within cardboard boxes
- Feeding of a partial ration via training
- Feeding a partial ration in empty bottles (no top)
- Play hide and seek
- Recall games with the family
- Football/garden games
- Flirt pole games
Novel Fun Stuff
- Bubble blowers
- Ice lollies/iced activity toys to lick
- Muffin tin games with treats under
- Hiding treats within a rolled mat for dogs to seek
- Scatter – free feeding
- Train new tricks/clicker training/target training
- Walks to new areas
- Sand pits in garden
- Water pools in garden
- Digging areas
- Dog Tv
- Dog music
- New activities – scenting, agility, flyball, other dog sports
Why Add Enrichment?
So why should we concern ourselves with increasing social and mental enrichment? In practice, I see many dogs weekly who have very little to do and are unoccupied. Combine this with high drive/high arousal and energetic breeds and you have the potential for explosion and behavioural issues. Most of these dogs improve significantly with a behaviour modification programme which includes an enrichment package.
Other dogs that may significantly benefit from increased enrichment include those which are highly aroused, those which may be displaying repetitive behaviour , older dogs with symptoms of cognitive decline and dogs with symptoms of depression or apathy.
Enrichment – All Good?
Generally I would always include some sort of enrichment opportunity or activity into the remedial plan that I create for dogs. What I would always do though is to ensure enrichment is bespoke to the individual I am tailoring it for. I will always look at inherent breed traits and select an enrichment activity that, that dog might enjoy – not all dogs actually enjoy every enrichment option. Recently for instance whilst discussing the topic with the owner of a Dachsund, they explained to me that they had tried activity toys but their dog had been very reluctant to engage with them and actually seemed afraid. We discussed the fact that enrichment encompassed a huge range of activities beyond simply the aforementioned toys. Eventually we settled upon a tunneling bed with internal pockets which held small bits of kibble – the little Daxie loved it & the activity was chosen because it channeled natural Dachsund behaviour – tunneling.
Beware too of activities that could over-stimulate your dog. If you have increased enrichment because your dog was previously very aroused, the last thing you want is for enrichment activities themselves to increase arousal level! This can happen, so choose the activity wisely. In such cases, calmer, peaceful changes of walks may be better than supercharged flirt pole play.
So as we are all used to physically exercising our dogs, we always need to keep in mind that our dogs are amazingly intelligent beings and that as such, we also need to keep exercising their mental capacities! Do that too and we keep them sound of limb and mind.