Providing enrichment for our dogs is an important component part of their overall health and well-being. There are lots of ways to do this.
Taking your dog on adventures. We often take a dog or two with us for travel to the nearby mountains. We prefer to take them off the beaten path and help them enjoy creeks and rivers, lakes, trails etc. We are sure to be aware of hazards in the area and carry a dog first aid kit. We don’t let the dogs off leash but instead use regular leashes and long leashes when it’s appropriate to allow them greater freedom. We also make sure the closest emergency vet info is saved on our phones, again, just in case.
Food dispensing toys and puzzles are a well-known and fantastic way to add enrichment. I often tell families they need at least 6 stuffed, frozen Kong toys in their freezer for each dog in the household. First, it’s almost as easy to stuff six Kong as it is to stuff one, and it means that the toys are ready to go when you want to give your dog a special treat. Stuffing can be simple, like using plain Greek yogurt, or complicated, creating layers of items and degrees of difficulties. This is an activity kids often enjoy too. They can add creativity and their own special touch to the treats the dog will enjoy. Be sure to include the calories in your dog’s intake to not cause undue weight gain. You also may want to take richening up what treats are stuffed in the toys to help prevent digestive unrest.
I am a huge fan of traditional Kong as well as a variety of their toys, such as the Kong Wobbler. It’s, frankly, fantastic. The dogs love playing with it to knock food lose and it can easily be adjusted to make it more difficult (adding something that will disrupt the food from always easily coming out such as a wadded-up piece of paper) for enthusiastic dogs. I use the Wobbler with dogs who are sound sensitive. I start with the Wobbler on a quiet surface (grass, carpeting) and then work up to solid surfaces.
Pet Safe makes another food dispensing toy I love to use as well. It’s the Magic Mushroom. One of the things I love about it is that it is built to be adjustable, with little “doors” that allow you to adjust difficulty for your dog. It’s a great toy for the super motivated dog as it’s more difficult compared to some of the other dispensing toys so it’s not where I would start with a dog that’s not used to enrichment toys.
Another form of enrichment I really love is “sniffs”. When we are out having adventures that our dogs can’t or won’t necessarily enjoy I bring home paper bags of scents for them. Often, it’s as simple as picking up some leaves, sticks, dirt, moss, etc. and placing it in a bag to bring home for the dog to give it a sniff down. This works particularly well for dogs who are fearful or reactive or for elderly dogs who may not be able to take part in the hike anymore. Scent is such a huge part of your dog’s life, it’s important to make sure we include scent in our enrichment plans for our dogs. When we head off on trips where we just can’t include the dogs, we do our best to bring scents back for them.
For some dogs, a kiddie pool filled with either water or with a mixture of dirt and sand makes for a great enrichment experience. Digging and finding treasures you hide for them can be a really great way to add adventure to your own backyard. Start out making it easy for your dog to “find” the treasure and slowly increase difficulty. Having an appropriate place to dig may even eliminate inappropriate digging! Another use for kiddie pools (or bathtubs) is to have your dog play in water. I try to install this behavior with puppies. Of course, some dogs just aren’t fans. I am currently working on trying to teach one of our adult dogs to be more accepting of water by having him play with other dogs who do like water and will play in it. Maybe he will “catch” on to water being fun. That would sure make bath time easier.
What kind of enrichment do you do with your dogs?
Tina M. Spring
Tina M. Spring is the owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, LLC in Athens, GA. She is the creator of the Hounds for the Holidays program to help prepare dogs for the stress of the holiday season and prevent dog bites. She is also the author of 90 Days to the Perfect Puppy which is available as an online course.