So what is dog enrichment? Why is it important? You're probably thinking I take my dogs on daily walks do I really need more enrichment for them? The answer is yes! So what exactly is dog enrichment? According to studies in Veterinary Behavioral Medicine it is defined as anything that modifies an animals environment to provide psychical and mental stimulation that mimic activities that satisfy their primal needs without added stress or anxiety - i.e fetching, hunting, foraging. Why is this important exactly? Adding enrichment to your dog's life helps give them another outlet for their energy while providing mental stimulation. This is especially important for high energy breeds as it gives them a constructive non-destructive outlet. Enrichment activities can strengthen the emotional bond you have with your dog making your time together more congenial.
Enrichment is categorized into 5 main groups: nutritional (food-based), sensory, social, physical, and occupational. To understand enrichment more we will delve into each group a little more!.
Nutritional or food based enrichment is probably one of the most commonly known types of enrichment. With Kongs, slow feeders, and other treat based toys on the market its become a very easy and well known activity to add to your dog's daily life. But, that's not the only activity that can be added to your dog's life! Food based enrichment also encourages the foraging and hunting aspect by hiding treats throughout the house. This is one of Kai's (our pittie boy) favorite games, we've named it Find It! Kai will go into another room of the house with the door closed while we hide treats throughout the living room and then is let out to find where all the treats have been hidden. He has even gotten to the point he'll put himself in the other room to let us know he wants to play! Some other easy ways to add food enrichment to your dog's life is putting their dry kibble in paper towel rolls, paper bags, or snuffle mats. Adding any of these activities to your dog's daily life is a great way to burn off that extra energy and redirect their thinking pattern.
Sensory stimulation is the next type of enrichment. This type of enrichment builds off of your dog's senses. Most types of sensory stimulation is dependent on your dog's breed and interests. An example of this is with beagles, they are very scent driven dogs. Adding scent play to your daily activities in unique ways can engage your dog in different ways. You can add scents and treats in different toys, add scent sprays to walks and playtime, or even hide favorite toys throughout the yard to engage those skills! Not all all dogs will enjoy sensory enrichment with physical activities (especially as they age) some other ways to add sensory enrichment is by playing nature sounds throughout the day; playing special programming on the TV, or changing the types of toys or bones you get your dog. Adding these to your dog's life will help engage your dog's senses providing mental stimulation on the daily.
Social stimulation is another form of enrichment. This is area can be tricky and is very dependent on your dog. Knowing your dog is key to this type of enrichment. Not all dogs want to be social and don't do well in these types of situations. And that is fine! Do not force your dog to be social if they don't want to! Not all dogs want to partake in social dog play, forcing a dog to do this can lead to fights and injuries. The point of enrichment is to provide mental stimulation WITHOUT added stress or anxiety. If your dog does enjoy social play setting up puppy playdates with your friends is a great idea. If you have a puppy, going to puppy classes are wonderful way to engage them socially and mentally in a contained and safe environment. You can also meet dogs at local dog parks or doggy care, but make sure to do extensive research to make sure it's safe and suitable for your dog.
Physical stimulation is enrichment that involves physical activity or exercise! Certain breeds and younger dogs will require more longer periods of exercise. Obviously walks or jogs are an easy and big way to engage your dog. To add more stimulation branching out into hikes and trails can add new smells, textures, and sights. Other ways to help your dog with physical enrichment is enrolling them in local agility or dock diving courses. Make sure to factor in your dog's age and health before signing them up for anything extreme.
The last type of enrichment is occupational enrichment, which is tied very closely to physical activity. Occupational enrichment while not breed specific entails dogs that take special interest or need for occupation. Most of the dogs that need this type of enrichment are part of the working breeds ( Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Terrier Breeds, etc). Understandably, not everyone can own these dogs and provide them with an occupation. Finding ways to incorporate small bits of these jobs in daily activities can help! Adding a flirt pole or scent boxes to your life can add elements of occupational enrichment to your dog's life. Even adding "tasks" that are part of your routine can make your dog feel like they have jobs to do. For instance, having your dog walk with you to get the mail makes them feel they like that is a task they need to help you with. After a few days watch your pooch be waiting to get the mail with you without you even asking!
Overall, enrichment should be a fun, bonding, and rewarding way for you and your dog. It doesn't have to be expensive either! There are plenty of DIY enrichment toys online and lists of Facebook groups to join for ideas. Taking the time to engage in enrichment will provide your fury friends with emotional, physical, and mental stimulation. Giving them a happier day to day life. Below is listed resources to check out for more info and ideas. Show us your enrichment in the comments or on our social media :)
-Ann & Jordyn, and The Misfits
- FetchFind: "Why Dog is Dog Enrichment Important?" By Melanie Jansen
-ASPCA: "Canine DIY Enrichment"
- Hill's : "3- Easy-to-Make DIY Enrichment.."
- Animals Matter: "9 Great Dog Enrichment Activities.."