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All complicated scientific definitions aside, if you noticed how awful quarantine was for our mental health, you have a pretty good understanding of why dogs need enrichment.
Being home alone can be boring, so by adding a variety of activities to their routines, we can help keep our dogs happy and healthy.
In other words, enrichment is all about providing our dogs with opportunities that engage their minds.
Any stimulus, if it evokes a dog’s interest in a positive way, is an enriching stimulus. Enrichment can include both natural and artificial objects, scents, foods, and different methods of preparing meals.
As you would have noticed, during a pandemic it’s the polar opposite of leaving our dogs home alone all day.
Many dog owners have had no issues at all, others started noticing strange patterns of behaviour that have always existed, and some are dealing with displacement behaviours in their dogs.
A displacement behaviour is when our dogs do something to cope with a new stressor. Think vocalising, scratching, excessive grooming, or pacing. If you’re wondering what the new stressor could be, well… it could be us being home 24/7. If that sounds familiar and if you’re worried, it’s best to contact a vet or trainer who specialises in behaviour to further discuss your situation.
In general terms, it’s important to try to stick to daily routines as much as possible, even when you’re suddenly home all the time.
That all out of the way, we also think it’s a fantastic time to learn about some enrichment activities that you can continue as part of your daily routine, even when the world has gone back to normal.
There are many wonderful and creative ways to enrich our dog’s environment, but a simple and straight forward one to start with, is to just replace their food bowl.
If you hide, scatter, or bury your dog’s food, your dog will need to investigate, manipulate, and work for it similar to how he would in non-domestic environments 🏕️
Here are some different ways to do this:
If your dog eats dry food, instead of giving it in a bowl, scatter it outside in the yard. Start with a small area and then regularly expand the area as your dog becomes more confident. You can also make it more challenging by hiding higher-value foods in different locations.
If your dog doesn’t eat dry food, it requires a bit more time but can still be done. Just divide your dog’s usual meal into several portions in small bowls and hide them in different areas. Start with a small area and expand it when your dog becomes more confident.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a big yard as there’s an easy way to do this indoors too. Similar to how you would do the outdoor food scatter / hunt with wet food, split your dog’s regular portion up into a few small bowls.
Then teach your dog to ‘go wait’ in a different room while you hide the bowls. Don’t forget to start with a small area and increase it over time.
If your dog is a messy eater, consider getting a simple mat that is easy to clean and can be placed underneath the food bowls.
Oh, who doesn’t love a good Kong? Kongs are different types of non-toxic, dishwasher-safe rubber toys with a hollow centre, for stuffing. You can find some awesome resources online to get super creative with stuffing ideas. Try #kongrecipes on Instagram, or have a browse on Pinterest to get inspired!
A dog’s natural instinct is to hunt and forage for food, so why not try a puzzle feeder? They come in many different variations and difficulty levels that will encourage your dog to work and investigate their food in the same way they would do in the wild.
You can put your dog’s food in a cardboard box, close it, and let your dog figure it out. By doing this, you can encourage manipulation and play. That said, make sure to monitor your dog’s activity and step in if required to avoid frustration or aggression.
All dogs have different levels of problem solving skills, and the purpose of these activities is to enrich your dog’s life, not to add frustration. Start easy if you need to, and make it more difficult over time.
Recent scientific studies 🔬 suggest that “dogs may experience positive affective states in response to their own achievements”.
In other words, dogs enjoy problem-solving and prefer to have a purpose in life, rather than just getting food served to them in a bowl every day.
Using Enrichment Feeding can, therefore, reduce boredom, increase our dog’s quality of life, and has the potential to reduce problematic behaviours.
Let’s make 2020 the year we add enrichment feeding into our dog’s daily routine and to commit to continuing doing it after we’ve gone back to our normal lives! 💕🎉