Imagine sitting around the house all day with just an hour or two’s reprieve when you’re finally let loose outside for a walk. It’d drive you CRAZY right?
Welcome to the life of many of our beloved pooches.
And it’s not because we don’t love them. It’s because our busy lives get in the way that we don’t necessarily have the time to walk or play with them more.
Plus, let’s face it, when researching dogs needs before picking your little one up, most of us probably read that they only need to be walked once a day. That, along with some care advice and nutritional info was about the crux of it.
And that is okay for some dogs.
Others need more physical activity than that. Certain dog breeds need a lot more than a stroll around the park, but I’m assuming you’ve done your research before finding your dog who fits the lifestyle and environment you live in, so I’ll move on…
Did you know that physical activity isn’t all your dog needs?
Yep, just like us they need mental stimulation too.
We often think that when they’re going nuts around us, constantly looking for attention, chewing our slippers, pacing, whining… they want to go on yet another walk or get yet another stroke. (Or he needs out to pee!)
But the reality is, they’re bored.
In recent years, canine behavioural science studies have proven that for overall wellbeing, dogs need their bodies and their minds occupied on a daily basis.
In the industry, this ‘mind wellbeing’ is called canine enrichment.
Among its many benefits are:
- Reduction in behavioural issues e.g. destructive behaviour, incessant barking, jumping, escaping…
- Stimulating brain growth
- Improving problem-solving capabilities
- Building confidence and social skills
- Developing their natural and instinctive behaviours
- Supporting a well-balanced, happy dog
Pretty resounding benefits huh!
So how do you get started?
Canine enrichment can be anything that means they must use their brain. Think exploration, challenges, problem solving…
There are six different canine enrichment categories to choose from, so plenty of options to suit you and your pooch.
From basic puppy training, to experienced trick training, the time spent will create a wonderful bond between you both, help develop trust, connection, and hone listening skills.
Look at your surroundings, both indoors and outdoors, what can you add or do that’s new to get them inquisitive and adventurous?
Think agility circuits in the back garden, a ball pit in the living room, or different hiking routes in the local area that’ll arouse new sights, sounds and smells.
A brilliant enrichment tool to stimulate each of their senses. For example, planting certain smelling plants in the garden like mint and lavender, blowing bubbles in the air, ball pits indoors or out, sand pits and water sprinklers if you have the space, wind chimes…
Certain toys encourage your dog to use their brain to manipulate a puzzle in return for a reward i.e. a treat. This is where you’ll need more than one though, as they’ll soon catch on to the manipulation method needed to reach the treat quicker!
Particularly great for guzzlers to make mealtimes more challenging. You could create DIY puzzle toys to place the food inside, so they needs to use their nose to locate and intelligence to figure out how to physically get to the food.
Or, there are plenty of puzzle toy products on the market, like snuggle mats, where you hide the food within.
Social interaction with other dogs and people is a crucial part of canine enrichment. It helps build self-confidence and instil a sense of ease whatever the situation or location they’re faced with.
Just remember, it’ll probably take a little trial and error as not all canine enrichment methods may appeal, so don’t get disheartened.
The important thing is to find a few that you both like, not give them the same challenge or activity every time – dogs are smart and will likely grow bored if you do, defeating the whole purpose.
Why is canine enrichment so important?
Many dog owners don’t realise that often, the things we perceive as being ‘behavioural issues’ are, in fact, totally normal when given permissible outlets.
For example, a dog who barks constantly is just trying to expend her energy through the only means she knows how in that situation. But giving her something like a Buster Cube will keep her stimulated and help expend all that energy so she won’t think to bark, and therefore stop driving you and the neighbours crazy.
If your dog barks, whines, won’t sit or listen to any of your commands when waiting and watching her dinner be prepared, make it earlier without him in the room and serve it in a puzzle toy instead. He’ll be too busy foraging to make another sound.
Or if you have a dog who jumps up on people all the time and you’re finding it impossible to train her to stop, try using a flirt pole with a tug on the end and a few treats. This gives her approval to jump for the tug, and by waiting for your command, gets rewarded with a treat. This method can hugely help train a dog to understand when she’s allowed to jump, because she’ll soon regard the flirt pole as the jump/treat game.
So you see, canine enrichment allows us to see all these little nuances that we could have perceived as annoying otherwise. And your gorgeous pooch becomes more stimulated throughout the day, which helps them sleep better and ultimately, be healthier and happier.
Enriching your dog’s life through exercise, play and stimulus should be a given, not a nice-to-have.