Dog enrichment, and why it’s important

We all know that keeping our dogs in good physical condition is a very important part of owning a dog, but what about their mental health?

Feral dogs

A feral dog will spend much of the day hunting and searching for the food and water it needs to survive. This involves a great deal of physical activity, as well as problem solving and mental stimulation. In comparison, a domestic dog spends most of the day indoors, gets given all the food it needs and may also be left for small periods of time with not much to do. Under-stimulated dogs can develop a range of behavioural problems.

If you’ve ever visited a zoo or animal sanctuary, you may have seen that a lot of effort goes into creating an environment that will enable each animal to use their instincts and natural skills as they would in the wild. Many of the studies around animal enrichment have been done around zoo animals but it is also believed that introducing dogs to enrichment at any age, will help slow cognitive decline.

Play is key to wellbeing

A study released by Bristol University has found that play is the key to our dogs’ wellbeing. The study of 4,000 dog owners found that a lack of play can cause up to 22 different behavioural issues including an increase in anxiety, aggression, pulling on the lead, whining, and not coming when called. Scientists are beginning to agree that play is the key to a dog’s happiness. It is also thought that enrichment games can help improve the bond between owner and dog, improve trust in nervous dogs and ease anxiety in those who are prone to stress. If that wasn’t enough, it can also improve your mental health having some fun with your best friend!

Enrichment involves making “Additions to an animal’s environment with which the animal voluntarily interacts and, as a result, experiences improved physical and/or psychological health.” In essence, Enrichment gives meaning and purpose to an animal’s life.

The dogs we help from Spain are all working breeds. They have been bred to have a high hunting instinct and are therefore very active, intelligent dogs with a great nose on them which makes them ideal candidates for enrichment activities!

What kind of things can be used for enrichment?

Many of you will already own some sort of dog enrichment. The famous classic Kong toy is very popular, and actually they produce a whole range of enrichment toys.

Most enrichment toys are based around a puzzle which hide treats so the dog has to figure out how to solve the problem they are facing, just like they would have to in the wild. There’s a lot of enrichment toys on the market, but you can also make your own, such as snuffle mats and balls. The recycling bin can also be a great source of activities for your dog. Grab a plastic bottle, make some holes in the side, pop some treats in and screw the lid back on and watch your dog work out how to get the tasty treats out! Once they get good at an activity, you can start to increase the difficulty, freeze the kong, use different fillings, smaller treats, add less holes to the bottle…

Enrichment doesn’t have to be all about toys

Enrichment doesn’t have to be toy based either. Let your dog pick where to go on todays walk, let them stop and sniff for longer, take them to a dog friendly shop and let them have a good explore, jump in the car and take them somewhere new… They will reward you with some peace and quiet come the evening!

There is a public Facebook group called Canine Enrichment which is worth joining if you want to talk to other dog owners and get ideas for enrichment activities. At The Pawsitive Enrichment website, they have lots of ideas for DIY activities, and there is a great post here on making your own enrichment toys. Nina Ottoson produces some amazing interactive dog toys, which can give really intellegent dogs something to work with!

We’d love to see some photos of your dogs enjoying some play time!

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