I keep hearing about canine enrichment. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Or perhaps you think that it’s just the latest fad? But what actually is it? What is really meant by the term canine enrichment?
What Does Canine Enrichment Mean?
One definition states,
“Additions to an animal’s environment with which the animal voluntarily interacts and, as a result, experiences improved physical and/or psychological health.”
In short, canine enrichment means adding activities to your dog’s life to aid wellbeing. In other words, the act of taking steps to increase your dog’s quality of life. This can include simple everyday things like taking them for a walk, socialising them with other animals and humans and providing stimulation via games and puzzles.
But Why Do We Need to Do This?
Fortunately for our four-legged friends, there has been a lot of research into the benefits of canine enrichment over the last few years.
Dogs, in common with most living beings, need both physical exercise and mental stimulation to live happily and healthily. This, you may think, is obvious. However many dog parents, however well-meaning, forget the importance of mental exercise. They concentrate only on the physical.
To some, dogs are simply a convenient companion. We are around them when we want to be, they keep us company and they love us no matter what. As nice as that may sound, many dogs are left alone for much of the time. They are expected to remain calm and sleep until we return to them. We then take them for a quick walk and want them to settle down again. But is this fair?
Dogs are highly intelligent creatures and need brain-challenging activities to banish boredom. A bored dog can develop unwanted problem behaviours such as barking, chewing and becoming generally destructive. Worse still, they can become anxious and nervous. Enrichment will enable your pooch to learn new skills and can also help increase confidence. Moreover, mental stimulation will wear him out, possibly even more so than physical exercise.
Modern zoos are obliged to provide their confined animals with enrichment programmes. This is because their natural behaviours are no longer required. They are fed, watered and able to roam in safe, hazard-free areas, most unlike how they would be in the wild. Why are our so-called beloved pets not given the same opportunity?
To live and survive in the real world, animals must hunt and their instinct to do so largely remains the same. Today, they have no need to physically hunt yet to deny your dog the opportunity to think, sniff and run freely has to be cruel, doesn’t it?
How is Canine Enrichment Defined?
There are 6 categories of canine enrichment. These are:
- Sensory – anything involving senses be it sight, smell, touch, taste etc. For example, the texture or firmness of their ball, the feeling of playing under a water sprinkler and sniffing around in the park.
- Feeding – different methods of providing food to make your pet seek it out and actually work for it.
- Manipulative toys – toys that they play with, carry with them and/or chew.
- Environmental – changing the environment by adding something different to explore.
- Social – interaction with other animals and humans.
- Training – using positive reinforcement training is a great way for human and pet to spend time together and to bond.
How Do I Get Started?
It doesn’t have to be complicated. You could start by simply changing the location of your daily walk to add variety. You could hide their food around the house so that they have to search out their meals. Playing fetch or tug with your dog is also a good choice. Another option would be to take time to train your pup to obey simple commands and even perform tricks.
The key is to try to let them use their natural instincts and behaviours.
It is clear that canine enrichment, even in its most simple forms, will help form a well-rounded, happy and healthy hound.
Many of us are probably providing our dogs with some canine enrichment already. But are we doing enough?
Does your dog love to live?
Let me know what you’re doing to enrich your dog’s daily life in the comments below.