Enrichment (n) – the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.
Humans constantly desire to enrich our daily lives. It would be easy to do the same old thing, day after day, week after week, but we don’t. We volunteer. We socialize. We form families and friend groups. We learn new things and take up new hobbies. Yet it is all too common to see a dog who is being deprived of this same rich life.
It is common for folks to think they are providing for their dogs by providing the basic needs: good food, shelter, companionship, maybe some new toys and a romp in the backyard once in a while. But our dogs need more. They cannot and shouldn’t live out their entire stuck doing the same thing day in and day out.
Think of the last time you were stir crazy. Maybe you took a few days off or had a extended weekend. How long could you stay in your house for? Even though you’ve got netflix/movies, maybe a computer, and some books to read. You’ve got all these things, how long until you crack? For me, I can normally find things to entertain myself with for a week. The same thing happens to your dog.
The motto: A tired dog is a good dog holds true. A dog who is not only physically tired but also mentally tired is a good dog. They are fulfilled. Let’s take a look at the two pieces of this “good dog recipe” – physical enrichment and mental enrichment for some ways to enhance your dogs lifestyle.
The number one thing you can do for your dog is to walk him or her. Walking even if only for a short period of time, provides both physical and mental stimulation. Walk different places, take different routes, drive to a park and take a hike. New smells, sights and sounds all work to stimulate the mind and the walk itself works to tired your pup out physically too. Walks have been shown to provide numerous benefits to heart & lungs and combat diseases too – for both dogs and people! And don’t forget to let your dog SNIFF things. With a nose as powerful as theirs is, let them use it. We oftentimes forget to stop and smell the roses but don’t deprive your dog of the same!
If you’re pressed for time or you find a few minutes to spare in a busy day, play a few rounds of fetch with your pup. You can increase the mental enrichment of fetch by asking for a routine obedience command like a sit or a down between throws. For example, you throw the ball, the dog brings it back, you pick it up, ask for a sit, mark the sit with a “yes” and pitch the ball again.
Mental enrichment games are a super fun to come up with because you can get very creative with them. Dogs, much like people, appreciate novelty. You buy premade enrichment toys like a kong, dog puzzle or other food based toys online. But there are also a lot of simple things you can do for free too.
We like to play “find the kibble” at home. While my dog is out and about in the backyard, I’ll hide 15 – 20 pieces of dog food throughout the house. You should start this game off easy and keep all the treats in a small area, then expand outward to other rooms/areas of the house. This engages the dogs mind as well as fulfilling a basic dog need for foraging or scavenging. You’re just giving getting a bonus by providing appropriate “scavenging” materials instead of trash or other more disgusting things dogs seem to love haha.
Keeping your dog both mentally and physically tired by providing an enriching environment can set your household on a path to peace and tranquility. That same feeling you get after a long, fulfilling, busy day, you can now give to your dog!
Next week we’re going to take a more in depth look at a special needs dog named Primrose and how enrichment games can help her improve her quality of life.