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When looking for a way to improve your dog’s quality of life, infuse some fun into his day and offer him opportunities to think and learn, you will find there is a wide world of canine enrichment out there to choose from. There are a variety sports, activities, exercises and products all focused on creating enriching experiences for your dog. And depending on the age, breed and temperament of your dog any or all of these could work to engage your dog mentally and physically in a fun and interactive way.
But putting aside the details of these options, the first things to consider are the four basic tenants to enrichment that everyone can start with. These strategies work for every dog by mixing stability and structure with a good dose of variety. Once these are in place, choosing which activities to try is like icing on the dog treat!
Whereas we humans like to vary our routines, doing this can often cause anxiety or unease in many dogs. They like a schedule they can set their watches by so they understand when it is time to sleep, eat, play, train, and go outside. We know not every day can be the same for any family, but a basic schedule can go a long way in establishing a sense of security and trust with your dog.
Make sure there is time in each day dedicated to social interaction and attention, as well as solo play or periods of inattention. Both of these are healthy for your dog in the right doses and, quite frankly, necessary for a balanced life. Best of all, both of these scenarios offer great opportunities to enrich your dog’s life and improve your relationship.
Examples of social interaction and attention include training, play dates with other dogs, brushing, hide and seek, and other games with you. Solo play or periods of inattention are a great time for thinking and problem solving toys, ie. a peanut-butter-filled Kong, or time for rest and sleep.
When deciding what new activities you are going to try, your best bet is to build off of your dog’s natural instincts – both as a canine and as a breed. It is important to think of what your dog was born to do, no matter the make or model. This includes behaviors like hunting, thinking, and socializing.
By aligning enrichment not only with their general canine instincts, but also with their breed’s natural tendencies, it will help shape activities that are a good outlet for behaviors that are completely natural and, at the same time, unacceptable; think digging in the yard, chewing your shoes, alert barking or herding the neighbors’ children.
Although your dog’s routine should stay the same, the enrichment activities you choose should continue to offer variety and a constant challenge. Look for new ways to do current activities, new behaviors to teach, or harder games to play. For instance, using a puzzle feeder like the Rock N’ Bowl is a great step toward enriching your dog’s life, but to increase the benefits of the bowl, it should be rotated through your dog’s meals along with other puzzle feeders and food hunts.