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Keep the Good Times Going with Six Categories of Enrichment

by Dennis ODonnell on April 29, 2020

When we decided to adopt Dory, we understood that training and exercise were going to be part of our daily routine. What we didn’t know – couldn’t have possibly predicted before we were puppy parents – was that she would literally (literally!) never get tired. Her energy level was through the roof and without the right outlets, she was getting herself into more and more trouble.

It’s not until you are looking a fifteen-pound ball of fur in the face that you realize you are solely responsible for the health and happiness of this creature and you haven’t the faintest clue where to start. You never knew tiny teeth could do that much damage, either!

That’s when, with bleary-eyed love and determination, we reached out to a behaviorist and heard a phrase that started us down a brand new path: enrichment. It was like a whole new world was opened for us.

In the book, Beyond Squeaky Toys, the authors explain, “The goal of enrichment is to encourage your dog to interact with their environment and to develop and use their natural skills and breed-specific behaviors. Presenting pets with challenges, items to explore and opportunities to solve problems, keeps their lives interesting and enriched.”

Of course she needs different kinds of stimulus!

Of course she needs the right toys to play with!

Of course she needs to think and learn and problem solve!

It seems like common sense, but we just hadn’t thought of it. And as we later learned, mental challenges will tire a dog more quickly than physical exertion! Now we’re getting somewhere!

Nick White, owner of Off Leash K9 Training, writes a blog for his website, and in this post he explains this mental/physical connection:

“Again, comparing dogs to people, what tires you more, walking one or two miles or doing complex math problems for one to two hours straight? With the math problems, your head hurts, you feel drained, you just want to put down the books and shut your eyes. That’s how mental stimulation works with dogs, as well. Constant thinking creates a lot of mental stimulation, which tires the entire body.

When introducing enrichment, there are six defined categories to choose from and your goal as a pet parent is to find ones that peak your pup’s interest and then rotate the activities or toys to keep them consistently new and challenging.

1// Sensory – This includes anything and everything that stimulates your dog’s senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. This is where playing in the grass, rolling in the dirt and splashing in water come in. You can also support this through TV programming, music and scent work.

2// Feeding – This is how you can make feeding time challenging, engaging and fun. It’s about putting hunting and foraging skills to use, employing the power of their nose and their brains to get to the good stuff!

3// Toys/Puzzles – These products encourage your dog to engage and manipulate them to get a desired results…normally treats. But it also includes plush, rubber, rope and fetch toys, and the regular rotation of these so that your pup continues to engage with them.

4// Environmental – Adding something new to your dog’s environment can peak curiosity and sometimes increase physical activity. Build a ramp in the backyard, place a mirror in the living room, go play on a playground, go for a hike in the woods.

5// Social – Interaction with other people and other dogs builds trust and self confidence. Whether you are going to the dog park, to the pet store, in car or to a friend’s house, engagement with new environments, new people and new dogs will help keep your pup well socialized.

6// Training – Training is an incredible time to bond with your dog, building trust, rapport and some much needed listening skills. Whether you are training the basics or have moved on to trick training, the time spent doing this has great benefits for your dog and your relationship.

Pick one or pick a few, see what your dog likes and what his temperament can handle. And always remember, your dog wants to think and work and play – give him as many opportunities to do this as possible.

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