This blog post is written by Molly Durrant, Clinical Animal Behaviourist. Molly grew up surrounded by dogs, and has a wealth of experience including reactivity rehabilitation, general obedience and puppy training classes, Fun Gun Dog training, foster/re-homing of rescue dogs and sheep dog training. Molly graduated from Harper Adams University in 2019 after studying BSc(Hons) Clinical Animal Behaviour and Welfare; she believes strongly in positive reinforcement and relationship based dog training.
What is Enrichment?
Enrichment is defined as “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something”, so in the case of Canine Enrichment we are looking to improve and enhance the quality of our dog’s life. The question is, how? First we must think about what would be “enriching” to our dogs? What would they really enjoy? To understand this, we should consider both the breed of our dog and its individual personality and desires.
We can then tailor the enrichment we provide to best suit our pet and make the greatest impact on their physical and psychological health. Breed consideration is based on what your dog was originally bred to do, for example your terrier is designed to sniff out small animals, dig out burrows and dispatch prey, so selected enrichment could consist of searching games to mimic hunting, a sand pit for digging and tug games and chase toys for prey drive. By meeting these natural drives we can reduce the incidence of problem behaviours and create positive outlets for your pet.
It is important we also consider our dogs as individuals when providing enrichment; we want our dog to voluntarily engage in the fun without too much persuasion. Be sure to observe and interpret your dog’s reaction to different enrichment ideas to determine what games and methods they most enjoy!
Why should we enrich our dog’s lives and what difference does it make?
Providing enrichment not only engages your dog physically but also challenges them mentally. Mental stimulation is vital when ensuring your dogs wellbeing, without it, your dog is likely to seek its own stimulation. This often results in unwanted behaviours such as chewing, digging, barking and in some cases can even lead to more complex issues such as nervousness, over excitement or aggression.
So how does enrichment change all this? Research suggests that exercises that require sniffing and licking actually release “feel good” hormones, proven to reduce stress and anxiety. The same applies when our dog is able to engage positively with us, allowing us to build more trusting and rewarding relationships with our canine companions through the use of enrichment.
The Power of Sniffing and Exploring
Sniffing is one of the most underestimated methods of enrichment, yet it is probably one of the most important things to your dog! Dogs explore the world through their sense of smell and gain information about others and their surroundings! Sniffing can also act as a social diffuser and is used in canine body language to communicate that you do not pose a threat, making it a great behaviour to encourage!
So if sniffing is so great, how can I get my dog to do more of it ?
· Allow and encourage prolonged sniffing on walks- this can be done by simply letting your dog sniff for as long as he/she wants, it is their walk after all!
· Scatter Feeding- We often get hung up on delivering our dogs dinner in a bowl but why not try scattering it in the garden and getting them to sniff it out- this will make meal times much more engaging!
· Snuffle Mats- are available in most pet stores and can also be made at home with little cost! They are great for hiding treats and can be a big help for distracting and relaxing your dog as you leave for work.
Lick Mats and Kongs
This method of enrichment acts as a solution for a surprising number of issues. The concept is simple, just fill or coat the Kong or mat with a variety of goodies, starting with something soft or sticky like cream cheese, pate or dog safe peanut butter and then add biscuits and other treats as you please.
When to use:
· To settle your dog when they are left in the home or are put to bed to distract from your departure
· To calm dogs that return from a walk and are still hyperactive- the process of licking reduces adrenaline and allows the body to realise its tired
· To build good associations with handling and grooming- placing a lick mat on the wall of the tub is a great distraction at bath time
Puzzle feeders are a great way to test and improve your dog’s problem solving skills. You can purchase various brain games in pet stores but DIY options are just as effective. DIY examples include:
Muffin Tin Puzzle- all you will need is a muffin tin, several tennis balls and some tasty treats. Simply place treats in the tray and cover with the tennis balls. Your dog will have to figure out how to remove the balls to get to the treats- note- you can make the game harder by only putting treats in some of the holes!
Bottle Dispenser- This is a great DIY puzzle and can be as simple or as complex as you like, its simplest form is to cut holes into a plastic bottle, load it with treats and give it to your dog to push around the floor until all the bounty has rolled out. You can also use empty cups, containers and bottles and run a string through their middle (as pictured above, middle), the string can then be tied between objects or mounted on a stand as seen in the picture. Your dog will have lots of fun flicking at the containers to tip out the treats you place inside!
The Towel Roll! – This is one everyone can do, its super simple and all you need is a towel and some treats. Lay a towel out flat and then place treats randomly across it, then roll it up like a sausage (as seen above) and encourage your dog to nudge at the towel and uncover the treats!
Now we know why enrichment is important, how it impacts our dogs lives and how we can create simple games and exercises to help provide it! I challenge you to give it a try, even if its just pausing for longer on walks or rolling up that towel, keep it simple or get creative! There's nothing to lose and so much to be gained!
By Molly Durrant Clinical Animal Behaviourist, 16/04/2020