All About Enrichment!
The two most common reasons for behavior problems in dogs are boredom and excessive energy. Our dogs have a wide range of needs that can affect their emotional state; two big ones are exercise and mental stimulation (the opportunity to problem solve). With the busy lives we live our dogs spend the day sleeping and being bored while we are away at work, then eating free meals once we are home. In an environment that doesn’t challenge their minds, they will find something else to occupy their time and energy. This can lead to the development of behavioral problems from generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, destructive behaviors like; digging, chewing, jumping, barking, hyperactivity, excessive predatory and social play, attention getting behaviors, etc.
That being said, it’s not necessary to quit your job and stay home with your doggo all day. Instead, it’s managing their world to make sure that they are provided with enough mental and physical exercise. We will discuss various way to provide that exercise; not only when we are there but also when we’re not! In the beginning, it can be a process of trial and error as we try to figure out the dog’s personal interests and what they enjoy, along with what they need!
With the busy lives we live, we want to make sure that we provide them with enrichment while we are away from them during the day. This can supply them with appropriate outlets for their energy; that way they’re not home recharging their batteries all day, waiting to unload all their energy once you’re home. If we’re dealing with more moderate to severe separation anxiety or a confinement phobia than, we would want to take additional steps into the realm of behavioral work.
Ensuring that the dog receives enough exercise is crucial as well, even if for a lot of dogs; walking alone isn’t enough enrichment, it still is a very important step. With walks the dog is actively engaged in exercise, whereas, if a dog is running around the backyard their exercise is inconsistent and typically a shorter duration, while being less engaged. If you haven’t been providing your dog with walks, start with a ten minute walk a day and then gradually increase the duration. I would, minimally try to do a 30 minute walk a day with a healthy adult dog. And don’t worry! We will work together to figure out the enrichment schedule that will work for you and your dog.
Forms of Enrichment
When it comes to enrichment; variety is key! We want to make sure that they are being mentally and physically challenged, while the challenges are still obtainable. For example, if a dog has been consistently going on 30 minute walks, an attainable challenge to introduce would be a doggie backpack with no weight. After that, you can gradually increase weight. Whereas, an inappropriate next step would be an 1hr run with a weighted backpack everyday. I want to gradually make things more challenging and base the degree of difficulty on the individual dog.
The same goes for all 6 forms of enrichment. I want to introduce new things as gradually as needed for the dog to acclimate to them and to learn how they work. Maybe I have to work up to a frozen kong by giving them a kong with loose treats inside and then peanut butter before freezing it. That way the dog learns that good things come from it and they learn how to lick stuff out of it!
Things like sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, etc.
Mood music, high value food, doggie tv, sniff walk, hiding smells, T-Touch, body handling and belly rubs.
Playing some peaceful classical music or sleeptime radio
Encouraging hunting and foraging
Hiding food randomly, stuffed kong, tossing room around a room, stuff cardboard box, DIY feeders, slow feeders, snuffle mats
Toy and Puzzle Enrichment
Encourage critical thinking through manipulation of object
Puzzle balls, JW ball, Kong, Fetch, asst. toys, DIY bottle game, Kong wobblers, puzzle toys
adding new, interesting things to your dog's world
Adding a mirror, ramp, outdoor doggie course, hiking in new locations, kiddie pool, tunnel, indoor ball pit, digging pit
Interaction with dogs, people or other species that builds confidence and trust
Puppy Playtime, Acquiring companion animal, Trip to pet store, play-dates, supervised daycare, people outings, walks through social areas
Encourages critical thinking and strengthens bonds through P+
Dog training: group training, dog behavior consulting, nose-work, touch exercises, shaping sessions, push-ups, the sky is the limit!
Utilizing all forms of enrichment in a way that matches with the individuals dog’s interests can really be really rewarding for them. If the dog loves to retrieve I could add in games of “fetch”, “bring it”, “trade” and “drop it” (Cognitive enrichment). If the dog perks up to visual stimulation, I could add in doggie TV to their day (Sensory enrichment). If the dog loves to dig, I could add a digging pit for them (Environmental enrichment). IF could be as simple as bringing your dog to Starbucks with you to socialize (Social enrichment).
Figuring out what’s appropriate stimulation for your dog can really help in building an enrichment schedule. An enrichment schedule is breaking down your days and week to create a weekly routine to maximize the enrichment in your dog’s life. Remember you can always add in aspects of dog training from your training plan too!
-Morning: Feed from kong wobbler and take on a 30min walk
-Mid-Morning: Stuffed kong and mood music
-Lunchtime: Kiddie sprinkler play and fetch outside
-Mid-day: Training session: Protocol Relaxation and a 30min walk
-Evening: Feed from D.I.Y feeding box and t-touch
-Morning: Feed from kiddie pool filled with balls and 30min sniff-walk through park
-Mid-Morning: Training session:impulse control games and doggie TV
-Lunchtime: Dog walker- 1hr walk
-Mid-day: Run errands w/ Fido
-Evening: Feed through snuffle mat and balance ball/peanut work
-Morning: Hide breakfast through backyard and a 30min walk
-Mid-Morning: Stuffed kong w/ half of breakfast and mood music
-Lunchtime: "Find it" game and mood music
-Mid-day: Walk to neighbors for a doggie play-date
-Evening: Feed through dog puzzle and t-touch
-Morning: Feed through snuffle mat and 30min sniff-walk through park
-Mid-Morning: JW ball stuffed with dental treat and doggie tv
-Lunchtime: Sprinkler play and impulse control games
-Mid-day: Heel training via walk around neighborhood and fetch
-Evening: Feed from Kong wobbler and balance ball/peanut work
-Morning: feed from kiddie pool and a 30min walk
-Mid-Morning: "Find it" and Wait practice and fetch
-Lunchtime: Stuffed kong and mood music
-Mid-day: Walk to neighbors for a doggie play-date
-Evening: feed from DIY feeding box and t-touch
Saturday- Day off/ Spontaneous day
Sunday- Day off/ Spontaneous day
Together, we can create a routine to help you manage your dog’s world, being able to provide him all the enrichment and outlets they need, and to manage the unwanted behaviors that are occurring. It may seem a little intimidating in the beginning but a lot of enrichment doesn’t have to take up a lot of our own time. While customizing an enrichment schedule for you, we can take your daily and weekly routine into account, along with your dog’s specific behaviors and needs. We can always make adjustments until we find the right routine.
Written by - Allison Daack