Are you one of the dog owners in which the above statement was the first to come to mind as government guidelines regarding this lockdown were announced? If so, you’re not alone and you’re also in the right place.
Not only are we in unprecedented times facing new challenges but now this effects our dogs too. Please do not worry if your dog normally has 3 walks a day and now can only have one, there are plenty of other things you can be doing to use both mental and physical energy and improve your bond with your dog. In my opinion it is important to not rely on ‘wearing your dog out’ with walks alone anyway, training, games and brain workouts are just as important and should have the same emphasis as a daily walk. This also sets you up for unfortunate scenarios like this one, or a broken leg (you or your dog!) and any other situation that may leave you house bound for a period of time.
How do you keep your dog busy indoor or in the garden? The answer is enrichment. This is a concept that encourages the expression of natural behaviours such as play, exploration and foraging; all of these not only increase your dog’s welfare but use brain power. Achieving enrichment doesn’t have to be overly scientific and complicated, it’s actually very simple and you may even already have lots of enrichment techniques in place and not even know it!
When considering how to produce a more enriching environment for your pet you firstly need to consider what natural behaviours they enjoy expressing, different species have different needs and even different dog breeds may have different behavioural traits. What may be enjoyable for one species may not be for another and what might be a nice additive to one’s environment may be essential to another species’ needs. For example, it is quite important that cats have the ability to use multi-levels, surfaces and platforms due to how important climbing is as a behavioural trait, whereas it is unlikely to be something your dog wants or should be doing.
An initial tip for enrichment techniques is to measure out how much food your dog (or other pet!) should be fed in one day and then ditch the bowl! Use this food across the day to present in various forms as part of his new routine.
Types of enrichment for dogs
Here are just some examples of things that you can do to enrich your dog’s lives and keep their brain busy and happy:
Training! When done right this is super enriching for your dog, helps improve your bond and will help them nap later in the day. Think of a trick you want to work on each week and have an end goal. You can work on this daily for a short session each time, 10 to 20 minutes whenever you can fit it in. Training sessions should always be short and sweet an end on a high note. You can use your dogs normal food mixed with a few treats. YouTube is a great resource for learning how to teach new tricks, just make sure you choose positive reinforcement trainers. Alternatively drop me a line and I’ll teach you both.
‘Scavenger plates’ are a great way to introduce fresh food into your animal’s diet and allow them to experience a wealth of new smells, textures and tastes. Here are a few examples prepared by Alex for her puppies Amber and Remi:
Remember when trying this idea that not all human foods are safe for our pets so please research items carefully before hand. Sometimes just presenting a novel food item alone is enough. Every now and then I just give my dog a whole carrot to keep her busy and intrigued, or I boil her an egg and just present it in the shell for her to work out.
As we all know, dogs have great noses on them and they enjoy using them! So utilise this sense and encourage foraging through scattering their food around your garden or hiding food around certain rooms and let them sniff them out! Snuffle mats are a great tool for this type of activity, here is Remi playing with hers:
Here’s an example of Remi using her Kong Wobbler in a ball pit, she’s using her nose and exploring new objects and generally having a whale of a time! To many dogs this may be enriching even without food added.
Think about how you are giving food to your dog, as the presentation alone can be a source of enrichment. We live in an era of accessibility to all kinds of lovely toys, puzzle feeders and Kongs that we can put food into. The type of feeder you use will depend on the type of food you’re using. Items such as lick mats and your standard Kongs lend themselves better to wet food and encourage licking behaviour, which is great for soothing and calming your dog. Contrastingly puzzle feeders that require the dog to roll, paw at, open, tug or any other form of manipulation are often better for more solid food so that it can fall out. These games are often more exciting but brilliant for mental stimulation and building frustration tolerance.
Be creative and have fun with your dog! Explore what works and what doesn’t, just be sure to always have safety in mind and certain forms of enrichment will need supervision. I’d love to see pictures so if you send some to my Facebook page (link on toolbar) that would be great and I’d love to feature some! Enjoy.