Canine Enrichment

Enrichment is engaging your dog in activities designed to stimulate their mind and to keep them physically fit. It can provide mental and physical stimulation, provides a suitable outlet for normal behaviours and reduces boredom and associated behaviours.

Enrichment can include sensory stimulation such as different scents, working for nutritional reward with a cognitive challenges or as simple as presenting the dogs food in a novel way.

Enrichment is used as part of Animal Physiotherapy sessions with food rewards on licki mats and teaching new skills and movements as part of therapeutic exercises. It can also play a huge part in mental simulation for a dog on restricted exercise or cage rest, the key in these cases is engagement but calmness! Mental exercise of training or enrichment can be just as tiring as physical exercise for our dog. Adult dogs require 14 hours of sleep a day!

All dogs are individuals so what works for one dog may not for another. Too easy the game is over quickly, too difficult and it will lead to frustration.

Enrichment Ideas

Nutritional

There is a huge range of puzzle toys/ treat dispensing toys available from pet stores or online, however there are also lots of ideas for DIY nutritional enrichment.
The act of sniffing and foraging for food is a naturally calming behaviour for dogs.
Ensure food used comes out of daily ration to prevent weight gain as there will already be a reduction in calories burnt with less exercise.

 

  • Encourage foraging feeding behaviours with games using scent work to find food hidden or scatter feeding dinner in the grass in the garden
  • Problem solving to find food- treats wrapped in towel, hidden in cardboard box, toilet roll inner or plastic bottle
  • Snuffle mats
  • Licki mat filled with treats and frozen

Sensory

  • Sniffari walks- longer than normal lead (not extendable), dog chooses where to go, lead always kept loose. Prevent running, try new areas for new smells. Ensure to check dog over at the end of the walk for grass seeds/sticky buds etc.
  • Observational skills and new environment- choose a location in a new environment to sit and watch the world go by.
  • Dog TV has on demand and live programmes specifically designed for dogs as a great passive activity.

Cognitive

  • Training a new trick, ensure this is appropriate for the injury but could include ‘paw’, weaving through owner’s legs, picking up toys and returning them to toybox.

Safety and Supervision

All dogs will interact with enrichment differently and no dog toy is truly indestructible, whether bought or DIY, enrichment should always be used when supervised.

Caution

  • Dogs with a history of ingesting abnormal items ensure extra precautions or avoid novel items.
  • Injury occurring from enrichment item or exacerbating a current injury.
  • Becoming stressed/fearful of enrichment activity.
  • Dog becomes over-aroused or frustrated.
  • New or novel food or treats may cause an upset stomach.