Canine Enrichment is the process of using activities, games and environments to challenge and stimulate your dog’s brain, satisfy their individual innate needs, and help them to learn to problem solve which in turn increases their confidence and resilience.
Just like humans, who all have their own personal favourite activities and hobbies they enjoy, each dog will have their own preferences to what they personally find enriching, so there is no one right way to incorporate enrichment into your dog’s life.
Dogs are highly intelligent animals, so providing them with plenty of mental stimulation will help to prevent boredom and anxiety which can often lead to destructive and problem behaviours.
With all the demands and pressures of work, family, activities and gatherings, humans have never been busier. What this means for dogs is that many dogs spend more time alone than ever before. It is our responsibility as dog guardians to provide choice, and opportunities for our dogs to fulfill their instinctual needs, and find happiness and enjoyment.
Dogs today are given little choice in their lives; humans decide how, what and when they will eat, when they can spend time playing, sniffing or exploring outdoors, and when they are allowed to go for a walk, or to engage in canine play with other dogs. They are expected to fit into our homes and lives, be friendly to everyone they meet, never growl, and to just understand exactly what we want from them, even when our requests are confusing or inconsistent.
With all the current research we have on a dog's brain and the importance of mental and emotional well-being, we now understand that a walk once a day and sleeping the day away simply isn't enough. Canine Enrichment is vital for the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of all dogs. Not only does enrichment help dogs to relax, but it allows them the opportunity to problem solve and be self-sufficient.
The past few years especially have been extremely challenging and stressful for dogs. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, with lockdown restrictions in place in most countries, and millions of people losing their jobs, or being forced to work from home, our dogs experienced many changes to their lives and routine, adding quite a lot of stress and anxiety to their lives.
Suddenly, dogs who were used to spending a fair chunk of time alone each day had their humans, including noisy children, home all the time disrupting their normal routine. Dogs who were thrilled to have their humans home with them all the time for the better part of a year were more likely to develop separation anxiety when life returned to some sort of normal and they were left alone again.
Many dogs who were used to a certain amount of outdoor exercise and socialization such as walks on the beach or playing with friends at the dog park were confined to their house or yard for many months, which caused some to become socially awkward when they once again had the opportunity to socialize with other canines.
Giving your dog the opportunity to problem solve through enrichment activities will increase their confidence and self-belief, making it easier and less stressful for them to handle unexpected changes in their environment.
Enrichment fulfills many of a dog’s innate behaviours and natural needs, with activities such as hunting (for treats), chasing, predatory sequence play, foraging, digging, sniffing, social communication, physical exercise, and problem solving. Using mental energy naturally leads to mental relaxation which helps alleviate boredom.
Anxious dogs who suffer from low self-esteem can build their confidence by being given the chance to solve problems in the manner that feels natural and comfortable to them.
No expectations are placed on a dog when offered Enrichment activities. There is no pressure and they are free to choose whether or not to participate in the activity, and how they wish to participate. Activities should always be enjoyable and within the dog's mental capacity.
For a list of Enrichment Activities to try with your dog, click here
If you would like to learn more about Canine Enrichment and how to incorporate it into your dog's life, read Sniff Play Bark - Your Essential Guide to a Happier Dog
©Rebeca Mas 2021