What is enrichment and why is it beneficial for your dog?

One of the most important aspects of dog care is being able to incorporate enrichment into your furry friend’s daily life. Enrichment is the practice of mentally and physically stimulating your dog with fun activities that engages their body, mind, and senses. This is essential for your dog’s mental and physical health as it allows them to engage with their natural instinctive behaviours, staving off boredom and providing quality entertainment. Enrichment has a range of benefits, including (but not limited to) relief from anxiety and stress, improving resilience, strengthening bonds with owners and other dogs, and assisting with preventing and treating unwanted behaviours.

What happens if my dog isn’t getting enough enrichment? 

An unstimulating environment can contribute to problems such as anxiety, aggression, depression, excessive barking/howling, and destructive behaviour. If you’re wondering why your dog is engaging in some not so favourable behaviours, try giving some of these enrichment ideas a go.

Cognitive and behavioural enrichment

Just like us, our beloved pups require mental stimulation to keep their brains healthy. Without proper enrichment, your dog is far more likely to get bored and frustrated and demonstrate undesirable behaviours, so mind-stimulating activities are important. Cognitive enrichment includes any activity that requires your dog to think and use multiple senses at once, such as training, problem solving and memory tasks. 

Environmental enrichment

This involves exposing your dog to a range of environmental complexities both inside and outside of the home. Enriching your dog’s home environment can alleviate boredom and stress while they are home alone and prevent undesirable behaviours when you aren’t there. You can make their home environment more exciting by rotating a range of toys such as ropes, squeaky toys, stuffed animals, and tennis balls. You can also place a range of chewing items around the house, play soft music, and introduce new pet-friendly scents.

Feeding enrichment

Feeding enrichment can be used to keep your dog mentally engaged and well as physically satiated. The goal of food enrichment can vary from dog to dog; some may need more of a mental challenge, or some may need to simply slow their eating pace. It can be a great way to occupy your pup when they are left alone, and to alleviate unwanted behaviours as well as stress and anxiety. Puzzle feeders are a great idea, or toys filled with food, Lickimats are also a great way to slow down feeding and stimulate your pup during mealtimes.

Social enrichment

Socialisation is an essential part of any dog’s development; this includes socialisation with both dogs and humans and can be integral to their ability to interact with new people and animals in the future. This type of enrichment is vital to their ability to cope and display appropriate behaviours in public. Taking your dog on regular walks or bike rides is a great way to expose them to unfamiliar smells, sights, people, and other dogs. Doggy playdates and training classes are also a great idea to introduce social stimulation in a more controlled environment.

It is important to stay mindful of the types of enrichment you choose to incorporate into your pet’s routine, because if poorly done it can potentially have an opposite and undesirable effect; some dogs may be suitable for all types of enrichment, while others may only benefit from only specific types of enrichment.. If you are unsure what types of enrichment are suitable for your pup, contact a positive reinforcement based dog trainer who can assist you.