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What is canine enrichment?

A happy healthy dog needs more than just physical exercise.

Here we explain what canine enrichment and why it's so important

group of dogs sniffing in tyres looking for treats

You know yourself you get bored if you have nothing to do, and that’s when we turn to bad habits to fill our time and temporarily relieve the boredom. Or we choose to read a book, watch a film or go for a walk to get fresh air, exercise and look at beautiful views.

Well its exactly the same for our dogs. When they get bored the look for things to occupy their minds, except they don’t pick up a book, they choose a shoe to chew on instead!

Enrichment is “the improvement or or enhancement of the quality of something, by adding something to it”,  and it is an essential daily part of every dog's welfare.

First introduced in the 1960's in zoos, caregivers and researchers realised that the environments being provided to the animals was inhibiting their natural behaviours and was creating stress and preventing natural development for newborn and young animals.

The purpose then was to relieve stress and improve the animals general well being, and it’s a necessity for all animals, especially our dogs.

So what does that mean for my dog?

Canine enrichment Is basically mentally challenging activities for our dogs, and these can be as simple or complex as your dog can manage.

It is anything that modifies or enhances a dogs environment, encourages physical activity that mimics activities or behaviours they would do in the wild to satisfy their physical or mental needs. Think about your dogs favourite activities -sniffing, digging, foraging, playing, and chewing are all satisfying to dogs. And that is because they are natural behaviors for them, and these activities are rewarding to them.

Why do dogs need enrichment?

Just like us, dogs get bored too. We can pick up a book, do a puzzle or watch TV, but unless we give our dogs activities to do they will find their own ways to alleviate their boredom. LIke digging up your new plants in the garden, shredding the mail, barking at passers by through the window are just some of the ways dogs 

Enrichment is so important because it

  • relieve stress,
  • stop dogs getting bored and creating their own entertainment
  • give dogs some control over their environment
  • encourage natural behaviours 
  • reduce unwanted behaviours
  • build confidence
  • help physically and emotionally satisfy them
  • gives our dogs opportunities to think and learn

Different types of enrichment

Enrichment is just as important as food, water and shelter for our dogs, so we have an obligation to provide at least 1 enriching activity every day for them.

Here are the different types to explore

  • Nutritional enrichment- these are food based activities and games, and as well all know most dogs LOVE food!
  • Sensory enrichment- letting your dog use their senses to explore and discover new things. This involves sight, smell, taste, sound, and tactile activities.
  • Social enrichment- this all depends on your dog's temperament and preferences. Some dogs do not enjoy the company of other dogs and prefer 1-2-1 time with humans. For other dogs this could be spending time playing with other dogs at the park or day care.
  • Physical enrichment- some dogs have high energy and enjoy physical activities like long walks, running, playing, fetch and agility. Others have different physical needs, for example young pups have lots of energy but have restrictions on the amount of exercise they can have. Older or less active dogs may enjoy lower impact activities.
  • Occupational enrichment - this is where we let our dogs ‘work’ doing the jobs they were originally bred to do. Working dogs like shepherds are much happier when they are ‘employed’, playing herding games. Terriers are born hunters, so they enjoy games and activities which let them express their natural traits.
  • Cognitive enrichment - opportunity to engage brains in healthy, stimulating and rewarding ways.

It is vital that we offer choices to our dogs doing any kind of enrichment activity and that they are given control as to how much and often they participate. 

It is also extremely important that we give our dogs plenty of rest time after enrichment activities, to allow them to process and unwind the experience.

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