• Eve Bestwick

6 types of canine enrichment

Mental stimulation and enrichment is one of the most important things to keep your pet occupied and active, even more so when walking is limited, like the current situation we find ourselves in. This blog post breaks down the 6 different forms of canine enrichment to understand how different activities enrich your pet in different ways! Every dog has individual activities that are enriching for them, some are more food driven whilst others will do anything for a tennis ball so these activities can be altered to suit your dog.

Social enrichment

Dogs are highly social animals and are well adapted to living in groups. Studies have shown that they are very good at interpreting human gestures and behaviour. Social enrichment encompasses a large variety of different activities such as taking your dog to work to meet people, going to the dog park to meet doggy friends or a trip to the local pet shop.

In the current situation that we find ourselves in, the above activities obviously can’t be achieved, however, that doesn’t mean that should stop us! Social enrichment in the home can include:

  • Spending some time playing together

  • Walking a slightly different route together every day

  • Having a grooming session

  • Have a cuddle - this is known to release endorphins for both you and your pet!

Cognitive enrichment

This form of enrichment enhances thinking and problem-solving abilities. Mental stimulation leads to mental fatigue and makes you pet feel more physically tired than physical activity itself. This enrichment gives your dog a challenge and provides them with new learning opportunities whilst also getting them moving.

Cognitive enrichment can be provided in ways such as:

  • Puzzle or interactive toys - these are a popular choice, often used to enrich feeding time but can be used at any time, homemade versions can be created using things such as toilet rolls or cardboard boxes

  • Scent work - dogs love to use their nose and can be easily implemented into your home, garden or when out for a walk

  • Hide and seek - hide somewhere in your house or garden and get your pet to find you, this will build both your bond and recall!

  • Teaching a new trick or command - this also strengthens your bond

Physical or environmental enrichment

This type of enrichment helps to enhance your pets living space and adds complexity to their environment. This can be easily tailored to suit what your dog enjoys most. This encompasses both physical exercise, mental stimulation and bond building.

Examples of this enrichment include:

  • Building a bury/dig pit - if digging is something your pet enjoys, bury some food or toys and encourage them to dig for them, or simply hide some toys or food in a box full of newspaper and encourage them to find it.

  • Do some agility - use this time to get out some poles, hoops and tunnels to practice or start some agility training (please note - only do this if this is within your pets physical capability, ask your physiotherapist if you are unsure)

  • Using water - if your dog enjoys water, during the hotter months a kids paddling pool can be used with toys in for your dog to enjoy

  • Mirrors - something unusual but that your pet may not always come across that may interest them and keep them entertained

Sensory enrichment

This enrichment works to stimulate any of your pets five senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, sound) This encompasses the other types of enrichment already mentioned however this can be used to focus on one particular scent, which you could use to work on one each day.

Examples include:

  • Creating a “sensory garden” for your dog will really enhance their sense of smell - including safe herbs such as rosemary and lavender for calming properties or mint for energising. Make sure they are planted in clumps rather than mixed as this can cause too many scents in one area

  • Bubbles - some dogs will love playing with and chasing bubbles around, whilst also mentally stimulating them when they pop and disappear, you can also get scented bubbles made for dogs!

  • Wind chimes - these are a great and fun enrichment tool to have in your garden to enrich your pets hearing

Feeding enrichment

Feeding enrichment is a great way to make your pets meal time more interesting, challenging and mentally stimulating for them. This also encourages their hunting and foraging instincts, making it even more rewarding for them.

**Please note - with any feeding enrichment activities, the food used should be taken out of your pets daily meal rather than added and avoid using treats, particularly in large amounts to reduce the risk of weight gain, especially if your dog cannot burn it off easily**

Example of this can include:

  • Kongs and puzzle feeders - encourages mental stimulation

  • Scatter feeding - great to keep your dog active during meal times

  • Freezing treats - both food or healthy treats such as sweet potato or apple can be frozen and see how long it takes for your pet to get the food out

  • Snuffle mats - these can be purchased or you can make your own using a rolled up towel or blanket, great for dogs that like to sniff out their food

Toy enrichment

This encompasses any object that can be manipulated, played with or explored by your pets tail, feet and mouths. This can be tailored well to suit what your pet enjoys most whether it be chasing, chewing or ragging. This type of enrichment can work with toys that can be purchased but other homemade toys.

Examples include:

  • Place your pets favourite toys in a cardboard box and encourage them to find them

  • Flirt pole or lure - these can be purchased or made using a pole and some string, this is a great way to encourage chasing behaviours

  • Chew toys and bones - chewing is a natural instinct in dogs, especially puppies, and ensuring the toys are indestructible - will help to promote this natural behaviour

Providing enrichment for your pet provides mental stimulation, physical exercise, sensory development and strengthening of your bond. These examples mentioned can hopefully be used to provide some ideas to help enrich your four legged friends life!

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