Enrichment For Dogs

By Dr. Jeannie Thomason

I touched a bit on enriching environments for our dogs in my last blog post and I want to go into a little more detail today.

First of all, environmental enrichment is also called emotional or behavioral enrichment, meaning that it enhancing an animal’s surroundings and lifestyle so that he is presented with novelty in his environment, opportunities to learn, and encouragement to engage in instinctive, species-specific behaviors.

Environmental enrichment has been found to help address many emotional/ behavioral disorders in dogs, including, boredom  and/or frustration destruction, cognitive dysfunction, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. 

In addition to helping with emotional or behavioral disorders, environmental enrichment truly should be thought of as an essential part of providing an excellent quality of life for our dogs due to its proven positive effect on their health and well-being.

I want to encourage you all to learn what your dog enjoys doing. Discover their natural behaviors. Learn the history of their breed, and the natural history of the species. Once you understand these things, you will better understand how you can challenge them to move out of their stale comfort zone and into being the animal and species they really are.  Enrichment activities allow us to bring out the inner “wolf” while transforming destructive dogs into mentally healthy canine companions.

Herding breeds love to … herd.  Sporting dogs love to hunt, Terriers love to hunt for vermin.   Check out what kind of classes or events are available for your dog to be able to be the dog he is.   There is something for every breed and mixed breed dog to do – from fly ball to barn hunt to lure coursing and so much more!

Daily enrichment doesn’t have to be a complicated and time-consuming event however, the more creative you can get, the more fun you and your dog will have!

NOTE: Puzzle toys and enrichment games are intended to be discovered and observed together. Please, don’t just buy a puzzle toy and toss it to your dog as you leave for work.  Take the time to encourage them and engage with them interacting with the toy. Make a big to do every time they make a small success in figuring it out on their own!  Encourage them. Praise them when they make small progress, and even when they are just trying to figure it out!

If your dog or dogs have to be home all day, all week-long, while you are gone to work,  you may want to consider taking them to a “Doggie Day Care” facility a couple of times a week or hire a dog walker or pet sitter to come walk your dog or play a game or two with them a couple of times a week, just to break up the boredom.

You may also want to look into finding or even starting a playgroup for your dog and a few of the neighbor’s dogs.

Playgroups were brought into being by Aimee Sadler for dogs in animal shelters. Playgroups are supervised groups of dogs, matched by size and temperament, who get together in a private, secure yard for exercise, fun, and socialization. Usually, the dogs enjoy around 60 minutes of playtime with a maximum of 5 dogs, and they should be always be personally supervised, to insure the best possible experience for all participants.  More and more private play groups are being started around the country, often available through a dog trainer.

The small pack environment in a play group brings out a variety of wonderful, instinctual play behaviors, providing your dog with mental, as well as physical stimulation. The dogs being able to release pent-up energy leads to calmer and happier dogs. Positive, controlled exposure to other dogs can also reduce the anxiety that leads to dog-dog aggression over time.

Playgroups vs. Dog Parks

Playgroups are not dog park “free-for-alls.” In any public, dog park it’s impossible to control the number of dogs, or their ability to safely interact with each other. Dog parks have come to represent an inherent risk not usually found in private Playgroup setting, and let’s face it, dog parks can be especially problematic for puppies, small, or timid dogs, or any dog who doesn’t have great social skills. Sadly, appropriate supervision is lacking in dog parks and many owners have un-socialized and un-trained dogs that often display dog-dog aggression, which can be serious with negative impact any dog’s self-confidence, especially a puppy or a dog already timid to begin with.

Something I am would like to do this Spring is: build a sensory/snuffle garden for my dogs. Not only will this be a great place for my adult dogs to be able to spend some quiet, one on one time with me but as a natural rearing dog breeder, when I have a litter of puppies, having a place for them experience different scents and surfaces, is going to be great for building sound minds.   A sensory garden and/or playing “Scent Games” with them is going to benefit them with sensory and physical enrichment as well as socialization!


Copyright 2017

No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the Author. This article is for educational purposes only. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader.
I have made every effort towards the goal of accuracy in everything on this website and in my articles. Neither I, nor anyone associated with this website in any way take responsibility for any results “positive or negative“ that may occur from reliance on the information contained herein. When one is dealing with a living, breathing organism, there are dynamics that come into play that cannot logically be covered in any one website or publication. Thus, the information provided here is for educational purposes only. It is the ultimate responsibility of yourself to make any decisions regarding the care of your animal.
These statements made herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease in animals or any human. Always consult your health care professional or veterinarian about any serious disease or injury for your animal(s) or yourself. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe any natural substances, including essential oils, for serious health conditions that require professional attention.





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