Enrichment is all about making engaging and interesting activities for your dog. Making them work their brains and a build stronger relationship with you, their owner. Enrichment should be challenging but not frustrating, so we would recommend starting off fairly easy and gradually increasing the difficulty.
Enrichment is working the dogs mental capabilities while physical exercise works the muscles of the body. Daily exercise and enrichment will help your dog to feel relaxed, calm and balanced.
While enrichment can be done every day, we all have days when something keeps us inside. The weather, responsibilities, illness and such. Enrichment can be hugely beneficial during these times in making our dogs lives more fun and interesting.
Working in partnership with Donna O’Keeffe from Canine Soul, we have put together an introduction to enrichment. This explains some of the basic principles behind enrichment and some top tips on how you can start to enrich your dog’s life starting today.
Bone Idol Guide To Enrichment
Donna O’Keeffe From Canine Soul
Donna, a qualified dog behaviourist, dog nutritionist and dog trainer, has been working with animals most of her life, specifically with horses and dogs. She has four husky cross breed dogs called Stitch, Chilli (Both Right), Bear and Mishka.
Canine Soul was founded in 2016 with a goal to help pet parents understand and learn the some of the language and behaviours needed to help them reconnect with their dogs. She has worked closely in particular with re-homed and rescued dogs. She also specialises in pet behavioural issues, helping you and your dog make the most of your life together.
Donna and her team are able to offer consultations and support for you and your dog across East, Mid and West Sussex. https://www.caninesoul.co.uk
Three Areas Of Enrichment
When we break down enrichment ideas, it can be split into this in to three easy sections, Feeding, Playing and Working.
Feeding: This is about creative ways to feed your dog, this can be harder if you feed a wet or raw diet, but it can still be done. Remember if you use treats during the day you can adjust the meals accordingly.
Playing: Here we work on interactive toys and games you can play with your dog. As children we are all naturally creative with the games we play, and this is a chance to get back in touch with your playful self.
Working: Think training, tricks and commands, just because you are stuck indoors doesn’t mean you can’t train your dog from recall to wait and beyond. Start with something simple that they already know and go from there.
Enrichment Feeding For Your Dog
Sniffing out Dinner:
There are several ways to do this and mixing them up is a great way to keep each one fresh and entertaining. We will start with dry kibble and treat ideas and move onto wet and raw.
Dry Dog Food
Scatter feeding is as simple as its sounds, simple scatter the food around a room the more spread out the hard it is for your furry friend to find all their yummy dinner! Most dogs enjoy a hunt and forage for their food.
Remember if you have multiple dogs you may need to separate them for these exercises to ensure they get their whole meal. This idea can also work with treats and with training exercises like wait/stay.
Snuffle mats are simply rubber or plastic mats with fabric tassels tied onto them that allow you to hide food amongst them and then your dog will sniff them out! Not only are these relatively easy to buy you can also make them yourself from an old door mat with holes or a rubber bathmat as the base then cut some old fleece blankets or some old cotton tee shirts into strips. Then tie these onto the mat to create a shaggy covering of tassels. When it’s time to eat simply mix the dry food into the tassels and then let your dog discover their dinner!
Puzzle toys & feeders vary in difficulty and we love the Planet Dog 'Amaze Ball' for dry food and treats. (better for medium to large dogs as ‘small bite’ food pops out of the smaller hole!) You may have to spend some time with your dog when introducing the puzzle feeder to demonstrate how it works but once they know dinner is in there they will be eager to get started.
Raw, Wet & Dry Dog Food
Slow feeding plates and bowls are also a great idea for slowing down your dog at mealtime and work with wet and dry foods. They are covered in ridges, lumps and bumps that make it harder for your dog to just hoover up dinner. Dry dog food can also be lightly soaked and this paste smeared on to make it last a little bit longer.
Some Easy At Home Ideas:
Blankets and boxes. Scatter dry dog food in a towel or blanket and roll it up and let them find their food, you can also stuff this in a box to make it a little more challenging.
Stuffing toys! When it comes to toy stuffing, we love a Classic Kong. If you feed wet dog food, you can smear portions around inside the Kong and split one mealtime into three or more fun enriching play times!
Frozen, so fun they can’t ‘let it go’. (I couldn't miss that pun!) You can also freeze wet dog food or gently soaked dry dog food inside things like tracheas or a Classic Kong. It can be a bit messy but will give your dog will love an extended period working for their food.
Enrichment Play For Your Dog
Get creative! Enrichment can be made from almost anything around the house. You can fill a cardboard box with toys, treats and newspaper to make a search game. A toilet roll tube can have treats inside with the ends of the tube squashed in. You can drop treats or kibble into a plastic bottle for a cheap and easy activity toy; just make sure to remove the ring and cap first and keep a close eye on your dog, especially those powerful chewers!
Breed Specific Behaviour
Every dog comes with their own personality and traits, the more time we spend with them, the more we understand them. Included in their personalities are the behaviours and instincts that were encouraged through breeding over the years. These were encouraged to enhance the ability of the dog to perform their intended purpose.
While many dog breeds may still retain these strong natural urges to perform such behaviours, they are most likely not ‘working’ dogs but domestic pets. So, we must consider how we can meet these demands and needs. For instance, with behaviour and trait orientated games. Labradors were originally bred to retrieve (fetch), Spaniels to track scents (find it) and Terriers to hunt out vermin (tug of war).
Enrichment games can be made from almost anything around the house including your dog’s exiting dog toys, so you can use your imagination. Rolled up towels with treats scattered in can satisfy the natural urge to dig, sniff and hunt. Hide and seek games are a great way to entertain the sniffers and gun dog breeds like Pointers, Retrievers or Beagles, upturned flowerpots, plastic cups or small buckets to hide treats or toys.
Enrichment Work For Your Dog
When it comes working or training, this is all about making your work for the reward be it treats or praise. The quickest way is to include this in daily activities or even anything mentioned in the Feeding or Playing sections of this guide. ‘Sit’ and 'wait’ are perfect reminders for your dog to always listen and wait for rewards.
Use existing skills and commands to reinforce with positive rewards to improve your dogs prompt response to them.
One idea is to have two people either end of a room and work on recalling your dog between you and asking your dog to perform a simple command before receiving a reward. If you have the space you can also hide and then call your dog, making your dog work to find you improves recall and makes them excited to find you. Always finish a recall with at least a ‘sit’ before rewarding.
In order to get a fantastic recall, a good strong bond between you and your dog is essential. Just 5 minutes of training every day creates this bond. To reinforce this train your dog to look at you on command. When your dog looks at you their brain will release a hit of oxytocin which, simply put, makes them fall in love with you. So work on some look/watch exercises.
These are super easy to do at home for example shout look and when your dog looks at you praise and reward, or use a treat at your eye level and hold your dogs gaze repeating the look/watch command. i.e. "look, look, look" - hold gaze and praise and reward.
Wait, Stay and Leave It Commands
Exercises such as wait, stay and leave it are essential when you have your dog off lead. So when you are at home work on these as frequently as possible.
A lot of people get mixed up between wait and stay or think they are the same.
Wait, means wait until your next command.
Stay, means stay until I come back to you and release you from the stay command.
Leave, means ignore what they have found, including dogs, and pay attention to you.
To reinforce the 'leave' command start working your dog with training treats. Then get them them to leave it until you say. The big proof that this command works is outside surrounded by exciting distractions. When you are out with your dog spend the first five minutes doing watch/look & leave it exercises.
Be sure to practice these as you visit various locations you visit as dogs are environmental learners and require teaching in multiple places in order to make sure the command works.
If you go to a new place (including parks, walks and visits to friends homes), the dog will be more interested in sniffing new smells than listening to you. So start each visit with these exercises to ensure that your dog is aware they must still listen to you.
New Trick Training
Down time from the usual exercise routine is a great opportunity to teach a dog a new trick. Dogs love positive reinforcement. This is done using treats, play and praise as a reward-based training while learning new things. Remember to break complicated tricks into smaller sections and build them up. Try to keep training sessions relatively short and if you dog starts to lose interest either improve the rewards or take a break.
There are hundreds of training guides for tricks you could teach your dog online and its best to focus on one or two new ones at a time. Then add these to the existing skills your dog has already learned. As you work on them don’t forget to include the staples like sit and wait.
Training sessions should always be positive and fun, you can even get the whole family involved, each taking a turn to try the new trick your dog is learning.
Most of all enjoy this time with your dog.