Introduction to Enrichment
What is canine enrichment?
Enrichment is one of the most important factors for a healthy happy non-destructive dog. It allows dogs; well, to just be dogs. Using their natural instincts, doing all of the things they love and should be allowed to do, licking, chewing, and digging anything that in a nutshell satisfies your dog. I’m a firm believer in the fact that my dogs only destroyed 1 hold object as puppies between them is from my love of enrichment. Enrichment is a lot of the time overlooked but dogs that engage with their natural instincts on a regular basis will be far happier and content than those that don’t.
Now that dogs have become domesticated and our way of city living doesn’t always allow for digging chasing and chewing 24/7 so I’ve come up with a few ideas below that I’ve used to help you enrich their environment (& life) .
I’m mostly focusing on food based enrichment as most dogs are food driven which makes this option the most widely used and one I personally love. We all need food to survive so you’ll find them most likely to interact starting out with food based enrichment. Now our aim here is to prolong your dog’s meal time. This can be done by splitting your dog’s meals up into smaller meals spread over the day. You can make this as easy or as complex as you like, from sprinkling kibble over your lawn for your dog to graze, to filling multiple enrichment toys for instance if you raw feed our XL scream extreme bone or the Chilly penguin by Pet safe and freezing (if suitable). For those feeding a kibble based diet soaking your kibble in water and stuffing into toys can dramatically lengthen meal times.
A few tips for getting the best results for both you and your dog when using enrichment toys.
- With all styles of toy it’s important to remember each dog is different; don’t set them up to fail. Teach them like you would a child with a new toy, show them what they need to do. If you have an easily frustrated dog then don’t freeze a brand new toy making the goal totally out of reach. But try softer / unfrozen foods in the toy first and build as you go.
- Purchase size appropriate toys, it WILL save you money in the long run. If you have a large dog one that does like to destruct it’s always best to ensure you have toys that are size appropriate and usually a larger toy will be more durable and less likely to be destroyed. Same goes for smaller dogs you wouldn’t want their mouths to get stuck in a larger toy.
- Take the toy away once the food is finished & don’t store them in the toy box with the rest. That way your dog is more likely to associate certain toys with food. They know what’s coming and are more likely to disengage from the toy once finished.
Cognitive enrichment - Using puzzle toys like the Planet Dog Snoop or the Pet Safe Kibble Nibble to enhance your dogs mental stimulation, creating puzzle feeder training sessions where food is hidden in a number of ways and within a number of different objects. You are making your dog think about how they will access the food & you may see them try a number of different ways with a brand new box or toy that’s you’ve not used before. I find it valuable to rotate the toys rather than using the same one each time to provide a wide range and to teach them different techniques.
Using old boxes, egg cartons etc are great for this too and absolutely free.
My current top 5 enrichment toys we stock are:
Pet Safe Chilly Penguin: Stackable, dishwasher safe & a great working from home snack toy plus it’s one of the few that can hold liquids and can’t roll away when being used.
Pet Safe Twist and Treat – Very versatile can be used for kibble, small treats and raw feeding. (only now available in Large) Hot tip. Put this toy in a box, baking tray or larger bowl to stop the roll.
XL Scream Xtreme bone - fitting 270g + of raw meat this has been an amazing toy for our Labrador and golden retriever here at HQ. It does also float and can be used as a fetch and retrieve toy so the most bang for your buck.
Soda pup can – these come in three sizes meaning every pup can enjoy. The XL is the sturdiest of them all but each has a good sized hole making it achievable.
Licki Mats – With such a wide range from the wobble bowl, splash and flat mats like the slomo there’s heaps to choose from and you can put as much or as little as you want on these. I like the slomo best for its deeper holes and 2 different textures these are great for those dogs with anxiety and we found a great use for these when crate training to associate good with the crate.
Free enrichment ideas.
Got an old muffin tray & some tennis balls? Fill your tray with a few treats, place tennis balls over the top and watch your pup sniff them out. To put them to the test don’t fill all of the holes with food, this can really test their scent skills.
Empty cardboard boxes, now don’t hate me when you have to pick up 259 tiny bits of cardboard but putting treats into an old box or carton can provide hours of fun especially if you repeat a few times over. Think pass the parcel for dogs. I like to add a toy at the end that they’ve not played with for a while just to spice it up.
Roll treats in a towel - yep it really can be that simple.
Always supervise your dog with a new toy or frozen toy.