Mental Enrichment: How It Can Help Your Dog
Have you ever gotten back from a long walk in hopes that your dog would be tired? But once you reach home, your dog is still full of energy, but you are not? Now what do you do at times like these?
You direct his/her energy to something that can keep him occupied on his own. You also “tell them what to do, instead of what not to do”, and this is where enrichment comes into play, says Deepti from The Love of Dog. She is a canine trainer who runs her company that makes enrichment toys for dogs.
Let us now enrich ourselves on ‘enrichment for dogs’ with Deepti’s help!
What is enrichment? Is it different from training?
Enrichment as the word suggests, is enriching your dog’s life. In a way, even training is enrichment, because it is making a dog’s life better. Vet visits are also making their lives better. But the idea behind enrichment is to let the dogs do what they do naturally.
Living with humans, dogs unlearn a lot of their natural instincts like scavenging, chewing, or digging. As a substitute, what if we give them a sniffing mat or a chewing toy to let them be who they are (once in a while, at least)!
A bonus: When you provide them with enrichment using different toys or games, or when you provide something for chewing or scavenging, it becomes a routine for them. So the next time they see anything on the road, or they find your shoe, they will not be as interested in destroying it.
For example, the moment you let your dog off leash, they might run like crazy because what if you put him back on leash. But for a dog who gets to run often, being off-leash won’t be a big thing.
The bottom line: Training is telling your dog the dos and don’ts, and enrichment is fulfilling your dog’s instincts while keeping him under rules and boundaries. That, however, doesn’t mean that training can’t be mental stimulation. It can be made into a game which gives you a chance to let the dog do what they want to, while staying under rules.
My dog gets destructive when I leave him alone at home even for an hour. How can enrichment help?
The basic thing that we require here is to teach the dog how to be comfortable and relaxed by himself. For this, it is essential to train him. You can use enrichment to train him because when the dog is by himself, he needs something to keep him occupied. And this where enrichment comes in play- stimulating the dog.
Begin with five minutes. Give them an enrichment toy. You can use a kong as it is safe for dogs even when unsupervised. Then, leave the room and come back in five minutes. Keep increasing the time gradually. If you are leaving the house, give him a frozen kong, which will keep him occupied for some time till he falls asleep.
If it’s a bad scene, a behaviorist’s help can be considered, since a treat will not entice the dog since he won’t eat anything when you are not around.
I am on calls throughout the day and can’t play much with my dog. How can I use enrichment?
Puzzles can be of great help at a time like this. When you know you have a call or a meeting, and you need your dog to be busy elsewhere, plan something. Be proactive and keep something ready for your dog to indulge in.
It’s like telling them “I don’t want you to be bored when I’m busy, so why don’t you do this.” You can have a treasure hunt by hiding some of his snacks or dinner around.
Management and giving them what they want is the key!
Another thing that will help here is-routine. A dog adapts to a schedule very well. So, when you know that you want your dog to be occupied at a particular time in the day, get him what he wants. He should have already been trained to be alone by now. So, you can give him some games or puzzles to keep him busy.
The Sploot app can help you set up reminders for this routine i.e. when you want to keep your dog occupied, or when you want to train them to be by themselves. You can download the app from PlayStore/AppStore.
Easy DIY enrichment toys and games
There are a lot of enrichment toys available for dogs. But DIY projects have their own charm. They can also in fact help your dog get familiar with games and puzzles before you buy a new toy for him. Here are some interesting toys that you can make at home.
Cardboard box games
Cardboard boxes make up for a very interesting enrichment tool. They don’t only stimulate a dog in nose work, but also caters to their problem-solving tendency. All you have to do is:
1. Take a box in which your dog can easily put his nose.
2. Fill the box with all your dog’s toys.
3. Sprinkle some treats in it.
To make it more complex, you can have multiple puzzles in one box. They will sniff and work their way to solve it. Here are some ideas:
-A kong can have cheese inside it
-Hide a treat in some other toy
-Put a treat in the knot of a cloth
Laundry can be fun too
It’s a well-known fact that dogs love to dig! We should take them to beaches and places with sand, but since that is not always possible, here is a quick idea to satiate their love for digging.
1. Collect your laundry in one place
2. In that pile, hide a toy.
3. They will sniff and dig to find it.
4. Since the towels are thicker, there is less chance that they’ll get torn.
Problem solved! All it takes is identifying what your dog likes doing, and finding out a way to let them do it without disrupting your life.