If you have a dog and socialise with other people who have a dog, especially those knowledgeable ones (we all have those friends who seem to know everything!) you’ll have heard the term ‘enrichment’ bandied around. It’s all the rage, it’s the right thing to do for your dog you hear and everyone who is anyone is doing it. But what the actual heck is it?! What does it mean?! Why is it ‘the’ thing to do?! How the chuff do you even do it?!
You’re in luck; I’m about to explain and give you some pretty cool ideas to get you started!
Talking about enrichment gets me bubbling and bouncing around with excitement; I’m constantly looking for ways to add fun and interest to Bob’s life and I’ve found the whole process adds exactly the same to mine too! I’m forever catching myself grinning like a proud parent when he figures out a new toy for the first time, cheering when the penny lands during a training session or laughing my head off when we’re playing with a toy together.
I love to share with as many hoomans I can so I’ve controlled my verbal diarrhoea and written a ‘sort of’ concise explanation to help you feel all this fun too!
Ok, boring bit first. The dictionary definition of enrichment is “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something”. When we’re talking about canine enrichment, we’re basically saying “adding stuff to your dogs life to improve the quality of it”. Brilliant!
Our dogs are amazing; they intuitively understand our emotions, they love to hang out with us and they make us laugh our heads off at their barmy actions. Thing is, have you ever thought about how much they actually rely on us? I mean, Bob literally can’t go for a wee unless I open the door for him (please don’t suggest alternatives!). He can’t feed himself because the food is shut in the cupboard and he most certainly has not grasped the concept of turning the TV on to watch a bit of Corrie because he’s bored.
By choosing to enrich Bob’s life I know I’m making it better for him; I’m providing him with fun, with novel things to learn and explore and most importantly I’m helping him use that super awesome brain to work stuff out, rather than letting him loll around all day getting bored.
Enrichment can fall into 6 categories and they’re a pretty handy way of thinking about what sort of activities you can do:
- Sensory; what it sounds like. Think about those 5 senses; what can you do to help stimulate them?
- Sight; can we play games with cups where he has to watch where the treat goes? Can we go to the park and watch people running around playing football?
- Sound; Rather than leaving Bob in a quiet house I’ll admit I’ve downloaded a doggy playlist for him! Can we go somewhere with new noises and do some positive association training?
- Taste; Can I find new treats to go in his Kong? What vegetables hasn’t he tried yet? Are there any natural treats he’s not had a go at yet? (Probably not, but I’m an eternal optimist!)
- Touch; Where can we go on our walk today that will give him a variety of sensations underfoot? Do we have toys with different textures to explore? I’m thinking rubber, rope, stuffed teddies etc etc.
- Smell; Let’s get that sniffer working for our treats! Hiding food is one of Bob’s absolute most favourite games and I tell you what, he’s completely shattered after half an hour of playing ‘find it’ for his tea! Winner!
- How can I make Bob’s tea a challenge to get to? I don’t want to make him frustrated, I just want to get that brain working to figure out how he’s going to get the food out of the object and into his belly. We have lots of bought enrichment games but honestly some of his favourites are the cheap solutions; scattering tea in the grass, putting lunch in an empty 2L bottle which I’ve cut a couple of holes in, hiding brekkie in a rolled up and knotted towel.
- Feeding toys are brilliant fun but so are ones doggies and hoomans play together; we enjoy fetch (in small, short amounts), tug, and chase together. Playing together is a great way to add fun to your relationship and strengthen your awesome bond. Some dogs absolutely ADORE ripping the stuffing out of soft toys; they’re not being horrible, they’re having the BEST. TIME. EVER! Buy them a ton of cheap toys from the charity shop and let them go mad.
- Initially this can sound quite daunting but you’ll soon get into it; can you add a paddling pool to your back garden in the summer months? What does your dog do when they see themselves in a mirror? Bob and I live right next to a park and sometimes at night when there’s no one in the playground we sneak in and play on the equipment; those baby sets with easy to climb sides to get to the slide make a great challenge for him to get up!
- Who can we go hang out with today? Can we go play with some doggy friends? What about a trip to the pet shop? How about hooman friends? Bob absolutely LOVES hanging out with his 3 year old mate, Florence. She’s a pro at handing out food and she’s great for passing him new toys to play with.
- Just like toys, this one ROCKS for adding ‘awesome’ to your relationship. Spend some time working on those hard to keep skills like loose lead walking and recall or do some basic trick training. Bob reckons “touch” is a pretty awesome skill (“you mean I just put my nose on the coaster and I get food?! DONE!”) and I think teaching him to wave is just darn cute!
When I started playing enrichment games with Bob I found it pretty hard to come up with inspiration and I wasn’t really sure I was doing it right. I started by buying some toys and watching to see which ones he seemed to enjoy the best, I googled for ideas and joined facebook groups. Pretty quickly I found more and more inspiration in every day life and now I find it hard to see things without thinking of their potential to be turned into a game! Dive in, get involved and have fun!
Already into enrichment games? Spread the love and share your favourites in the comments below!