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Keeping Busy – Dog Enrichment for All Ages

What is Enrichment?

‘Enrichment’ is an all-encompassing term used to describe the wide variety of ways that we can improve or ‘enrich’ our pet’s day! Anything that keeps your pet busy, gets them engaged, makes them use their brain or stimulates their senses can be a form of enrichment.

We don’t even think about a lot of the ways we provide enrichment for our animals, such as their daily walk, a tasty treat, or a new toy. Imagine how much more fun they can have when we make the conscious effort to provide enrichment!

Why Should We Provide Enrichment For Our Companion Animals?  

As responsible pet guardians, it is our job to provide our furry friends with a rich, full life, and enrichment is a big part of that kind of that.

Further, our pets are pretty clever – if we don’t provide an enriching experience for our animals, they will usually come up with one on their own, in the form of chewed-up furniture, holes dug in the backyard or an uninvited playdate in the neighbour’s back yard! It is not uncommon that many of our pets ‘problem behaviours’ are a result of an under-stimulated, bored mind. By providing enrichment we can both provide our pets with an excellent quality of life while also saving our homes from some of their more destructive tendencies!

Enrichment for Dogs

There are a million and one great enrichment ideas out there for dogs. Here we discuss some examples of enrichment strategies that we at SCAR have found effective, but don’t stop there, get creative! Your dog will love you for it, and the SCAR team would love to hear about any new and innovative ways that you have for keeping your best friend’s brain buzzing.

There are seven key types of enrichment that we can provide for our dogs:

1. Cognitive

2. Auditory

3. Feeding & taste

4. Visual stimulation

5. Physical exercise

6. Olfactory, and

7. Novel experiences

Not sure where to start? Here are some examples!

1. Cognitive

Time for some training!

Whether you want to work on a specific skill like a rock-solid heel or train a cool new trick like a flashy high-five, training time with your dog is great for a mental workout. The key is to set your dog up for success by starting small. Break the process of teaching the skill into a few bite-sized pieces then chain them all together. In no time you’ll be amazing everyone with your super-smart pup! If you’d like some pointers, contact the behaviour department at SCAR – we love to talk training.

And remember, regardless of what the old adage says, you can most certainly teach an old dog new tricks. No matter how old or how young your dog is, they are the perfect age to learn something new.

2. Auditory

I ‘hear’ dogs love this one!

Much like with humans, there is some evidence indicating that dogs find certain kinds of music quite soothing, particularly classical music. This being the case, why not leave the radio set for your dog to listen to their favourite tunes when you head off to work for the day? As well as providing a pleasant background noise, it will also help to muffle some of the more distressing sounds that dogs may be exposed to in busy areas, such as fire alarms, road works or squabbling neighbours.

3. Feeding & Taste

Make dinner time into playtime!
  • Treat-Dispensing Toys & Puzzle Feeders

There is a wide and wonderful array of toys out there that are designed to make mealtimes more enjoyable. Dinner is often one of our dog’s favourite parts of the day and, if we’re feeding them in a boring old food bowl, it’s usually over before they know it. By making use of a food-dispensing toy, we can both increase the amount of time our dogs get to spend with their dinner and get them to engage their brains to figure out how to get it!

Not wanting to shell out big bucks for expensive food toys? Then make your own! Feed your dog out of a sealed cardboard box that they need to get into to earn their meal or pop their kibble in an old plastic milk bottle. Getting creative with your recycling is a great way to get all the benefits of the food-dispensing toy without the price tag.

Trainer Tip: Check out Kong, Aussie dog or Nina Ottosson for a great range of long-lasting food toys.

  • Licky Mats

Licky mats are exactly what they sound like – a plastic or silicone mat that we can smear with something delicious and present to our pooches. Some popular ‘smearables’ include peanut butter, low-fat cream cheese, Greek yoghurt or canned dog food.

  • Snuffle Mats

Snuffle mats are like a premade, low mess version of our doggy sandpit. Made from material and lightweight plastic, snuffle mats are great for hiding dry treats and pieces of kibble in. Your dog can then rummage around in it to find the hidden snacks. Snuffle mats can either be brought premade or made at home with very little difficulty - just jump online for crafting instructions.

  • Long-Lasting Chews

Your local pet store will be well-stocked with these! Trial a couple and see what your dog’s favourites are. It’s hard to beat a pig’s ear or an antler chew for a quick and easy activity for your four-legged friend.

4. Visual stimulation

Do you see what I see?
  • Looking Out The Window

Who doesn’t love a room with a view? If your dog spends most of their time inside the house, open a curtain and let them see what’s going on out there. However, this one isn’t for all pups. If your best friend is inclined to get vocal if they see another dog or unfamiliar person outside their property, they may well be better off with the curtains closed.

  • Playing Catch With Kibble

Tossing your dog bits of food to catch is a quick and easy way to get their eyes moving. Remember to start easy – if your pup isn’t used to catching things, it might take him a little time to get his ‘hand-to-mouth’ coordination up to speed!

  • Doggy Television

You might have noticed your dog likes to watch the T.V with you while you are relaxing at home. If this sounds like your dog, it might be worth looking into the wide range of canine programming available on sites like YouTube. It’s like Netflix for pets!

5. Physical exercise

Let's Get Physical!
  • Walks

Walks are a great opportunity for your dog to go out, give the neighbourhood a good sniff and check out a new environment. To keep things interesting, vary the route or the location. If you normally walk around your local streets, go for a drive to the park, the beach, or the bushland for a fun day out.

  • Paddle Pools

Paddle pools are a great way for your dog to play with water and cool off when the weather gets hot. If your pup isn’t the biggest fan of getting his feet wet, keep it shallow and throw in a couple of high value treats to make it a bit more enticing! He’ll be wading around like a duck in no time.

  • The Sandpit

Most dogs love to dig, which can be a source of great frustration to many proud gardeners. Rather than discouraging digging, why not redirect it to an appropriate location and make it part of your dog’s daily enrichment?

Take an old wading pool or children’s shell pool and fill it with sand or loose soil. Use your finger to make a couple of shallow holes then poke in some delicious, stinky dog treats. Bring over your pup and point it out to him – in no time he’ll be busily excavating the pool, looking for buried treasure! Restock the pool every few days to encourage your dog to keep coming back for another dig.  

  • At Home 'Agility'

Got a dog who is a bit on the sporty side, but not interested in signing up for an agility class? Make your own agility course at home! Using bits and pieces from around the house and garden you can make plenty of obstacles to keep you and your pup busy for hours. Jumps, balancing beams, ladder climbs, etc – teach your dog how to use each then string them all together.

  • Puppy Playtime!

Just like their owners, dogs are social animals. Who doesn’t like to catch up with their mates? Many dogs love nothing more than a stroll with their friends or a good game of chasey! By allowing our dogs to socialise and play with other dogs we help them to build their social repertoire while also getting their bodies moving.  

Keep in mind that this isn’t for every dog. Some dogs struggle to make non-human friends, and that is totally fine – it would be a very boring world if we were all the same! We all know people who are a little more introverted and would prefer to stay at home with a good book than to meet a stranger. It’s important that we respect what our dog is telling us and respect the wishes of other dog owners while we’re out for a walk before allowing our dogs to approach for a greeting.

6. Olfactory

Let them sniff!

Humans are an extremely visual species; when we want to know more about something, our first instinct is to give it a good looking over. Not so with dogs – their primary sense organ is their exquisitely sensitive nose! With up to 300 million olfactory receptors (compared to our pitiful 6 million), is it any wonder they love nothing more than a chance to sniff something new? So, what are some ways that we can involve our dog’s noses in our enrichment programs?

  • Scent Sprinkling

Sprinkle different spices around their yard or in boxes around a room. In their own time, let them explore and have a good sniff. Be sure to avoid anything too pungent – imagine sniffing up a pile of garlic with a dog’s sensitive nose!

  • Take Them Somewhere New

Rather than bringing new scents to your dog, why not take your dog to the new scents? A country road would smell all kinds of interesting to a dog used to walking on busy suburban streets.

  • Follow the Scent Trail

Make a “follow the scent” trail in your backyard. Taking the juice from a tin of tuna, make a trail running through the garden, making sure to leave a nice big chunk of the tuna at the finish line. When ready, lead your dog to the start of your trail and let their nose do the rest!

  • Beginner’s Noseworks

Begin with your dog outside the room. If they see what we are up to it will spoil the surprise! Take some strong-smelling, high-value food treats – something fishy or a nice piece of chicken would work wonderfully – and place them underneath cones or cardboard boxes. Once you’ve got a couple of different ‘hides’ set up, let your furry friend in and let them sniff out the food. Start easy and build the difficulty with time. It won’t be long before your dog can sleuth out the chicken no matter how well you hide it.

7. Novel experiences

Fur-ever expanding our horizons!

As we all know from our own lives, it is often enjoyable to try something new. The same is true for our dogs.

  • Take Your Dog to Work Day

In our modern world, our dogs are becoming increasingly welcome in environments that were previously closed to them. If you have a dog-friendly office and a moderately confident dog, take the dog in to see your colleagues. Here at SCAR some of our most popular employees have four legs!

  • Go Somewhere New

There’s a big wide world out there, and it’s a whole lot of fun to explore it with your dog. Why not take them for a nature hike or out for brunch at a local café?

  • Take a Class

A lot of people still view training classes as a school that you take your dog to if they are prone to misbehave. While there are many obedience classes out there, there’s also a wide range of options available for people who just want to do something new and interesting with their dog. Some examples include scent work, tracking, agility, dock diving and many, many more! If you want to have a chat about what you might like to do with your dog, please feel free to contact the SCAR behaviour department.  

We hope you’ve found this guide useful and that it has inspired you to provide the dogs in your life with all sorts of wonderful new experiences. If you have any questions about enrichment (or any other training questions), please feel free to contact the SCAR behaviour team. SCAR also provides a Puppy Pre School, Puppy Primary School as well as 1-on-1 training sessions which can be booked online via the previous links.

Thank you for taking on an individual in need of love and care, and for giving them their Second Chance – because they all deserve one!