Enrichment. What is it? How do we do it?
Enrichment is the processes of altering or manipulating an animals environment with the intention of increasing physical exercise as well as mimicking natural behaviors that satisfy their psychological needs.
So how do we do that? Well, there are many ways to do this. Let's start with food. Meals are a great way to start the exploration of enrichment using food. This can be done regardless of if your dog is raw or kibble fed. For enrichment that incorporates whole or part of their meals, some great options here are stuffed and frozen Kongs. Freezing makes the fun last so much longer! For kibble fed dogs, you can mix their kibble was pureed pumpkin, unsweetened apple sauce or dog safe bone broth (remember, no onion!!). Stuff the Kong, pop into the freezer and serve frozen. If you have a busy pup, consider the tricky treat ball or Kong wobbler and these also provide some physical (minimal but it counts!), as well and mental exercise.
How about those slow feed bowls? The come in a wide variety of maze patterns and for those raw feeders are a perfect choice. Those pre made blends can be stuffed into the various patterns in the bowl and not only slow your dog down (for those of you with glupers this is especially important), which helps to prevent bloat, it also provides enrichment. These can also be served frozen or partially frozen to help them last even longer.
The options are many with food enrichment. From snuffle mats, busy boxes that you can make yourself from recycling you already have in your house, to rolled up towels filled with rolls of kibble. And don't forget about puzzle feeders. There are so many choices and challenge levels to choose from!
Now food enrichment isn't where it stops and starts. We need to consider scent and play enrichment. Some of the above mentioned things can provide some of these when new foods are used but it just doesn't provide enough in these categories.
Scent. This one is actually pretty simple. Take your dog on a few good sniff walks a week. If possible use a long line were the dog must be leashed. Choose new trails, fields and even rodeo grounds when they are not in active use. Let your dog choose the direction when location allows and the pace as well. Allow and encourage them to use their nose and discover all the new smells. You may be surprised to see how tired they are after just 20-30 mins of good quality sniffing. Another good option is to get ahold of some raw wool from a sheep or alpaca and hide bunches of it around the house or yard for them to sniff out. A flirt pole can incorporate both scent and play if you spray the toy on the end with animal pheromones. However, make sure your dog has a strong 'drop it' or 'out' command for this game. Also watch they are not twisting when they are jumping and chasing the lure. We don't want any injuries.
Play. Tug is a game many dog owners like to use for enrichment. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Before you play this game, ensure you have taught your dog a solid 'drop it' or 'out' command as well as bite inhibition. As with all play it is important to make sure your dog has a good settle command to ensure that things don't get out of hand as they approach their threshold for excitement. Play dates with well chosen and matched dogs are another great choice for play enrichment as is a fun game of hide and seek. To play this, simply put your dog in a sit stay and go hide someplace they can't see you. Then call them just once to come find you and wait. Their nose will not fail them and they will track you down. Remember to make your hiding places simple at first and gradually increase the difficulty as your dogs finding time gets shorter.
When your dog is getting it's basic needs met in ways that mimic their natural behaviors, you will be able so see how much happier and relaxed your dog becomes. This in turn only makes your bond stronger. A tired dog is a happy dog and a happy dog is a well behaved dog.