Dogs enrich our lives in hundreds of ways – they entertain us, keep us fitter, provide increased opportunities for human socialisation (if wanted), and can be a tremendous comfort in difficult times. How well do we repay that favour?
Dogs have enquiring, inquisitive brains on the whole, and benefit enormously from having a varied, interesting life. An increasing number of dogs are now owned by people who work full time, often leaving the dog at home for hours at a time, and then the same old walk, day in, day out… Or maybe only get the occasional 10 minute walk round the block.. You’d get pretty bored, right?
Of course, all dogs have their own emotional and physical needs which must be respected – if your dog isn’t sociable with other dogs for example, they are unlikely to find being forced into having interactions very rewarding. Older dogs, or dogs with physical limitations can be catered for just as well, if you are sensible.
We have a responsibility to our dogs to provide opportunities for mental and physical stimulation, and this can often be achieved without needing to spend a lot of time or money on it. Below are some ideas for canine enrichment. Not all options are suitable for every single dog, so have a think about what your dog would enjoy the most. It’s also not an exhaustive list – use your imagination!
- Vary your walking routes. Same old route, day in, day out? Yawn… Take your dog to different places so they can process new smells. Even doing your normal route backwards may help ring the changes.
- Slow down. Humans often want to get from A-B as quickly as possible, but dogs generally like to sniff and explore their environment. Allow them time to sniff in that hedge and explore that clump of grass. Sit on a bench with them and just watch the world go by.
- Can’t walk your dog? Get a dog walker or friend to take your dog out for you. In the majority of cases, dogs need to get out and about on a regular basis.
- Encourage scenting behaviour by using ‘sprinkles’ for your dog to find. Grated cheese can work well as you don’t need to use a lot (of course, if your dog has any allergies, do bear this in mind).
- There’s no law to say that dogs MUST be fed from a food bowl.. some dogs love to work to find their food. Ways you can achieve this include:
- Food dispensers such as kongs, treat balls and snuffle mats can all help keep your dog busy. Care does need to be taken to ensure that your dog isn’t suffering from frustration rather than positively enriching them though.
- Scatter feeding. If they are dry fed, scatter their kibble in the grass for them to find.
- Use part of their meal allowance for training.
- Hide kibble in rolled up towel/under flower pots/hidden in cardboard boxes etc
- Chewing. Most dogs find chewing a positive experience. Always avoid cooked bones in case they splinter, but there are plenty of natural chews that dogs can enjoy, including carrots, broccoli stalks and frozen Kongs.
Games to play. Consider things like
- Hide and Seek
- Tag/ping pong recall
Training is (or should be) a life-long activity. Like humans, skills that aren’t practiced are often lost, and we can help keep our dog’s brain’s healthy well into old age if we exercise them! It goes without saying that training should be carried out using positive, reward based methods only
- Classes. Look for small classes that give you plenty of individual attention, and where stress is kept to a minimum.
- One to Ones. Some dogs (and humans!) do better on an individual basis
- At home. There is lots of inspiration on the internet if you know where to look. Kikopup on Youtube is a great place to start for ideas and guidance on how to teach new behaviours.
You don’t necessarily need to do any of these at a competitive level, in the privacy of your back garden is fine. Keep in mind the physical abilities/shape of your dog though – only take on activities that won’t put them at risk of injury.
- Rally Obedience
- Working trials
- Hydrotherapy (if your dog likes to swim!)