What is enrichment and why is it important for our pets?

What is enrichment and why is it important for our pets?

You often hear pet professionals talking about enrichment and mental stimulation. But do you know what enrichment is and why it is so important for our pets?

Enrichment is allowing your dog to engage in their natural and innate behaviours such as chewing, digging, sniffing, herding,and hunting. You see, all dogs were bred for a specific purpose – border collies were bred to herd livestock, labradors were bred to retrieve game, rottweilers were bred to guard livestock, and beagles were bred to track small game. 

Each of these roles or jobs equips these dog breeds with certain characteristics, energy levels, and innate behaviours. 

Why is enrichment important?

Modern living often doesn’t allow dogs to be dogs or to engage in their natural behaviours. Dogs (or other pets too) who don’t receive enrichment or an adequate outlet for their natural behaviours often find their own ‘jobs’ to do. These jobs are rarely behaviours that humans appreciate e.g. digging up the back yard, chasing cars, or problem barking.

Enrichment encourages physical activity and can mimic behaviours that our dogs would have done in the wild. Essentially enrichment provides dogs with constructive, non-destructive ways to engage in their natural behaviours.

It is particularly important for dogs who are fearful, reactive, elderly or with physical limitations, dogs who experience stress or anxiety and dogs who are in Level 4 Lockdown who cannot go for their usual days at day care, or adventure walks, or run around at the dog park with their fur friends. 

Below are some handy enrichment ideas, some we have tried and some we haven’t, to provide some fun and mental stimulation for your pet/s.  

Food Enrichment: 

One of the easiest ways to provide mental stimulation for your pet is to make meal times fun or to make your pet work for their food. 

Examples of this are:

  • Scattering meals across the grassy yard
  • Hiding food in cardboard boxes 

https://www.facebook.com/CompleteCanineCareNZ/videos/1830275263776709

  • Using meal times for training games
  • Snuffle mat OR muffin tin

https://www.facebook.com/CompleteCanineCareNZ/posts/3192305687533004

  • Treat Races

https://www.facebook.com/CompleteCanineCareNZ/videos/585629475636538

Environmental Enrichment

Make the inside of your house exciting. Get creative! Using your indoor environment for enrichment is a great way to tire your pet when the weather won’t allow dog walks e.g. too hot or thunder and lightning.

Examples:

  • Playing ‘Find it’ by hiding treats in a specific room

https://www.facebook.com/CompleteCanineCareNZ/videos/652297955552451

  • Create an indoor doggy agility course – move the furniture around, line the chairs up from your dining room table and space them out to create weave poles, use the dining room table to create a ‘tunnel’, use a broom handle between two structures to create a jump. Get creative! 

We hope you and your dog enjoy these activities!