Back in April, we discussed the importance of utilizing a variety of cognitive enrichment activities for pets and the many benefits of them. Some of the benefits included reduced anxiety, increased cognitive function, and a stronger bond between owner and pet.
This blog post will focus on activities you can do at home, in the community, and items you can buy to create a fun environment for your pet to keep learning!
Cognitive Enrichment Toys:
Many toys designed to provide cognitive enrichment are on the market now. One only needs to search "enrichment toys for dogs" to be bombarded by pages of toys designed to improve your dogs cognitive function while providing him with fun. Of course, each dog is different, and you will need to consider your individual dogs preferences (for example, is your dog food motivated, does he/she prefer to chew, sniff or run, etc).
Below are some examples of enrichment toys that I use:
- Kong: TheKong toy is a large cone shaped toy that has a small opening at one end and a larger opening in the bottom. It is made of tough rubber and is designed to be filled with your pets favorite treats. You can add vegetables, kibble, dog treats, whatever! The idea is to put something inside that will motivate your dog to play with the toy. The items inside should require some effort to get out (for example, small kibble would not work unless you filled the bottom hole with peanut butter). I use this for my power chewer at home who is extremely motivated by food! There are a variety of sizes and strengths to accommodate all pets.
- Snuffle mats: Snuffle mats are designed for you to "hide" treats in the different textures of the mat. Your dog needs to use his/her nose to find the treats. Its great cognitive stimulation for dogs who are patient and love to sniff. Here is a great example of a snuffle mat. Snuffle mats encourage foraging.
- Puzzles: There are many puzzles and levels of puzzles on the market. They are designed to encourage your pet to use his creative problem solving skills to access treats he/she can smell but cannot see! Look at these for some examples:
Of course, not everyone has the time or the wish to purchase several toys- which can be expensive! Sometimes, you want to do things at home to provide enrichment to your pet with little or no cost. Below are some examples that are easy to do:
- Walk a new route: too often, we get into a habit of walking the exact same route with our pets. By taking a different route, you introduce new smells, sights and energy levels to your pets. Try it, you will most likely notice they want to smell more things, walk a little slower and take their time. Thats ok! They are triggering new parts of their brains and learning about a new environment.
- Natural "Snuffle mat": do you have a lawn? Toss some treats on the grass and let your pet forage for them! No lawn? No Problem! Toss some treats in the grass at a nearby park and let your dog search for them while he/she is on a leash!
- Towel game: take a towel roll it out flat, spread out a variety of treats on it and roll it tightly. Let your dog unroll the towel and be rewarded with the treats!
If your dog is well trained and gets along well with other people/pets. There are a variety of activities you can do to provide them with enrichment:
- Shopping: Many stores are dog friendly- even some you would not expect! Here is a list of some dog friendly stores. As the article points out, many chains that are dog friendly, leave it up to the store manager, so always call before heading out. Taking your dog shopping allows them to encounter new experiences, people and smells!
- Dog Parks: dog parks are great for dogs who are well socialized, not anxious, and get along well with other dogs. Since dogs are off leash, it is important to fully understand your dogs temperament, and to have full confidence that he/she will respond to your call or command. Here is a list of dog parks in Milwaukee. It is important to know the laws in your area and the rules of each dog park before going, but dog parks can provide great exercise, socialization and cognitive enrichment for you and your pet!
- Group Hikes/ Pack walks: dogs are pack animals and as such, many love to walk in groups. Pack walks or group hikes, provide your pet with socialization, structured activity and supervision. Some are off leash, some are leashed. Again, you need to know your dogs limitations and be realistic about his/her temperament. If your dog is stressed by other dogs, a pack walk is not a good environment for them.
Closing: the ideas listed above are just the beginning! There are so many ideas to provide your dog with enrichment activities! The benefits are worth it too. You and your pet experience new ways to have fun and your pet receives the cognitive benefits. Enrichment should be part of your dogs training every day- be creative and watch him grow!