Enrichment in Dogs’ Lives
At Milwaukee Paws Pet Care, we really care about your pet’s well-being, so when it comes to enriching their lives, we incorporate not only social and physical enrichment, but cognitive enrichment during our visits, as well! To help improve your dog’s overall well-being, there are actually several different means of doing so that you can consider and incorporate!
Sensory enrichment, and even feeding or nutritional enrichment are additional categories to consider when looking for ways to improve your dogs’ overall well-being. In this article, we will discuss different ways to enrich your dogs’ lives through these different categories while explaining why these different forms (means) of enrichment are so important for your pup!
So just what is “enrichment”? Enrichment is defined as “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something,” and anything that positively changes your pet’s life is, in turn, enriching their lives whether through social, cognitive, physical, sensory or nutritional means.
Each of these categories will likely evoke different positive behaviors, so incorporating canine enrichment activities into their everyday routines is incredibly important for their overall well-being. These include many different kinds of activities such as taking a trip to the beach and letting your pup swim, going shopping at pet-friendly stores, or even taking your pup over to a friend or family member’s house for a visit.
Some other favorite enrichment activities we enjoy doing with your dogs during our pet-sitting visits is incorporating fun games and brain puzzles for them to play! (We will discuss these more below!) Surprisingly, sometimes these nose work and brain games end up tiring your pups out much more than a long walk around the neighborhood would, which leads us right to why a variety of different enrichment activities is so important for our dogs!
Why Enrichment is Important
Does your dog exhibit unwanted behaviors, appear overly hyper or simply bored with his surroundings? Some dogs may carry out unwanted behaviors such as biting at furniture or other personal belongings in the home to alleviate boredom when they aren’t getting the mental and physical enrichment they need to thrive. Exercising not only your dog’s physical body, but incorporating brain games, new social experiences and other various enriching activities will help reduce unwanted behaviors, reduce boredom in your dog, burn off energy and will require them to problem solve like they would in the wild.
Considering the breed of dog you have can also be helpful in determining which types of activities your dog may thrive at. Sheep and cattle dogs, for example, were initially bred to herd livestock, so they will thrive in activities that give them a purpose or job to do. Giving your dog extra time to focus on physical enrichment will be extra crucial for these kinds of breeds.
On the other hand, if you have a dog who is more sedative, such as a bulldog for example, encouraging enrichment through social means and doing different exercises and puzzles that aren’t so physically demanding will be especially important for helping your pup burn energy and get the brain exercise he needs to thrive. Talking to your dog’s veterinarian about suggested activities based on breed and health status can help determine some of the best enrichment activities to do with your canine companion.
When thinking of different ways we can enrich our pup’s lives, we can start with one of the more obvious! We know dogs are man’s best friend, so when we walk through the doors after a long day, or give them attention through affection and playtime, we are socially enriching their lives! But incorporating playtime with other dogs and even other types of animals is another way to help socially enrich your pup’s life. Of course, make sure this playtime is supervised to watch for any signs of aggression, and only encourage this playtime with other pets that are comfortable with social interaction.
You can also help your pup’s social experiences by taking him with you to meet friends and/or family or on road trips and other pet-friendly activities. You can even consider different pet-friendly stores to take your pup to; you don’t need to actually shop, but allowing your dog to explore and experience other people allows them to explore new environments and opens up their world.
Milwaukee also has several bars and restaurants that are dog-friendly that you can check out together! Just be sure to watch for signs that your dog may be uncomfortable or anxious when checking out new places; meeting new people and new animals may be overwhelming at first for your dog, so pay close attention and get to know what kinds of social interactions your pup prefers and thrives in.
If you are having a hard time getting your pup out of the house to explore different means of social interaction or don’t often have other people over to your home, hiring a dog walker with Milwaukee Paws Pet Care might be just what your pet needs! One of our experienced, caring dog walkers can stop by a few times a week while you’re away to take your dog on a walk or to enjoy an afternoon play session!
We even offer group walks for dogs that are very familiar with each other (or dogs that have undergone a thorough assessment). Not only will this further enrich their social experiences, but it will also incorporate physical and cognitive enrichment, as we specialize in not only providing stimulating exercise for your pup, but incorporating puzzles and different games to keep your pup’s brain active and engaged! Read on as we continue to explore these different means of enrichment.
Exercise is probably what first comes to mind when we think of physically enriching our pet’s lives, but it is so much more than that. Our dogs thrive when we can add to or change the environment around them! Getting your dog outdoors or bringing them into new environments to explore new textures, smells and surroundings adds complexity to their world and opens up a whole new means of enrichment to their lives. Taking your dog on a car ride, going on a walk around the neighborhood and taking a different route than normal all help enrich their physical world.
We also know many dogs love to dig, and this is a normal behavior for most dogs. If your dog tries to dig in undesirable spots in your yard, try “building” them a digging pit. You can hide toys or other fun items for your dog to dig for, and having this specific spot will hopefully prevent them from digging in undesirable areas of your yard while encouraging physical enrichment through their instinctive actions and digging
When taking them out of their physical environment isn’t possible, there are still plenty of ways to physically enrich their lives from the comfort of your home. Try bringing in a new dog bed, or moving the bed they currently have to a new, safe spot. Even moving their toys or play area to a new area of the house can help incorporate environmental enrichment by encouraging them to spend time in a “new” space.
Additionally, incorporating new or different toys helps physically enrich your dogs’ world. Not only can playing with toys help reduce your dog’s stress levels and response to environmental stimuli such as loud noises or unfamiliar people, but it can also help your dog bark less and will satisfy their need to chew/bite while hopefully keeping them away from the things they are NOT supposed to chew
Winter is almost over here in WI, but if you’re looking for additional ways to incorporate cognitive and physical enrichment activities indoors, you can also check out our blog post Cognitive Enrichment and Physical Activities for Dogs in Winter.
Getting your pup to think hard and problem solve allows your dog to experience cognitive enrichment. The most common means of cognitively enriching your dogs’ lives includes teaching them new tricks/training them, and also incorporating the use of different toys and puzzles that stimulate them both physically and mentally. Popular food toys such as Kongs are a great option as your dog will have to work hard to get rewarded with the food or treats inside.
There are also many different kinds of puzzle feeders that are relatively easy to find at your local pet supply store and online. Snuffle mats and even homemade games and activities can be used to keep your dogs’ brains engaged in order for your pup to be rewarded with treats or food. For example, you can create a “towel game” in which you can take a towel, roll it out flat, and then spread a variety of treats on it before tightly rolling it back up. Then, let your dog work to unroll the towel and be rewarded with the treats hidden inside!
While toys and games are great ways to keep your dog cognitively stimulated, even incorporating some of the physical activities above such as checking out a new route on your walk or going shopping at your local Home Depot, for example, can also provide them with cognitive enrichment. As mentioned above, many different breeds of dogs were bred for specific jobs and tasks such as herding and retrieving.
Incorporating cognitive activities that encourage these specific activities can help your dog thrive in their environments, so encouraging puzzles and games that stimulate your dog in these ways, both physically and cognitively, will meet these instinctive needs while improving their overall well-being.
Check out one of our previous blogs Cognitive Enrichment Activities for Dogs for additional ideas.
Encouraging your pup to be exposed to new ways of exploring their senses will also greatly enrich your dog’s well-being. Nose work, in particular, is especially important for your pup to experience.
Allowing your dog to sniff and check out new smells in different environments helps dogs to relax and reduce stress levels while increasing confidence in themselves. The act of sniffing also increases blood flow to certain areas of your dog’s brain and helps expand your dog’s world! While out on walks with your pups, you might be tempted to encourage your dog to keep walking when he stops to sniff, but letting your dog explore and check out all the other animal scents around them will tire them out much more than a longer walk that doesn’t involve sniffing and also helps them stay more optimistic about the world around them!
To help encourage this nose work, not only can you use food and treat toys such as Kongs, but you can also play other games that encourage your dog to sniff out their food. One fun game we sometimes like to play with our dog is to have him “stay” in one place. As he’s in place, scatter and hide some treats around the room in different places, then allow your dog to “break” and see how fast he can sniff them out! His nose will lead him to a delicious reward, and his senses will be stimulated and help tire him out in the process.
Playing music for your dog is another form of sensory enrichment. Some clients of ours even like to leave some light, relaxing music for their dogs while they’re away. The calming sound often helps relax an anxious dog and helps the dog sleep or stay calm while they can’t be there with them.
Incorporating various physical enrichment activities discussed above also bring on sensory enrichment as they’re able to see and experience new sights and surroundings! The opportunities to help enrich your dog’s senses are nearly endless, so pay close attention to the kinds of activities your dog seems to enjoy the most and find ways to incorporate them into their regular day-to-day routines.
While certain food toys as mentioned previously in this article are great ways to encourage feeding enrichment, there are other ways we can help use food and nutrition to enrich our dog’s well-being and expand the world around them. Simply making mealtime more challenging, or changing the presentation of your dog’s food will help their feeding enrichment. Feeding your dog directly from your hand can be a great way to bond, while using different types of feeders such as slow feeders can work well for enrichment, too. You can also try snuffle mats or doing something else to change the way you feed your pet to challenge them and make them use problem-solving skills to work for their food.
The act of using nose games as mentioned above is a way to encourage nutritional enrichment, but we can also provide our dogs with foods of new and differing textures and sizes. Of course, be sure to make sure whatever foods you feed your dog are safe for consumption and do not pose choking or other serious hazards. Also, start with introducing new foods to your dog in small amounts to make sure they tolerate it well.
Our dogs rely on us for just about everything! By incorporating these different means of enrichment into their lives, we can feel confident we are helping to provide them with fulfilling lives and giving them all the tools and experiences necessary to thrive in our environments. There are certainly more ways to enrich your dog’s life than what we have discussed in this article, but we hope this gives you a glimpse into further ways you can incorporate new, different activities for your dogs to further enrich their lives!
At Milwaukee Paws Pet Care, we understand the dynamics and complexity of canine enrichment, and we are committed to doing all we can do encourage these and other activities with your pets. If your busy schedule is making it hard to dedicate time for canine enrichment for your pup, reach out today! Our caring and committed staff of dog walkers and pet sitters are ready to step in when you can’t be there and do all they can to make a positive imprint in your dog’s life!
This information is very helpful.