Enrichment benefits your dog in numerous ways, including reducing stress, providing physical and mental stimulation, and helping them handle challenges more appropriately. These techniques also reduce behavioral issues, such as destruction, barking, and hyperactivity. Since enrichment is so beneficial, our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center wants to provide techniques that will help ensure your dog is receiving the physical and mental stimulation they deserve.
#1: Allow your dog to make new friends
Dogs are extremely social animals who need fulfillment by interacting with other pets and people. Taking your dog to a dog park or doggy day care facility is a great way to introduce them to new dogs, and provide complex mental stimulation. Meeting new people will also help keep them engaged. To further stimulate their brain cells and broaden their world view, you can introduce them to other species, such as cattle, horses, chickens, or any other animals in your vicinity.
#2: Give your dog a job
Occupational enrichment challenges your dog by encouraging physical and mental exercise. Consider enrolling your dog in an obedience course or agility class, which will make them use their brain to learn the commands. The activity can also be a great way to strengthen your bond to your dog.
#3: Exercise your dog
Dogs require at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. This is important to combat weight gain, which can cause significant health problems. In the United States, 56 percent of dogs are overweight or obese, which is linked to issues such as chronic kidney disease, urinary tract disease, liver disease, thyroid conditions, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, and cancer. If your dog is new to exercise, start slowly, and gradually increase the physical intensity. Once they are comfortable taking long, brisk walks, you can introduce them to jogging and playing fetch. Many dogs also enjoy swimming.
#4: Give your dog a place to dig
Digging is a natural canine behavior, but if your dog is ruining your yard, you likely don’t want to encourage the activity. Provide a designated spot where your dog can dig, without destroying your landscaping. You can give them a sandbox, or section off an area in your yard. Encourage them to dig by burying their toys, or by digging in the area yourself. Most dogs will enjoy the game, and excitedly join in the fun.
#5: Play nosework games with your dog
Nosework is an extremely stimulating activity and helps build your dog’s confidence. Smelly treats are best for nosework games, especially when you are first starting. Some games you can try include:
- Find the treat — This is an easy game to get started. Throw a treat on the ground, and tell your dog to “Find the treat!” Once they understand the game, you can increase the difficulty level by throwing the treat further away and into a high grassy area.
- Muffin tin game — Place treats in a few cups of a muffin tin, leaving the other cups empty. Next, place tennis balls over the cups, and allow your dog to search and find the treats.
- Pick a hand — Put treats in one hand and leave the other one empty, and let your dog sniff out which hand holds the treat.
#6: Use a food puzzle toy to feed your dog
Food puzzle toys make your dog use their brain to fill their belly. This makes mealtimes more fun, and keeps your dog from eating too fast. Food puzzle toys are also great for giving your dog treats, especially before you leave the house. The activity keeps them pleasantly distracted, so they aren’t upset by your departure.
#7: Play music for your dog
Studies have shown that classical music reduces stress levels, and increases resting and sleeping in dogs. You can also play other music genres for your dog to learn their preference. Auditory stimuli can be enriching, but do not leave the sound on constantly, and keep the volume low, because dogs have more sensitive ears than their human counterparts.
#8: Create an obstacle course for your dog
Create a mini obstacle course in your living room or backyard using blankets, dog toys, orange hazard cones, and a broomstick. You can teach your dog to jump over the broomstick, or weave around, or fetch, specific objects. This is a fun mental workout for your dog.
#9: Freeze your dog’s treats
A frozen treat can keep your dog busy and engaged for a long time. You can make frozen dog treats using yogurt, peanut butter, or pumpkin puree. Fill an ice cube tray with your chosen ingredient, and freeze the treats overnight. Your dog will enjoy slurping away at their frozen treat. Be aware that these treats can be quite messy, so ensure your dog eats where the mess can be easily cleaned.
Providing enrichment for your dog will enhance their life, and these activities for you and your four-legged friend can be fun together. If your dog experiences a medical emergency, or if they have a condition that requires a referral, contact our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center, so we can provide the care they need.