Although we all love walkies, and we all appreciate the importance of physical exercise to the overall wellbeing of our canine friends - we forget it is not just their legs that need wearing out.
Dogs are smart animals and it is crucial that we provide them with plenty of mental stimulation to exercise their brains. If they don’t get to use their brains, they can quickly get bored and a bored dog may start to develop a wide range of problem behaviours!
So what do we mean by canine enrichment? Enrichment improves and enhances your dog’s mental state using a range of activities designed to challenge and exercise their brains. These activities encourage your dog to problem solve, learn new skills and become more confident.
Most importantly, they love it! We know that, with the shorter days and darker nights, your dog may spend more time indoors than they do in the summer months so it’s more important than ever to provide them with plenty of mental stimulation.
You can see some of our favourite ideas here; they needn’t cost a fortune nor do you have to be particularly creative to create something fun for your dog. We recommend you enjoy the activity with your dog and keep them under close supervision.
Kongs are a fantastic source of mental enrichment and a great way to make mealtimes more fun. Your dog’s usual diet can be packed into a Kong for them to figure out and they can even be frozen for a tougher challenge. You can also put treats or things such as doggy-friendly peanut butter or liver paste into the Kong. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, offering different challenges. Enrichment should be challenging but not frustrating; so we would recommend starting off fairly easy and gradually increasing the difficulty of the Kong as your dog starts to get the hang of it.
Puzzle games and interactive feeders
As part of Open Paw here at NAWT, we threw away the food bowls a long time ago! The majority of our dogs are now fed in a puzzle, interactive game, Kong or slow feeder bowl. Not only does this make mealtimes more fun, it also slows down even the quickest of eaters! Again, there are a wide range of these puzzle type feeders on the market of all different difficulty levels. They don’t have to just be used for mealtimes either; they can also be given as an extra treat.
Snuffle mats are a fantastic source of enrichment and, better yet, you can easily make your own one at home. No sewing required! You will need a rubber mat with holes (door mats or bath mats work well) and 2 fleece blankets cut into strips. The length of the strips can vary to tailor to your dog. You simply then thread each end of the fleece strip into adjacent or diagonal holes and tie on top. You repeat this process until all the holes are covered and voila! Your snuffle mat is ready to go; simply sprinkle treats onto the mat and enjoy watching your dog search for the treats.
Cardboard boxes, tubes and plastic bottles
Enrichment can be made from almost anything around the house. You can fill a cardboard box with toys, treats and newspaper to make a search game. A toilet roll tube can have treats inside with the ends of the tube squashed in. You can drop treats or kibble into a plastic bottle for a cheap and easy activity toy; just make sure to remove the ring and cap first and keep a close eye on your dog, especially those powerful chewers!
Dogs love having to hunt and forage for their food and scatter feeding can be a great way to satisfy this urge. Simply sprinkle their kibble or treats around the house and let your dog search it out.
Think of the breed
Some problems can arise in a home when we don’t consider or value breed traits and what the dog was originally bred for. Although they are unlikely to be ‘at work’, the natural urge to perform such behaviours may be strong, even in domestic pets, and your dog will get a great amount of satisfaction from activities that keep their breed traits in mind. For instance, Labradors were originally bred to retrieve, Spaniels to track scents and Terriers to hunt out vermin.
Games can be made from almost anything in the home, so you can use your imagination. An indoor ball pit with treats scattered in can satisfy the natural urge to dig. Hide and seek games, using upturned flower pots or buckets to hide treats or toys, can be great for those that love to track things down and retrieve.
Dogs love positive reward-based training so why not teach them a trick or two. Stock up on plenty of yummy treats and keep training sessions relatively short. Keep your expectations realistic and keep the task light-hearted and both you and your pooch will have great fun together.
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