Enrichment is defined as anything that modifies an animal’s environment to encourage physical activity and mimic behaviors that a dog would do in the wild to satisfy their physical and mental needs, like foraging.
The key to a happy and healthy dog is regular enrichment and allowing them to engage in their innate behaviors, such as playing, chasing, smelling, chewing and scavenging. By allowing your dog to engage in these behaviors, you allow them to be physically, emotionally and mentally satisfied. Enrichment activities can also help to promote the human-canine bond and make them a more congenial companion and housemate.
Enrichment techniques fall into the general categories of nutritional, sensory, social, physical and occupational. Food based enrichment is an easy-to-implement enrichment technique, and can be used by itself or in conjunction with the other categories. Most dogs love their food, and you can use items like SodaPup treat dispensers and food puzzles to keep them occupied. Instead of feeding your dog his entire kibble allotment in one dish, you can hide kibble inside of SodaPup dog toys which will encourage them to more actively forage for food. Alternatively, you can spread soft foods into a SodaPup emat (lick mat) so that your dog must lick the mat to get the food out.
Enrichment toys can enhance your pup's ability to learn, helping them develop new skills. It also promotes their natural behaviour such as foraging, exploring and playing. Toys can help your dogs relax, making them happier. Playing is a rewarding experience for them which counteracts the effects of stress. If you don't provide enrichment then your dog is more likely to perform undesirable behaviours instead…
Canine enrichment for the real world: Any forms of enrichment to animals outside their natural environment (zoos, homes, shelters) contribute a lot to their overall well-being. Most responsible animal lovers, in this case, pet dog owners, look beyond providing just food and shelter to their fur babies.
Canine enrichment plays a big part in delivering happiness and fulfillment to pet dogs. Pet canine status has risen to become a friend and an essential part of a family; hence giving them the proper enrichment is a vital responsibility of any pet owner.
The book your dog needs you to read: We may understand "enrichment" as it is - however, a book called Canine Enrichment for the Real World: Making It a Part of Your Dogs’ Daily Life, by Allie Bender and Emily Strong, mentions a lot of other valuable information about it.
The book defines it as "meeting all of an animal's needs as closely as possible to how they would be met in the wild, to empower them to engage in species-typical behaviors in healthy and appropriate ways." As a result, the book has become a famous "go-to" book for pet dog owners in the quest to provide a better understanding of the importance of enrichment to the overall well-being of their pets.
Further reading: Many resources are available online that serve as a guide to help us understand the role of enrichment in the well-being of our pet dogs. After all, who does not want to make their pet dogs happy, right?
This quote might sound a little bit "overboard" for some pet dog owners because they see their pets to be perfectly healthy and happy. Food, shelter, medical needs, toys, and some playtimes – what more can our pets ask? It is already quite a life for them! Yes, but only on the surface because our dogs have "natural behaviors" that need to manifest.
A Better understanding of normal canine behavior: In general, our canine friends are dogs first before we call them our "pets." Only when pet dog owners understand the value of "natural behaviors" can they genuinely grasp how they can help provide enrichment opportunities.
This understanding plays a significant role in the well-being of their pet dogs by allowing them to experience these "natural behaviors" even if they are domesticated.
Spice up your dogs’ life: eliciting the natural behaviors of our pets is vital for their overall wellness. Therefore understanding the importance of this fact is crucial to achieving that "wellness" goal. But unfortunately, our beloved pet canine may still experience a lot of stress, especially when they are exposed to loud noise, have less exercise, and lack socialization, hence to this effect, not being able to become their "natural selves."
Doing more than that bare minimum: Therefore, it is our obligation as pet owners to provide our canine friends with the best possible care and look after their health and well-being, including their mental and physical enrichment.
Enrichment activities and tools help reduce the stress of our canine pets and reinforce their sense of behavioral control in any environment. Much like we provide educational playthings to our toddlers to help stimulate their mental and physical wit, our pet dogs also need some form of intervention in the form of enrichment activities.
Five (5) types of dog enrichment are identified to help achieve mental and physical stimulation to our canine friends.
Social: here are some proven and tested tips to help your bright-eyed and bushy-tailed buddy socialize:
● Daily walks are the key: let your pets interact with other canines during playgroups and even walks. Keep your furry buddy on a leash – there is plenty to see and smell out there.
Exercise caution: Dogs in a group can actually play, run or even fight with each other. So be on the lookout.
● Allow your dog to socialize with other humans - let your friends play and walk with your canine buddy.
● Supervise playdates: these are excellent avenues to help develop social interaction and hopefully reduce aggressive behaviors in our dogs. Make sure that the other party is friendly before facilitating the meet and sniff.
Keep in mind: like their human counterparts, our pet dogs have individual preferences, and as pet owners, we should be able to identify these preferences and respect them.
Physical: Our pets need exercise too! Don’t forget to make those activities intuitive, challenging, and safe.
● Get creative: use toys and incorporate these into the dogs' daily activities.
● Have a lap around the park and make rounds: this includes daily exercises, runs, and play using toys.
● Dog enrichment toys are a pretty popular and valuable tool for getting creative with our dogs' physical enrichment. However, a simple toy is more than just a plaything!
FYI: Did you know that these canine toys may help address a few health concerns of our fur babies, like weight management, mouth soreness, and teething problems?
In addition, the aspects of behavioral and social situations, stress and anxiety, may be addressed with the proper understanding of how to use these canine toys and the role of these playthings to be more than just a source of fun.
Heads up: Always be mindful of potential hazards when bringing out your pets to play outside.
Sensory: Think of beautiful ways to provide your pets with this sensory stimulation in much the same way you would for yourself!
● Play some calming music at home or give some aromatic scents that are safe for dogs.
We can provide this sensory need alongside physical enhancement with that much-needed outdoor exploration! In that way, our pet dogs get to activate their senses while enjoying the outdoors with you.
Nutritional: This is also called feeding ENRICHment which we all know by now as providing food nourishment to our beloved four-legged friend. We can do this by allowing them to perform natural foraging and not the typical “hand me down” feeding style that we usually do.
● Nutritional enrichment may be enhanced further using dog enrichment toys like Sodapups' signature can toy as a treat dispenser. This way, you can put the food inside the chewable soda can for the dog to forage for food.
● Some great nutritional add-ons would be raw eggs, goats’ milk, fermented vegetables, sardines, etc. There is a long list of foods you can provide aside from grocery-bought dog food.
Hot tip: You may rotate between these foods or just what you have on hand. No need to give them all at once!
Important Information: Studies show that allowing our canine friends to forage for their food will help reduce their stress and allow for physical activity that is genuinely beneficial to their overall condition.
Always consult: There are tons of pet food choices, and not all of them are
appropriate for your dog. It's always good to consult with your veterinarian
regarding your pet's nutritional needs because not all dogs require the
same amount and type of foods.
Occupational – We are always in awe with these dogs that can do more than sit, bark, and play, right? So here are a few techniques to help your pet dogs think.
● Puzzles, games, or activities that will promote their mental capacity
● Training classes are also a great way we can provide this selective enrichment.
● Let the dogs "work" and solve some form of puzzles by using enrichment toys.
Now that we learned all about enrichment and its types, there is this challenge of HOW to make it actually happen to your dogs. Introducing new tasks or toys for that matter might actually start a little slow but eventually, your dog will get it!
Have we emphasized patience yet?
Dogs are very darn clever pets that you can’t just give something to them (toys!) and expect an instant positive reaction. Just remember to be patient and always start with baby steps then gradually make it harder.
Ways to introduce a new dog enrichment toy:
1. When you think that your dog is ready for a new enrichment toy, make sure you have your pet’s attention then put the new toy on an empty floor for the dog to focus on.
2. The dog will normally get curious and will sniff, lick, bite or move the toy. Just allow the dog to explore the toy and give a few treats to make it positive reinforcement.
3. Put the toy in your hand and show your dog what it looks like when moved. You may put some treats inside it and show that the treats will come out when moved.
4. Slowly put dog food (dried is the best way to start) inside the toy and then allow the dog to take his time exploring and getting the contents out.
5. Don’t forget positive reinforcement by putting some treats around for your pet to eat as a reward for engaging in the activity.
6. Make it a little bit harder by putting in more food or adjusting the opening of the enrichment toy - or even put it in a box or wrap it so that your pet will find it more challenging to forage for his food inside the toy.
7. Remember to be patient, always - it’s the greatest virtue of all.
Put in a dose of FUN first. There is no better way to keep your pets engaged than to make this activity as fun and interesting as possible. As a pet owner, you will know when it is a very hard or very easy task for your pets. Like any other game, it's important to make it a little challenging and interesting as opposed to very easy and boring.
Useful tips: Be patient, start small, and always give positive reinforcement. Think of your pet as your child and remember how you may have exhausted every effort and the last drop of patience before your child learned something. In the end, it’s all worth it!
Sodapups’ additional tip: Keeping your dogs engaged and mentally stimulated is our main goal when developing our enrichment toys. Apart from making the toys safe by using only non-toxic biodegradable material, our products are visually realistic, exciting, and designed to be pet and dog-friendly!