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What is enrichment?

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

In the dog world trainers refer to this word “enrichment“ all the time, but what does it actually mean? In short, it means that we are giving your dog the ability to use their natural instincts and senses in their daily life to fulfill mental needs! Your probably thinking well what are those instincts and senses that my dog is longing to use? The answer is pretty simple! Your dog needs to be able to sniff and forage for food, chew and lick, chase, catch, kill, dissect, and learn. How do we fulfill these needs without sacrificing the neighborhood’s small critters, your home furniture and rugs, or the backyard? We use toys, puzzles, and play to enrich your dog’s life with these natural needs!

How exactly do you do this? Simple offer your dog ways of feeding that encourage either, licking and chewing, sniffing or dissecting. This will save your furniture and backyard from destruction, because they have a healthy outlet for these needs that don’t include having to get a new couch or replacing the plants in your yard. Feeding your dog their daily food in a way that encourages them to use these will mentally stimulate your dog and make them work for their food. Now don’t think this sounds mean. We all have to work to earn our food. We go to work every day so we can provide for ourselves. It gives us a sense of purpose and self worth to work and receive the earnings of our labor. Your dog craves the same thing! Their currency though is food and play not money.

There are many tools available to you now to give your dog this much needed mental stimulation. You can start with simple things like a slow feeder bowl, a kong, and a snuffle mat. These three items are different ways you can feed your dog and give them the ability to work for their food.

To fulfill their predatory instincts of chase, catch, kill we use play! My favorite way to do this is with a flirt pole. It is essentially a giant cat toy for your dog. A pole that has a rope at the end with a toy to move around for your dog. We can use this the emulate an animal for them to chase, catch, and kill (not the neighbors cat Mittens). Try to simulate the movement of a small animal with the toy for your dog to chase. Depending on the dog they will have a favorite part. My personal dog is all about the chase! She loves running and trying to grab the end of the toy as I move it around. Terriers tend to love the kill (when they have the toy and shake it with their head). They were bred to kill rodents so the shake was what they were made for! Other breeds and individual dogs will prefer different parts. Play with your dog and see what they enjoy the most and incorporate that into your daily play!

Now how do you fulfill your dog’s need to pull things apart without sacrificing your brand new sweater? The answer… Puzzles! Have your dog pick apart a nice puzzle toy to get some tasty treats to save your sweater that great grandma knit just for you. There are countless options for puzzles for your dog now to play with. They even have toys that can be pulled apart and put back together. Now do be careful with letting your dog pull apart toys that were not meant to be pulled apart. Things like plush toys and rope toys can lead to intestinal blockage if ingested. Not only could this lead to a huge Vet bill, but it might kill your beloved furry family member! So if you want to allow your dog to destroy some toys, make sure to watch them so they don’t eat anything that could cause a tummy blockage.

Last but definitely not least , learning! Yes your dog has a need to learn and expand their understand just like us. Now, they will never be able to do calculus but they can find a lot of joy in learning even simple cues. Training your dog gives them a job and builds their relationship with their non furry family members. It also gives you a bit more say over the activities your dog is participating in. This is especially true for dogs that were bred to do a specific job. If you don’t give them a task they will find one. This usually results in digging up your back yard, running around the house with your socks, or pulling you half way down the street to say hello to every person who passes by. Even teaching just the basic obedience cues can have a huge positive impact on your dogs behavior. They will enjoy working with you and earning some food along the way. Not to mention that training is fun for both participants!

Now with all of these new tools, you have the ability to have a happy and calm dog in your home. Take this information and put it to good use in your daily life. Your dog, house, and sweater will thank you.

Happy training.

Morgan Head Trainer at Morgan's Pawsitive Pup Training

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