Environmental enrichment is a widely used term by trainers and animal behaviourists but making our best friends happy is not as complicated as it sounds. All you need is a bit of creativity!
Everyone knows dogs need exercise and some playtime, but there are so many other ways to stimulate the canine mind. In fact, most dogs need more mental stimulation than physical exercise.
Good environmental enrichment strategies can help reduce undesirable behaviours such as destructiveness, excessive barking, anxiety or repetitive behaviours (but if your pup already displays any of these behaviours, get in touch with a qualified professional).
That all sounds good, but how can you make your beloved furry friend happy as Larry?
Environmental enrichment means adding various physical, mental, sensory, dietary and social stimuli to improve animal wellbeing.
DOGS ARE INDIVIDUALS
First of all, let’s have a look at what your dog enjoys most. Is it food? Playing fetch? Going for long walks along the creek? Chewing on something edible? Digging? Learning new tricks? Playing with doggy friends or just relaxing on the couch with the family? Every dog has their own unique personality, and even siblings from the same litter can have totally different preferences so it is important to explore what makes your dog happy.
FUN FEEDING ALTERNATIVES
Most dogs love their bellies, so implementing dietary enrichment is quite simple. You can make feeding much more exciting then just offering a bowl of the same boring dry food every day. Why not scatter it around the garden so your dog has to use his natural foraging behaviour? Hiding food in cardboard boxes, or using food dispensing toys such as rubber KONG or KONG Wobbler can also mean long-lasting entertainment for your best friend.
In summer, freezing some water or stock in a plastic container with some kibble or meat can help keep your pet cool. And if tradies come around, a lickimat can be a life-saver!
You may be surprised to know that animals actually prefer to work for their food rather than being offered an easier option. This is called “contrafreeloading”. For more information and great videos on this curious phenomenon, see link here.
Remember to always actively supervise feeding times if you have two or more dogs in one household – food and toys can easily elicit resource guarding behaviour.
TRAIN FOR A BETTER BOND
Training your pooch is not only useful for both of you but it is also a great way to stimulate your dog’s mind. Reward-based training is a fun bonding experience for pets and pet parents. It is never too late to teach an older dog a new trick and I bet there’s room for improvement even if your pup know sit, stay and drop.
Varying the daily walking routine and exercise areas if your dog enjoys exploring new areas could be a great option four you. Providing a shell pool filled with some sand (for diggers) or water (for water babies) are also good examples of environmental enrichment.
If your dog stays inside or has access to the house though a doggy door, leaving the TV on when you leave home can help keep them more settled. My dog could watch David Attenborough documentaries for hours.
Just like us, dogs are social species, so having a doggie friend or regular visits to a dog park can be fun for some individuals, but not for everyone. Some dogs enjoy social interactions with other pups while others prefer human company, and that is absolutely fine.
As ethologist and Professor Emeritus Vilmos Csanyi said in his book “If Dogs Could Talk“:
If you know what your dogs like the most, then you know how to make them happy. It’s that simple.
Written by Bea Labady
Photo credit Bea Labady, Barbara Nagy & Pexels