Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Canine enrichment is ethically part of the daily role of the guardian of a domestic dog.
Enrichment is a term given to the opportunity to practice natural behaviours for domesticated animals. The more variety of experience the dog is provided with, within their ability to be confident and relaxed, the more enriching their life will be. Excellent canine enrichment uses all of the dog's senses. Here's a variety of easy activities to get you started.
Olfactory stimulation is enrichment through the sense of smell. Something simple such as exploring a new area, provides natural olfactory enrichment. A dog can be provided with opportunities to use their sense of smell through scent work games, such as hiding a toy or wide scatter feeding in the long grass.
Auditory stimulation can include classical music played in the background—a practice that is especially helpful for sound-sensitive dogs. Squeaky toys might be favoured for terriers; I once trained a hearing dog using battery-powered toys that made different noises as his reward.
Visual enrichment can be sitting with a dog and watching the world go by, for example, in a park or town, depending on how busy an area the dog can cope with. This type of enrichment can also build confidence in a worried dog. Dr Isla Fishburn tells us that when wolves introduce their young to new stimuli in their environment, they flank the youngster and wait for up to 30 minutes, giving the young wolf safety and duration to absorb the new stimuli.
Taste stimulation can be offered through various food, treats and chews. A taster plate is an excellent practice for domestic dogs. My dogs' last one had contained blueberries, a fried egg, steak, kibble, cucumber, and chicken. Interestingly they all chose different things, and one dog ate all four fried eggs.
Physical stimulation includes touch, grooming, TTouch and massage, and physiotherapy exercises such as standing on cushions, moving into different positions, climbing onto obstacles on walks, and even free work as designed by Sarah Fisher.
Play stimulation can be provided with other suitable dogs or between dog and guardian. Different types of play meet different needs. For example, physical play with self-handicapping meets social needs. Tug and killing toys meet predatory needs while chase meets the chase MAP of the predatory sequence. Play stimulation should be varied or can become problematic. For example chasing a tennis ball repeatedly can lead to over-stimulation and joint problems.
Social needs can be met by stimulating experiences of meeting new dogs and people, spending time in groups and interacting with familiar and new individuals. Social stimulation must be bespoke for the dog, based on their preferences, or it can become flooding.
Meeting our dogs' needs can be easy when we know how, especially with simple tweaks to enrich their lives. What types of activity do you set-up for your dog?