Every person on the planet can pretty much agree that all animals, including people, need a minimum of food, shelter, and clothing (safety gear for dogs). But is that enough to make an animal's life enriching and have value? In this post we are going to be going over some other things that greatly affect the quality of life we provide for our dogs.
Ditch the Bowl & Other Food Based Enrichment
Since food is one of the most basic needs, it's also one of the most basic enrichment activities that trainers recommend for their clients. With a quick search on Google, YouTube, or Amazon you can get all kinds of great food based enrichment ideas that you can use with your dogs. With all those resources readily available, I'm going to tell you about a few that my dogs love.
The Snuffle Box
Take a cardboard box and put 3-5 items from your recycle bin or around the house that are safe to be touched, mouthed, or chewed by your dog; plastic water bottles or bowls, rolled up newspaper balls, dog toys, basically anything that can get in the way but your dog can easily move around with their nose. To get started, drop a few treats in the box and tell your dog to Find It or Search. Once your dog gets the hang of the game, you can switch from using treats to using a portion or all of your dog's meal in the box.
There are also snuffle toys like mats and balls you can buy just about anywhere that sells pet supplies. Nature is also a great place to sniff out food, so you can drop a handful of kibble in the yard for the dog to search through the grass for the food. Azul started doing this as a young pup where we spent the after meal sitting in the front yard daily if weather permitted. Still at almost 2 years old, he enjoys at least one meal a week sprinkled around somewhere outside.
The act of seeking is a natural instinct that all dogs are born with. Certain breeds that were bred for nosework or hunting have an extra need to develop the seeking instinct in greater detail. By teaching them how to forage for their meals and providing lots of opportunity to do that, we can often prevent some of the less desired behaviors of following a scent trail or seeking other forms of self entertainment.
Lickmats or stuffed toys
This is something that Cam has never really enjoyed, but he was punished in a former home for excessive licking of people so that likely has something to do with it. Every other dog that I've tried out a lickmat with has found it extremely rewarding! When Azul was just a baby, I used to spread some peanut butter inside a hollow toy or bone that he could easily fit is nose in to provide a calming activity before his afternoon nap time. A stuffed kong or similar toy can be awesome for helping a young pup get used to a crate as well. And now that Azul is older, he still wants to eat at least one meal a week on his lickmat, although the recipes we use now are much more complex.
The act of licking is a natural stress reliever so if your dog has something unexpected in their day, providing an extra opportunity for licking can help help turn that negative experience into a positive experience.
Using kibble for training
This is where the idea of "Ditch the Bowl" comes in, suggesting that you hand feed your dog during training sessions and enrichment feeders instead of a dog bowl. This is great, but I simply don't have this much time in my day in a multiple dog household. Instead I use a wide variety of feeding methods using a bowl for one of 2 meals a day and using alternative methods for the other meal. It's more important that you find a feeding schedule that works for you and your dog, than it is to try to follow someone else's schedule.
The act of training by itself is often enrichment for our dogs! If we tailor our training to incorporate concept style training, teaching our dogs life skills instead of solely focusing on getting behaviors, we tend to help their brain develop stronger connections. Activating the brain and putting some of their mental energy to work to solve a problem is very enriching for most dogs.
When many people think about enrichment, this is where they stop as food related enrichment is the easiest to learn to use and apply to daily life. But our dogs have other needs!