Our dogs require both mental and physical exercise to live a well balanced life. The key to a happy and healthy dog is to find the right balance between both. Dogs are smart animals and while physical exercise is great to tire out your pup, mental stimulation to exercise their minds are just as important and oftentimes gets overlooked.
What is Canine Enrichment?
Canine enrichment improves and enhances your dog’s mental state by challenging and testing their behaviors that they would typically do in the wild. Dogs respond to stress in a number of ways including destructive behavior or causing your dog to “act out”. Canine enrichment can help reduce stress by stimulating their minds so that they do not get bored and start misbehaving for attention.
How Can I Introduce Canine Enrichment?
The goal is to present a set of enriching activities that do not cause any stress or anxiety. It should be an activity that’s both fun for both you and your dog in a relaxing environment. It’s also a great way to bond with your pet as you can introduce them to play “games” with you. Canine enrichment does not require a lot of work and, again, it should not be a stressful activity. It can be as simple as hiding treats under a pile of blankets to test your dog’s sense of smell or even hiding treats in an egg carton and covering them with tennis balls for your dog to find.
This type of enrichment involves making mealtime “fun” by introducing interactive elements. Treat dispensing balls and slow feeders are a great way to slow down your dog’s eating if they tend to inhale their food in 30 seconds and provides good mental stimulation by allowing your dog to think and “work” for their food. A simple DIY food enrichment activity could be hiding food in an egg carton or muffin tin and putting tennis balls or other toys on top to encourage your dog to search for their food.
Interactive puzzle toys encourage mental stimulation for your dog as they are rewarded with treats when they master certain actions such as opening drawers or pushing sliders. Our favorite puzzle toys are the strategy games made by Trixie. Their interactive games have multiple levels and encourage your dog to use both their paws and their nose to push around pieces or pull open drawers to reveal their reward.
Licking is a natural activity for your pup and lick mats can be a great way to calm and help your dog with anxiety. Lick mats are usually made of silicone and have patterns or groves to create a textured surface to encourage repetitive licking. During thunderstorms or stressful activities, lick mats can provide the right amount of distraction to ease your dog during these stressful times.
For us, our dog goes wild whenever we turn on the scary vacuum cleaner. During these times, we would lather a lick mat with peanut butter and use it as a distraction to calm our dog down when we’re doing household chores.
These are becoming more popular and can be easily made with no sewing! Snuffle mats are great for hiding treats and allowing your dog to “search” for them. You will need a rubber mat with holes and strips of fabric (can be made up of old shirts). You will need to thread the strips through the adjacent holes and tie at the top. Repeat this process until the holes are covered and your DIY snuffle mat is ready to go!
Indoor Agility Course
Indoor agility courses can be a great way to encourage your dog to think and get some physical exercise done indoors. You can create a course that works within your home safely by using furniture and household items to create an obstacle course.
You can use cardboard boxes as tunnels, bottles to create a maze for your dog to weave through, and even piles of blankets to jump across. It’s important to start slowly, encouraging your dog to complete the obstacle one at a time and adding complexity as each obstacle is mastered.
As the cold weather approaches, we will start to see much more rain or snow and the nights become darker at an earlier time. As such, we might spend less time outdoors and your dog will need to be accustomed to more time indoors. This means canine enrichment is more important than ever to provide plenty of mental stimulation to discourage destructive or “undesirable” behavior while your dog is inside the house.
About the Author: Bonnie is a 9-5 working professional and a part-time social media influencer who loves to spend free time with her two dogs, Curtis and Daisy. She loves making treats for her dogs and sharing her recipes with friends and family. You can follow their adventures at @Curtisandthecorgi!