By Gage Ziehmn Ardag
There couldn’t be a better time to talk about enrichment for our dogs. During these last few weeks and months we’ve all been spending a lot more time inside, in confinement and isolation. We’ve had a lot less exposure to outside stimuli, new experiences, and social interactions. Quarantine is like a dog’s life without enrichment, but worse for the dog because they don’t have the endless depths of the Internet to educate and entertain them.
So what exactly is enrichment? Enrichment is the act of providing activities that support a dog’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Enrichment helps reduce stress, relieve boredom, and improve behavioral health and is an important part of a dog’s comprehensive wellness plan.
Examples of positive enrichment for dogs include long walks with time to see and smell new things, food puzzles such as Kong toys and slow feeders, agility training, classical music, and socializing with other dogs (if the dog is dog social).
Enrichment addresses the five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. I became familiar with enrichment programs through my jobs at several animal shelters. One shelter had an enrichment program for volunteers that was centered around the five senses, and each day was focused on a different sense. For example, Monday was sight, Tuesday smell, etc. There was a cabinet with all the materials needed to complete each enrichment activity. While it’s not necessary for your home enrichment routine to be this structured, it is a useful mental framework to employ as you’re starting to develop enrichment activities for your own pets or Golden Bond fosters.
Enrichment provides positive novel experiences. Life without new experiences, smells, sounds, flavors, and sights becomes mundane and dull. Recently we have experienced what it’s like to have a world that is much, much smaller and restrictive. We are reminded of our dog’s world. It is our job as pet owners to enrich their lives in every way we can so that it’s metaphorically colorful, bright, and smells like fresh-baked cookies (well, let’s be realistic – a dog would rather smell the possum poop on the side of the trail).
Below you can find a few simple enrichment activities that you can use to get started today, but the possibilities are endless! You may find that individual animals prefer certain activities over others, so provide variety and experiment to discover what your pet likes. Above all, always keep it positive and have fun!
Bubble Party! (Sight) The only material needed for this activity is a bubble wand. Channel your inner child, or get the children involved, and blow bubbles in the yard for the dog! Have fun watching your pup chase and jump at the bubbles in glee.
Farm Animal Scent (Smell) Have a friend or neighbor with farm animals? Hang or place a plush toy or old t-shirt in the animal’s living quarters out of their reach for a few days to absorb the scent. Make sure that the animals are healthy and disease-free. Once they’re good and smelly, take the toys down and offer to your dog for olfactory enrichment and brain stimulation. Delight at your dog’s intrigue!
Classical Concert (Sound) Studies have shown that classical music has a calming effect on animals, so break out your CD player or phone and play some relaxing tunes for your pup. Choose music with long, continuous notes, pure tones with regular rhythms, and tempos that match a dog’s heart rate. Heavy metal music has the opposite effect.
Let’s go on an adventure! (Touch) Give your dog a change of scenery by allowing them to explore a new environment. Possible places include a different neighborhood, new trail, pet friendly store, or even your office building (if permitted). Be sure to observe physical distancing guidelines for the duration of COVID-19 restrictions.
Treat Burritos (Taste) Put those empty toilet paper tubes to good use with this activity! Gather an empty toilet paper roll and treats or wet food to assemble your treat burrito. First, fold one end of the toilet paper roll inside, creating a semi-closed end. Place treats or wet food inside. Then, fold the other end of the roll creating another semi-closed end and give the “burrito” to your dog. They’ll engage their brains and have fun learning how to get the treats out of the tube. Be sure to monitor while they’re enjoying to avoid any accidental ingestion of cardboard.