Canine Confidence Through Enrichment

Mar 5 / Sally Gutteridge
The act of enriching your dog’s life is a vital part of canine guardianship. Not only does it help them to relax – it grows their self-sufficiency. Something they will all need when we start to go back to our daily routines after being home all the time. We know so much about the dog’s mind nowadays that we can’t possibly think a walk and sleeping the day away is enough.

Dogs want to do things, they get bored and need mental stimulation just as we do. They can grow valuable self-belief and confidence through enrichment and problem solving – just within their limits. Some beautiful aspects of investing some time and energy into canine enrichment is that it’s bespoke, it’s free, every single dog will benefit and it makes our dogs happy. Why is it so good for our dogs? It’s good because it fulfils many of their natural needs which include foraging, problem solving and working out how to eat.

Our dogs have little choice in their lives, we chose them and even if we took them from bad situations, we forced ourselves into their lives. We made them our family, we expect them to fit around us and adapt to our lifestyles with no question.We also live in times where people have a lot of expectations of dogs. They shouldn’t growl, they should put up with children leaning all over them and they must work out what we want from them, even when our requests are confused and sometimes confrontational. They often have little choice on when they walk, when they relax, when we interact with them, feed them or give them something to do. Then, if they find something to do on their own, we often complain because it doesn’t suit us.

Enrichment isn’t about training, it’s not about changing your dog’s behaviour and whilst their behaviour might change because they are happier, the objective is to give your dog something enjoyable to do. A dog that is enjoying an activity, is naturally having his life enriched. We don’t even need to be involved, in fact it’s better if we are not, because the dog is given a problem to solve and then the space and time to solve it.

Enrichment activity has some wonderful side effects. The dog is naturally calmer because they have spent some time problem solving.

Mental energy use leads to mental relaxation, so gentle problem solving will alleviate boredom. Anxious dogs that are low in self-esteem benefit from the boost of solving a problem all on their own. Dogs get to choose their approach to solving the problem, which naturally provides them with an extra choice in their lives.

An enrichment activity is pressure free. No expectations are placed on the dog, they are just provided with a problem to solve and left to it. Whether it's, treats in a box stuffed with easy rip paper balls, breakfast in a Licki-mat or dinner from a towel, snuffle mat or ball doesn’t matter. It should be within your dog’s current mental confidence and capacity, fun and enjoyable.

The dog is a scavenger and problem solver, food is one of the biggest problems that non-domestic dogs must solve. To create enrichment activities around food will brighten your dog’s day, get his neurons firing, prevent listless boredom and may even chase away dementia. Here are some easy food focussed activities to adopt today.

  • Scatter feeding is better with dryer foods. if you’re playing indoors, but if you cast aside the food bowl and scatter food in as many areas as possible. The dog’s nose is amazing, plus sniffing is a real boredom buster, so why not make the most of feeding times with some scatter fun.

  • Shut the dog away and prowl around the house for a while hiding treats. Make the hiding places match your dog’s ability to find or he may lose confidence and give up. The ability to find hidden food will grow along with the confidence of your dog and you can progress to all heights and more difficult hiding places.

  • The snuffle rug can be easily made at home or purchased online. It’s a mat with large felt strips for snuffling in after tiny grains of food and dogs love them.

  • Sprinkled food is the ultimate sniff enrichment. It’s more than a game, but a stress buster and cognitive behaviour tool. The aim with sprinkled food is that the dog is led into an area where his nose naturally begins to work, to settle his stress systems and benefit his mind and body. 

  • Search dog games are great fun. Begin with a toy that holds a tiny bit of food and have your dog held, or waiting if he can contain himself, whilst you pretend to drop the toy in a variation of areas in an outdoor space. Touch every area you pretend to leave the toy in, with the toy, as this creates a scent disturbance. Then return to your dog and send him to find the treasure.

  • Frozen Kongs or similar toys, with tasty food in, are long lasting lick treats that will keep your dog busy for a while. Whilst licking, a dog relaxes and this benefits his mind and body.

Get Inventive

The more you carry out enrichment, the happier your dog will be. In addition, the better at it he will become. Plus, it’s great fun for both of you and great for your relationship. So, hide food in boxes, in bigger boxes and let your dog pull them apart. Wrap and tie rags around a treat and let your dog rip them open or create elaborate games with all sorts of household items such as plastic bottles, muffin trays and old toilet rolls.

Remember:

All dogs are different and some have more confidence than others. Whilst most dogs will work out what to do, some struggle due self-belief. This often doesn’t mean a lack of interest but simply low self-esteem. Offer help, just enough to make it easier for progress, keep it pressure free and coach that confidence.

Motivation varies and if your dog shows little interest then your reward isn’t motivational enough. Each of us have unique motivators and that includes our dogs. When something excites your dog, it’s likely to be a motivator for him. To build his confidence and enthusiasm, always use a reward that he actually wants.
When you start using canine enrichment with your dog you will both get addicted. And why not? It’s great fun. If you already enrich your dog’s life with unique and interesting techniques, leave a comment, it will help the rest of us and our own dogs can benefit too.

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