Canine enrichment has become a popular term in recent times with many articles, Facebook groups, and books available on the subject, detailing various enrichment activities we can buy or make for our dogs. But what actually is canine enrichment, and what is its purpose? In the simplest of terms, canine enrichment is about letting dogs be dogs.
Modern domestic dogs frequently receive little in the way of choice about how their lives are lived. Often they receive their food in a bowl on the floor two or more times a day, hoovering it up within a couple of minutes with little or no effort involved. Playing, whether in the garden or out on a walk, might involve chasing a ball endlessly which, done to extreme, results in an over-aroused dog who is turning into an athlete, requiring even more exercise to tire them out and risks injury.
Canine enrichment means finding ways for dogs to exhibit natural canine behaviours. The most common way that people discover canine enrichment activities is the use of food toys and games. Making mealtime fun and encouraging the use of natural behaviours as the dog works to find or gain access to their food is massively enriching. A dog that hoovers their food from a bowl in a couple of minutes will find the process of consuming their dinner much less entertaining than the dog who has twenty of thirty minutes of engaging their brain and their nose while they work out how to get to their food. There is a whole range of options, both to buy and homemade, for food enrichment games and puzzles so this form of enrichment can be catered for on any budget. One very simple food game that really gets the canine nose working is scattering or hiding treats around the house or garden for the dog to find, creating a self-rewarding form of scent work.
Food is not the only form of canine enrichment that we can provide for our dogs. Interactive games, such as using a flirt pole to let the dog display their natural chase and pouncing behaviours can be fun for dog and human, as can setting up some homemade agility obstacles – always ensuring that the equipment is safe and appropriate for the size, age, and fitness of the dog. Providing an area for digging such as a sand pit in which dog toys can be hidden encourages a natural behaviour, particularly prevalent in terriers but often seen in other dogs, while saving the rest of the garden from destruction.
One very simple form of canine enrichment costs nothing. It is something to which we all have access every single day. When out walking with our dogs, give them time to sniff and explore their environment. Sniffing is the main way dogs process their world, and for many dogs a twenty minute ‘sniffari’ can be more satisfying than a longer walk in which they are marched along on the lead with little chance to interact with the world around them. Give them the chance to decide where they go and what they want to smell and explore, and make use of the great method of canine enrichment that costs us nothing but a little time.