With the popularity of discussions of ‘enrichment’ in dog-care, it’s really become very trendy to talk about it and ‘enrichment’ has become a bit of a buzz word.
That has led to some misuse and misapplication of this term, describing activities that are not truly enriching for the individual animal.
And in turn, as is the way within the animal care industries, there has been backlash.
The popularity and awareness of enrichment for dogs is a good thing, but, it’s important that it is implemented correctly to actually help dogs, rather than contribute to harm.
Just giving a dog some puzzle or food dispensing toy doesn’t necessarily equate to enrichment – the only way we can ascertain how enriching enrichment is, is by asking the dog.
Enrichment must be goal oriented (the main goal being, that enrichment must be enriching) and the dog’s behaviour should be observed to ensure those goals are met. If not, it’s back to the drawing board and plan, plan, plan.
That’s what #100daysofenrichment is for. I’ve done the planning for you – it’s up to you to adjust it according to your dog’s behaviour, according to what your dog is telling you about whether this is enriching, or not.
Enrichment planning requires just that, planning. And enrichment programs are generally goal oriented.
Let’s explore that a little.
What behaviours might your dog show now that you feel are troublesome, for you or your pet?
What enrichment have you in place already?
What would you like to get out of this program?
There are no right or wrong answers. But there are some rules to our enrichment endeavours to make sure enrichment is enriching.
Enrichment can be enriching if:
- enrichment is individualised
- enrichment is goal oriented
- enrichment provides choice
- enrichment allows the animal a little control over what happens to them
- enrichment facilitates the demonstration of species and breed typical behaviours
Enrichment must be individualised.
Although each day’s challenge will be presented with adjustments providing some options, you can further adapt each one to your pet’s preferences and abilities.
Take their response to the challenge as information and use that feedback to adjust and upgrade the challenge to best benefit your pet.
For example, make the puzzle simple and straight forward and use highly valued motivators for beginner-puzzlers to keep them engaged in the process.
This helps to keep a beginner engaged and interacting with the challenge, and motivates them to participate.
The Wobbler wobbling is a little worrying to Billie, so we break it down and introduce it to her first by teaching her the skills she will need, for a big payoff!
This clips shows Benny, a senior dog, working on a snufflemat. Lay out blankets or runners for older dogs or those with injuries, joint discomfort or mobility issues so that they are better able to move about, so that they don’t have to move too much after a sliding enrichment device, and to encourage them to lie down should they need to.
Enrichment must be goal oriented.
This entire program is designed to make sure your dog gets to be more dog, which will lead to improvements in lots of areas of behaviour health.
You might have specific goals for you and your pet, or goals may reveal themselves as we journey through the 100 days.
Decide what behaviours you want to see less of and what behaviours you want to see more of. Very often, the underlying contributors to behaviours we don’t like, lie in a lack of appropriate outlets for normal, natural, necessary behaviour. Think of this approach, rather than in terms of obedience or manners behaviours.
For me, providing an enriched life for my dog means that I provide him with experiences through which he learns how to choose appropriate behaviour, while also making sure that he gets to be a dog, doing doggie things A LOT.
Enrichment must provide choice.
The animal gets to decide if they participate, what they do, how they participate and how much they engage.
Your job is to make sure they are safe to choose and that their choices keep them safe.
In this clip, Decker has a ball stuffed with Husky hair that we use in Sniffaris for olfactory enrichment. Or certainly, we intend that the dog will find it enriching from an olfactory point of view but as you can see, Decker comes up with all sorts of other forms of entertainment!
While Billie was originally working her way through this brain-teaser puzzle, she also finds chasing the loose balls as just as if not more entertaining, as shown in the following clip.
(There are food rewards hidden in there and she does engage in sniffing and hunting for them.)
We need to stand back and allow the dog work it out. Ensure that it’s safe and will not cause them fright, frustration or any other distress and let them do the rest.
What one individual finds distressing is different to others so care must be taken, along with close observation.
Don’t lure or encourage too much – let them be dogs.
Enrichment must allow the animal a little control over what happens to them.
Each challenge will emphasise helping your dog to learn that their behaviour matters, that when they do things stuff happens that they might like, that their world is safe and predictable.
Making sure that the amount of challenge is appropriate, rather than frustration inducing, is an important part of the deal. Enrichment should generate the good kind of stress that is seen with a level of challenge that’s just enough to hold the individual’s interest but not quite so difficult that it causes them frustration or to give up.
Enrichment must facilitate the demonstration of species and breed typical behaviours
We should be seeing more of these in appropriate ways as we go through an enrichment program – these may form the basis for your goal setting and planning.
Living with humans means that dogs must inhibit their very doggieness a lot of the time. We want each dog to be more dog!
Puzzling encourages exploration, learning about the world and increased cognitive abilities. Puzzling makes them a better puzzler!
Decker uses a range of strategies, applied to lots of different puzzles, to solve a new one. Enrichment grows brains!
In other words, enrichment must be enriching!