Some of the most popular food-based enrichment toys right now: a snufflemat, a slow-feeder bowl, “Treatimats”, and stuffables, large Kong and a large Toppl.
But, what if I told you that enrichment is not about the toy?!
Enrichment is about the behavioural outcome from which the animal benefits as a result of choosing to participate in the enrichment activity.
Don’t be turned off providing an outlet for your pet’s normal, natural, necessary behaviour just because you don’t have, can’t get, not able to afford a particular toy.
Look carefully at the sorts of behavioural outcomes associated with these toys – that’s what we want to replicate and we can do that without the toy itself.
But, don’t get bogged down with a specific solve – how the dog does it is always right!
This clip, doing the rounds on social media, tries to suggest that the dog has the wrong idea. But that, in itself, is inaccurate. However the dog chooses to engage and ‘solve’ the puzzle is correct – the animal can’t be wrong.
These slow feeders are often a source of frustration for many dogs and as such might not be all that enriching for many. This dog has developed a strategy that allows him/her to solve the puzzle and win the prize. That’s just perfect!
Making enrichment affordable allows every one to participate and benefits every pet, whether they live with a family, in foster, in kennels.
Make sure you know your dog and consider safety with ALL enrichment devices and activities.
Stuffable toys are generally costly as most are longer lasting and tough. Buying appropriate stuffable toys is a bit of an investment and might even last you through your next pets too.
I love the Toppl from West Paws as a stuffable but it’s not quite as hard wearing as many of the Kong toys so I take care with it with Decker.
Any toy with holes in can be used as a stuffable toy, like the range above.
Stuffables don’t have to be stuffed; you can add the filling to the outside which is especially helpful for novice dogs or dogs that get frustrated with hard-to-reach goodies.
Freeze it to add more challenge and a different sensory experience.
Take a durable chew toy, like a Nylabone or similar, and smear something yummy in the uneven surface created by chewing.
Freeze it to add more challenge and a different sensory experience.
Try edible stuffables, like these cored and stuffed apples.
Freeze just the stuffing and enjoy a stuffable without a stuffable!
Just smearing the sides of the bath, or the table, for grooming and husbandry procedures is efficient and fast. Securing silicone devices to the sides of the bath or shower makes clean up easier.
This ALDI slow feeder bowl is quite nice as there’s lots of space, just encouraging the dog to use their tongue, and hopefully not become too frustrated.
You can use the underside of this slow feeding bowl, as a mould or as a slow feeder too:
While these can certainly be used with kibble, to slow the enthusiastic eater, they also make excellent feeders to encourage lapping of soft foods. Raw feeders might prefer to feed raw diets in these, rather than in stuffable toys, as there will be less mess.
Adding kibble, with water or something to suspend it in, tinned foods, meats, mixes and so on and then freezing within slow feeders and alternatives can be fed in the container itself or tipped out to create a pupsicle.
Foraging boxes are a great way to encourage snuffling and exploration, while using what ever safe and appropriate items you have to hand.
Day 31 gives you lots and lots of ideas from ballpit balls to bottles, from toilet roll tubes to toys.
Enrichment is for everyone
No matter the budget or your abilities, there are lots of simple and cheap ways to enrich and entertain.
Charities such as rescues can start a donation campaign for enrichment devices and pet owners can go through your pet’s toys regularly to see what could be donated to a rescue organisation or another needy pet owner.
Add your best budget ideas too so we can all benefit from our community by putting our heads together!
It has long been touted that a dog’s walk, The Walk, was an important event, allowing the dog’s owner to assert their ‘dominance’ and implement all-important control. But, really, there is no social significance to exerting such control on walks and outings.
For most dogs, while walks and outings are certainly significant events, getting out of the house or garden is limited. Most pet dogs have very limited access to the outside world – their humans work long hours, weather is so often unpleasant, their dog’s behaviour might be difficult, and so on.
Earlier this year, a survey from Forthglade dog food revealed that over half of the pet dogs, whose owners had responded, didn’t get a daily outing. While I don’t believe traditional dog walks to be the be-all-and-end-all, and in some cases they are not appropriate for individual dogs, my concern is that it is terribly unlikely, unfortunately, that these dogs have sufficient appropriate enrichment in place to make up for the lack of outings. And in addition to outings, which is also important.
In my experience, and that of many of my colleagues, the bottom line is that most pet dogs don’t get sufficient appropriate enrichment and entertainment. (This impending pet dog welfare crisis is the subject for another post, and a topic I discuss often.)
Choice and choosing features big throughout #100daysofenrichment. In the modern study of captive animal behaviour, it is recognised that opportunities to choose what happens to them allows animals to feel more confident and reduces the stress of captive living.
At the very heart of what makes an activity enriching or not, is how the animal chooses to interact, how they choose to engage, and the behaviours they choose to use. Without choice, enrichment isn’t enriching.
Here’s some clips of recent outings with Decker. There are lots of trails established in the long grass, some mechanically but most just by human and animal activity, as we meander about.
About a month ago, Decker seriously injured his foot and as part of recovery, we’ve been gradually building his exercise back up after almost 3 weeks of next to no activity. This includes walks/trots on lead so that he takes it somewhat easy. We are in the Phoenix Park, which is the most wonderful facility, and there are lots of these crosses eeked out in the long, summer grass.
I have no idea what criteria he uses to choose but you can see him actively consider the best route to take. But it doesn’t matter. How or why he chooses isn’t my business.
Case in point, here he is choosing a specific tennis ball from his collection. 11 identical balls but one is special…
#100daysofenrichment emphasises making sure that sniffing and other doggie pursuits are central so that outings are more about quality than quantity…time spent sniffing is never a waste so go for a SNIFF instead of a walk:
#100daysofenrichment was never meant to be a standalone thing. The exercises were designed to allow you incorporate them into your daily activities with your dog.
Our Facebook group, which you can still join btw, is great for showing how participants have assimilated lots of the days’ challenges into their every day lives.
After all, #100daysofenrichment isn’t just for #100daysofenrichment 😉
Decker on Injury Rest
Last week, Decker really ripped open a toe-pad on his front left. Pad skin is keratinised so is tricky to suture and takes a loooooong time to heal and harden again. The wound is probably too severe for suturing, so I am dressing it every second day, keeping it padded and booted and making sure he rests it.
Weeks of injury rest is hard for any dog, and their humans. Luckily Decker is a lazy dog in a crazy dog’s body and we have practiced for rest periods like this, being bored, so he’s pretty straight forward when it comes to just hanging out.
Happily, the wound looks good, he’s on lots of pain relief and is, as always, in great form and happy about life. We appreciate your healing thoughts on this one so we can get back to swimming and adventure time, before the summer is over for another year.
#100daysofenrichment is perfect for injury rest! Decker has lots of these challenges in his daily life anyway, so with a little adjustment, I can keep him busy and entertained even though he can’t do a whole lot of physical exercise.
Here’s a clip of one of our day’s activities, split across lots of short sessions over the day so he can rest his foot too.
Dog’s Trust Ireland’s Dogs Do #100daysofenrichment
Dogs might have limited access to enriching activities and environments by virtue of living in a shelter or kennel facility.
The Dogs Trust Ireland dogs are lucky to have wonderful carers who participated in #100daysofenrichment and who continue to do the best for these dogs by brightening their days with challenging fun and brain games.
A big and special thanks to canine carer extraordinaire, Cheryl Monaghan, who tirelessly brings #100days challenges to these dogs awaiting their homes, and shares their joy in our Facebook group and in this fantastic video:
It might be strange for a dog trainer to say this, but I’m just not that impressed by obedience, by trainers barking out “commands”, with compliance and with expectations that their dog should obey.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a trainer with slick mechanics work (and I especially LOVE the joy in their learner) or watching some really cool antecedent arrangement (management or setting the learner up for success); that definitely floats my boat.
Relationship and engagement produced through that is awesome, but superficial obedience and blind compliance; nope, not for me.
But, it’s easy to see why many will be enamoured by it.
I get it, pet owners want an easy life; we want dogs to slot into our busy lives and we certainly don’t want our dogs’ behaviour to embarrass us…after all, there are no such things as “bad” dogs, just “bad” owners, right?!
Maybe it’s the shame or dread of shaming.
Maybe we are still stuck in our cultural attitude toward our relationship with dogs; us in control and them being subservient.
Maybe we get our jollies by being in control, or certainly perceiving that we are in control.
Whatever’s behind it, understanding the time and place for obedience is important. Obedience isn’t the be all and end all, and sometimes it’s not what we have and it’s not what is needed.
Is it really obedience? Or is it just suppression?
In general, pet owners want to be able to stop their dog doing unwanted behaviour. When we think of obedience, this is often what we are thinking of…how do I stop my dog jumping, lunging, pulling barking… or whatever.
If that’s how you’re approaching this, you might already be off on the wrong foot. Behaviour doesn’t really go away; learning means that neural pathways are established in the brain and that’s not really undone. Instead, we develop new neural pathways that produce alternative behaviours and we strengthen those, with repetition, so that new, alternative, and hopefully more desirable behaviour, is established.
Punishers suppress behaviours but teaching alternative behaviour is the real key to success. That means that stopping the dog practicing unwanted behaviour (to prevent further establishment) while reinforcing desired behaviour is the solution to training problems.
Despite that, a whole range of products, equipment and ‘miracle cures’ are available designed to suppress behaviour. Indeed, that’s what most training tools do. Suppress rather than teach.
Those tools or techniques that cause the learner stress through fear, discomfort, pain, act to not just stop behaviour but to suppress it, convincing the dog that the world isn’t safe and that they better not step out of line. This looks like an animal who is quiet and tolerant, even calm. They stop offering behaviour. They effectively shut-down the weight of the stress being so great.
This clip, from Eileen And Dogs, shows some examples of dogs who appear biddable, well-behaved and even calm. But, look closely.
These dogs are still and frozen, moving or behaving very little. That’s what’s not right here – these dogs are not behaving as they would normally. Their normal responses are inhibited by the stress they are experiencing.
I can see why this might appeal. Look how little these dogs are doing. Look how quick we got compliance.
But this isn’t real life. This is TV-training. And dogs are not robots. They are responsive, sentient, learning beings for whom it’s normal to react and interact. And when that’s not happening, something not’s right.
Is it really obedience? How do we really get obedience?
What most people think of as training, or at least, as trained behaviours is probably not what they have at all. That’s because achieving a truly trained behaviour is not an easy thing. Simple, yes. Easy, no.
In dog training, we use the term ‘under stimulus control’ to describe a behaviour that is well established in response to a cue in a range of contexts (might be a word, body position or movement and so on).
A behaviour is under stimulus control when the learner responds to the cue quickly and efficiently, every time, the learner doesn’t offer that behaviour when not cued, the behaviour isn’t offering that behaviour when a different cue is presented, and other behaviours are not offered in response to that cue.
It’s also commonly presumed that the dog is responding to the verbal cue you use (“sit” or “down”), and even that’s in doubt with dogs being more likely to learn about contexts and your body movements than the words we use. (D’Aniello et al, 2016) (D’Aniello et al, 2017)
Of course, we probably don’t want or need rigid stimulus control in a lot of pet-dog contexts; we want to be able to say certain words in certain contexts and not have to contest with a responsive dog throwing behaviours at us.
Truth is, it’s vastly underestimated just how much repetition and consistent practice is required for dogs (and humans) to establish behaviour reliably. And then you add distractions into that and we need MORE work. The magic number of 10,000 reps is often used to help illustrate this challenge and while that can vary, to help your dog perform behaviour on cue in a range of circumstances is a big ask.
Sometimes, obedience is just not the answer
Obedience can actually get in the way of what we want to achieve with our dogs, in some situations. And this is especially true if obedience is being held above all else.
Your dog is using his behaviour in an attempt to cope with the goings on and it’s a very honest account. It’s telling you how well your dog is coping, or not. Your dog’s behaviour is information.
If your dog is feeling distressed or worried in a particular context, his behaviour will let you know. When stressed, the brain is generally looking for a way out – how to get the body out of that stressful situation.
That means that behaviour will be related to getting away, escaping or delaying social interaction or to scare something away.
Attempts to distract, redirect or correct the dog’s behaviour will often rely on obedience – the dog is told to sit, the dog is verbally intimidated or is restrained in place.
For the most part, if the dog is trying to get distance, give it to him. Not being able to get away from something scary or overwhelming makes it more scary.
We are concerned with feelings right now – if the dog is stressed, not allowing him escape will increase that stress.
Better feelings bring better behaviour.
But the opposite can happen too – better behaviour will bring about better feelings. In this context, we might get the dog that distance they crave when they are showing only mildly concerned behaviour. Calmer, quieter, more polite social behaviour gets you distance – crazy dog behaviour not required.
The problem with sit
It’s good to review, to critique and we are doing that quite a bit in dog training right now. One question we might ask is, why do we teach dogs to sit?
Sitting isn’t really a favoured position by dogs, in natural situations. They tend to sit mostly when they aren’t sure about something (we often call this information gathering) and they might tuck their bums in a sitting motion should they be uncomfortable with something around their back end, such as another dog sniffing them.
Associating sit with amazing rewards and being careful when we ask for sits will go a long way to keeping it positive and happy. But, when we don’t establish this, sitting, when asked, may not be a pleasant situation for your dog at all.
Obedience classes in the face of fear
A training class will be full of people and other dogs, in a confined space, around lots of high value resources, with everyone on lead and a little tense.
Such is the understanding of the application of obedience, on a pretty regular basis, I will discuss this with a client who wants to bring their dog to an obedience class to help with behaviour related to fear, shyness, aggression, “reactivity”.
Putting those dogs in such an environment means that they will have difficulty moving away, achieving distance and gaining relief. And while their behaviour may be suppressed in this situation, so they appear tolerant, it’s probably not helping them feel better about being in close proximity with triggers.
What’s that dog really learning about triggers? How does that experience make that dog feel?
Obedience is not a priority for puppies
This by far one of my biggest bug bears – we have tons of time to teach puppies to come when called and walk nicely on lead, but such limited time to help them develop comfort and confidence.
Before puppy learns the rules of obedience, they need to learn the workings of their world. Obedience and even food rewards can mask puppy’s experience of their world around them at the most important time for them to experience that world.
Puppies must develop life skills, rather than obedience behaviours. Life skills build on behavioural tendencies partly inherited and affected by their first weeks of life, and by the time they go to their new homes we are rushing to make sure we make much progress as adolescence looms.
I wish puppy owners would spend time bringing their puppies every where, going for car trips, people and dog watching, helping puppy develop comfort with handling, grooming and husbandry, learning to play and engage with their humans, and being able to settle in confinement. If that was the priority, I would see far fewer dogs later on for behaviour work, that’s for sure.
Getting puppies out into the world and guiding their pet owners is the central focus of AniEd puppy programs.
Puppies learn to choose their humans, when they’re ready and they have finished taking in all the information they need to be comfortable; SNIFF, EXPLORE, OBSERVE.
Engaging with their people becomes a cue or signal from puppy that they are comfortable and confident with the situation.
The beauty of this comfort-first-obedience-later approach is that you get really cool engagement and even obedience as a side effect, without much extra effort.
Think comfort first – if the dog is comfortable, their behaviour will follow and we can build obedience behaviours into that, if you like.
Make dog walks more dog
A simple way to reduce the pressure and add a little more dog to your dog’s life is to re-think your dog’s walks.
When it’s safe, let your dog be a dog. Let him sniff (and sniff and sniff and sniff and sniff…), let him wander and roam (safely), let them roll and dig.
Take the pressure off, loosen the lead, prioritise quality over quantity, don’t get hung up on walking in front. Obedience doesn’t need to be front and centre when you take your dog out.
You’re dog’s not broken. You don’t need to fix him.
All behaviour functions for the animal. Generally, dogs are doing behaviour that gets them things they like and allows them to avoid things they don’t like.
Your dog’s behaviour isn’t and can’t be “bad”. It’s just behaviour.
Most of the unwanted behaviours that dogs do, are normal dog behaviours. Behaviours that dogs need to do. That are inbuilt and part of the package.
We have made arbitrary rules about the sorts of dog behaviours we like and don’t like. Dogs don’t know about that until we try to reshape their experience with human-imposed-obedience.
Dogs must get to be dogs. Meeting their needs will provide a better more solid foundation for appropriate behaviour than obedience alone.
Dogs are not robots. Sometimes they can’t obey.
Obedience is a human made construct based on our arbitrary rules for how dogs should behave in the human world. The dog is often the last to find out about it.
When a dog can’t or doesn’t comply, the first thing I look at is the environment. Remember, behaviour is in the environment, not in the dog.
The environment is causing the dog discomfort and for obedience, there first must be comfort.
Maybe the goings on are causing the dog to feel over excited, worried, cold or too hot, maybe they are conflicted or distracted.
Maybe our training isn’t so hot, maybe we just are not close to sufficient stimulus control so your dog doesn’t know how to respond in these new or overwhelming conditions.
None of it is deliberate or willful. Behaviour is information. Listen.
If you want to really train, look at your dog’s environment and change it up so that the behaviour you like is going to happen.
What do we do instead?
I’m not suggesting that there is no place for obedience training, teaching behaviours and improving your dog’s manners. Training is happening all the time, regardless of what you call it or how much you consciously participate. Your dog is learning how to get the good things and avoid the bad things all day, every day.
Training just aims to make sure that the behaviours produced are ones we like.
While it might seem like semantics, I suggest a mind shift might be considered. Instead of aiming for compliance and obedience, think about willing engagement, think about providing your dog with guidance in experiencing their world, think about letting your dog be a dog.
Sure, training is still happening but instead of it being obedience led, we can let it be a little more dog-led.
This doesn’t get you off the hook. I do think that most pet dogs need better guidance from their human partners. They need better and more outlets for their behaviour. They need more help learning to just be with their humans.
Your job is still to set your dog up for success, to arrange their environment so that they are safe, and to make sure they have outlets for their behaviour, constructing that foundation.
We can provide all that, while getting joyful and willing engagement from our dogs, without ever mentioning the O-word.
Moving to this mindset is what’s behind #100daysofenrichment – an entire ‘training’ manual without mentioning or prioritising obedience once.
Easter Egg boxes make GREAT puzzle boxes for different Busy Boxes…you’ll have to eat all the Easter Eggs so…
Make sure to keep the chocolate away from pets and if you have had a real Easter Egg hunt, make sure that you have cleared away all the eggs before allowing your dog access.
Instead, set up an Easter Puzzle Hunt for them!
Just because it’s Day 101, doesn’t mean the enrichment has to stop!
You make #100days what it is
I never anticipated that this little project, from our little company, would reach so far and generate so much interest. But it did. And that’s down to you and your participation and support.
I can’t thank you enough for getting involved, sharing, and for providing feedback. The messages and comments of gratitude, letting me know how you and your pet have benefited has been the most amazing reinforcement. Throughout, it’s kept me going, striving to produce the best resources with the most information.
I have enjoyed every moment of the community aspect of this project; seeing how you have applied the challenges, how you have made adjustments to suit you and your companion, and most of all, watching pets engage in enrichment activities in a truly enriching manner.
That’s all you. Thank you.
Start on Day 101
The hope of any #100day project is that participation helps to establish long lasting habits, beyond the one hundred days. You can continue to incorporate any or many of the challenges into your daily lives with your companion animals.
you might pick challenges or days that are particularly valuable and enjoyable to you and your pet
think of challenges that are about just being and living with your pet – lots of those involving just being and providing choice might be good considerations
go back and start at Day 1 all over again
each day’s challenges provide multiple options so you might go back and do an alternative challenge from each day
Whatever way you plan to do it, please do keep doing it.
The blogs, as is, will remain in place so you can dip in and out or even start again. New people might like to join in or lurkers might like to get stuck in and really have a go at it.
Welcome to Day 100 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
let’s have fun with puzzles again today and try out some of the challenges you didn’t get to try yesterday, or build on yesterday’s progress
puzzles that you can make as simple or complex as your dog desires
food based enrichment
turn your dog into a pick-pocket on the hunt for puzzling fun
get the family involved in this one – kids love making puzzles for pets and these challenges offer lots of opportunities for children to use their imagination to come up with the best busy boxes for their pets.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
Some pockets puzzles might take some time to prepare, but you can work on more straight-forward challenges if time is tight.
What do you need?
anything that has pockets; might include old hoodies or jeans, or bathroom organisers, plant or shoe organisers
food rewards and toys
boxes, tubs, paper, eggboxes, balls, paper cups, cardboard tubes, bottles, and all your puzzling stuff!
to encourage a wide range of foraging and exploratory behaviours
to do more feeding related behaviour than eating
to encourage the development of strategies (behaviours) for getting the food out of the pockets and puzzles
by varying the design of your pockets puzzles we will facilitate carrying out a range of different behaviours, broadening the dog’s repertoire
While this challenge is certainly food based, they are also experiencing cognitive, sensory and environmental enrichment, with lots of crossover between categories.
Working out how to get to the food and developing dexterous skills in manipulating the puzzles are examples of cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting and chewing food all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding their way through each food puzzle, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of getting to the good stuff.
Pockets puzzles encourage pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the puzzle is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
By offering a variety of pockets puzzles, we want to help the dog expand their range of puzzle-busting behaviours and facilitate your pet applying strategies from other puzzles to new ones; that’s a true cognitive gift and is growing your dog’s brain!
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
give your pet plenty of space for working on puzzles and bear in mind there will be mess, so think about spaces that are easier for clean up
hang up pockets puzzles on the back of a chair (for clothing) or secure a pockets puzzle under a closed door so that is kept in the same spot
the more difficult you have made the challenge, the higher the value the reward must be so use HIGH value foods to motivate exploration and experimentation and make it VERY easy to get the food (no frustration!)
if your dog just dives in, in full on destruction mode that might also be an indicator that they need an easier challenge so they get to experiment with a broader range of behaviours
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of Pockets Puzzles:
Lots of dogs enjoy snuffling and rooting, and pockets puzzles give them an outlet for this behaviour and can be a fun and simply way of slowing eating behaviour, while encouraging a broader repertoire of behaviour.
Puzzles pockets are pretty adaptable so difficulty can be increased and decreased to suit the individual dog’s abilities and comfort level.
Care does need to be taken with the level of challenge presented. Remember, enrichment must be enriching, so it’s much more beneficial to keep the challenge doable and allow the dog to develop the skills.
Because of the home made nature and variable materials used in these puzzles, it’s best to supervise your pet carefully when they have access.
Know your dog! If you have an ingester, some of these puzzles may not work for your dog.
If you are concerned about your dog ingesting non-food items during puzzling, have a pocketful of HIGH value treats in your pocket and be ready to toss a couple toward your dog, across their eyeline, if you think they are thinking about eating the paper.
Making sure the challenge is very doable and they can get to the hidden food rewards quickly is key to modifying their behaviour and expectations during puzzling.
Check all your equipment for this challenge carefully and make sure to remove tape, staples, other fastners, small pieces and plastic pieces. Play safe!
add food rewards to each puzzle
hang clothes pockets puzzles from the back of a chair, or similar
use shoe organisers, or similar, flat on the floor
use pockets that aren’t too deep
fill the pocket with lots of food so it’s easy to get
introduce simple puzzles to some of the pockets, for example paper parcels
hang clothes pockets puzzles from the back of a chair, or similar
use shoe organisers, or similar, flat on the floor
use pockets that aren’t too deep
add a mix of puzzles to different pockets to really challenge your dog with the Ultimate Puzzle!