The Importance of Enrichment
Updated: Jul 23
We often get so wrapped up in training, walking and day to day doggyness that we often forget to provide one of the most important needs to our dogs – enrichment. Enrichment is meeting our dog’s mental stimulation needs and allowing them to express natural behaviours in suitable ways and doesn’t matter what age or breed your dog is, they all need it. Walking a dog 5 miles is not the only (or most effective) way of meeting our dogs needs. Most dogs will find 30 mins of mental enrichment much more fulfilling that a 1hr walk and will often feel more relaxed, suitably tired, and happier in general. This article will tell you how to enrich your dogs’ lives and why it's important.
Why Do We Provide Enrichment?
Enrichment is a way of meeting our dogs needs and encouraging them to display natural dog behaviours in ways that are appropriate to day-to-day life. It can be used to prevent unwanted behaviour or severe behaviour issues and can be a great way of building the bond we have with our dogs. We can also use enrichment to allow our dogs to express their breed specific behaviours – a dachshund may want to dig and decide your flower bed is the best spot or a growing bully breed puppy may use your skirting board as the best chewing option – enrichment gives them alternative outlets!
In addition to this, enrichment helps our dogs to release all the positive hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Sniffing, licking, and chewing are all ways we can promote the release of these ‘happy hormones’ and promote calmness and relaxation in our dogs.
What Can I Do to Enrich My Dog’s Life?
Sniffy walks! This one is easy – let them sniff! A slow, sniffy walk is one of the easiest and most natural ways you can provide enrichment to your dog. The dog’s nose is a superpower, they have over 10x the amount of scent receptors than us – we have about 10,000 and they have 100,000! They literally ‘see’ the world through their nose so something as simple as allowing them to stop and sniff can really help them to relax and enjoy their walk. Put away the ball thrower or frisbee and enjoy them enjoying the power of sniff.
ACE Freework by Sarah Fisher – I mention this one a lot because it’s one of my personal favourites! ACE Freework is enrichment and so much more and is an excellent alternative to a walk (particularly handy for reactive dogs or dogs that struggle outside.) It is about meeting as many of your dogs needs as possible in relaxing, often easy, and enjoyable ways. Mental, physical, and physiological enrichment.
Trick Training - one of the best ways to build a bond with your dog is through direct engagement with them. Trick training allows you to do this with the bonus of training something you may be able to rely on in the future. It’s a great alternative for any breed of dog and there’s usually something for all.
Toys and chews – For easy and quick enrichment why not buy a Licki mat, Kong, snuffle matt, puzzle feeder or some natural chews? You can freeze some of these so there is always enrichment ready to grab and they all provide the activities needed to release those ‘happy hormones.’
Classes – some classes can be enriching for our dogs. Things like scent work, man trailing, agility and hoopers are excellent choices for our dogs. If you have a dog that is nervous of dogs and people, scent work and man trailing may be great options for you and your dog.
Enrichment is only as enriching as the dog finds it. The dog determines how valuable the enrichment is. If your dog isn’t enjoying something, it’s ok to try something else!
Why not add a longline to walks and do some scent following – enjoy following your dog and the scents they pick up. You can even turn it into a game and hide some treats in trees and long grass!
Enrichment can be used to help with many training and behaviour issues. If you are having issues with your dog training or behaviour, get in touch today!