Here at The Happy Dog we believe that dogs who are humanely taught how to successfully live in our world, allowed to engage in natural behaviors, and are given opportunities to make choices are happy dogs. And happy dogs make for happy humans.
Here’s what we mean by that:
Dogs who are trained using modern, science-based methods without force, fear, or coercion are much more likely to feel safe, comfortable, and confident moving through the world. As a result, we get to live with well-adjusted companions who exhibit far fewer behavior issues. We wrote about the importance of force-free training and handling here.
Another important (but often overlooked) factor that helps prevent unwanted behaviors is enrichment. For those not familiar with the term, enrichment is any activity your dog finds innately satisfying.
So let’s think of all the things our dogs love to do—playing, chasing, fetching, digging, scavenging, sniffing, dissecting, ripping, shredding, chewing, licking, just to name a few. All of these behaviors are so satisfying for dogs because they are natural to their species. Engaging in these behaviors on a regular basis is not only normal, but essential to our dogs’ physical and emotional wellbeing.
Unfortunately, modern living, and city living especially, doesn’t always allow our dogs to be dogs. So they often resort to choosing their own enrichment activities by dipping in to your shoe collection or appropriating the leg of your dining room table.
To help prevent problem behaviors and give our dogs healthy outlets for their needs, we have to think proactively about ways to enrich their environment and increase their mental stimulation. Whoever said "a tired dog is a good dog" forgot to mention that mental exercise is just as important as physical. A tired dog might be good dog, but a mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog!
HOW TO ENRICH YOUR DOG'S LIFE STARTING TODAY:
LET THEM SNIFF
I repeat, LET THEM SNIFF. Taking your dog on a walk and not allowing them to sniff is akin to going on a European sightseeing tour blindfolded--not a whole lot of fun for anyone. Am I right?
Dogs “see” the world and gather information with their noses. Sniffing is an immensely stimulating and calming activity, and can be especially helpful for fearful, reactive, or overexcited dogs. Even if you don’t get very far, your dog will get far more out of their walk by indulging in as much sniffing as they want. So on your next walk, resist the urge to pull your dog along and instead take them on a nice sniffari. You both will be glad you did.
DISCOVER NEW PLACES
Instead of the same old, same old walk around the block, take your dog somewhere new. New places = new scents and new scents = mental stimulation. Your dog will be twice as tired and happy when they get home, even if you just explored a new street in your neighborhood.
TAKE YOUR DOG ON A HIKE
Unstructured walks in nature where your dog is free to sniff and explore aren’t only stimulating, they are decompressing and stress relieving. Consider using a back clipping harness with a long leash if your dog doesn't have a reliable recall. If you can’t find a trail, try a beach, or a park, or any green space near you!
DITCH THE BOWL
How fast does it take your dog to eat, I mean, inhale their food out of their bowl? I'm betting not very long. Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers who didn’t evolve to eat two square meals a day from a bowl. Help meet their natural scavenging needs by feeding their daily meals out of interactive puzzles and food dispensing toys. This is also a great alternative to free feeding and helps mix up the routine for the picky eaters.
Stuff and freeze rubber Kong toys with kibble, wet food, peanut butter, cream cheese, ground meet, pureed fruits or veggies
Freeze kibble and broth inside a slow feeder bowl for a long lasting food toy
Use the Kong Wobbler or other puzzle toys to dispense their kibble
Here are some examples of how to use the popular burrowing toys as food puzzles:
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
Enrichment doesn’t need to be fancy to be fun. Turn everyday items into interesting puzzles and enrichment activities. DIY enrichment can be tailored to meet every dog’s needs and abilities. If your dog is shy or skittish, allowing them to explore novel objects at their own pace will help build confidence and increase their problem solving skills. My dog was once very weary of boxes, but now diving into a box filled with paper is one of his most cherished activities.
LET THEM BE DOGS!
If your dog loves to dig, but you don’t want a backyard full of holes, designate a digging spot or get a sandbox. Help encourage digging in the designated area by hiding toys or treats there and rewarding your dog each time they go there to dig.
If your dog is a fan of ripping and shredding, find items around the home they can safely do this with. If you have a big chewer on your hands, provide plenty of appropriate and safe chewing objects to meet their daily chewing needs. And for some extra sniffing fun, try a snufflemat!
When we allow plenty of opportunities for our dogs to be dogs—to engage in behaviors natural and necessary for their species—we are providing them with life improving mental stimulation. Think of enrichment as something no less necessary for your dog than exercise, good nutrition, and medical care.
Keeping our dogs mentally stimulated helps prevent boredom and problem behaviors, decreases stress, and builds confidence. Most importantly, enriched dogs are happy dogs!
Please remember to supervise all enrichment activities to make sure they are safe and appropriate for your dog. Start new puzzles and activities slow and easy, so that your dog can succeed at every step.
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