While walks are a great way to bond with our dogs, take important exercise, and enjoy fresh air – they are not the only experiences we can provide for our domesticated dogs. Dogs thrive on a mixture of physical and mental workouts – an enriched life of activities that meet all their welfare needs. This can include the opportunity to sniff , hunt, explore, chew, and bond with their family members.
Scent work is a great way to add natural enrichment into your dog’s daily life. This can be as simple as scattering some food onto your lawn or into a snuffle mat, and letting your dog sniff it out. Or you could be hiding scented items around your home – perhaps toys that smell of catnip or a lavender cloth for your dog to search for. You can even play hide and seek with them yourself – leaving them in a “wait” in one room, going and hiding somewhere around the house, and then calling them to come and find you.
Did you know that earned food is often more valuable for a dog than free food? In fact, as long as they’re not in full hunger mode – using their meals as a reward for training can be a great way to create more engagement from their food. Start by feeding your dog part of their meal in the usual way – such as from a bowl. Then provide some of their food in a filled food toy, placed on the floor for them to easily access, and keep some on your person ready to train with. See what your dog chooses – do they want to go and get the free food in the food toy? Or would they rather work with you to earn their food – getting the added benefit of success when they get the job you ask them to do right? Food toys can be used in many different ways to provide licking, chewing, and hunting outlets… all great enrichment opportunities! Setting up a selection of toys – alongside some freely scattered food on your lawn or the floor of your kitchen – can allow you to see what kind of enrichment workout your dog prefers. Eating from a bowl day in day out can really limit our dog’s opportunity to display natural eating behaviours. If you can also vary the textures of food and tastes you provide your dog with, even better!
Playing with your dog is a great way to provide a physical workout as well as helping them build all-important social skills. Just remember that the type of toy you use is important – is it one your dog would choose themselves? Do they prefer to tug, squeak or chase? Studies have shown, across a range of species, that parents who play with their children have a stronger bond. Fun, friendly, and encouraging relationships are the key to relaxed dogs! Adding in some daily enrichment activities for your dog will not only boost your bond, it will lift their mood and affect their everyday health and wellness! What’s not to love?
Written by Caroline Wilkinson,
Certified Animal Behaviourist
APDT, UK 01212, ICAN Certified Animal Behaviourist, ABTC Registered Animal Training Instructor