It’s all very well giving your dog a nice meal and some loving pats, that’s great. But dogs need a bit more than that to feel properly fulfilled
If you want your dog to live its best life, as they say, then canine enrichment activities are the way to go. What are they, you cry? I’m glad you asked…
Since I set up as a dog walker and sitter as a side line to writing a couple of months ago, I’ve met many dog owners who tell me their dogs are anxious, unsociable, ‘don’t like’ other dogs or humans or ‘can’t be’ left on their own for five minutes without having a meltdown.
Many dogs with behavioural issues are often simply unstimulated
Admittedly some dogs – particularly rescue dogs who’ve had difficult and traumatic starts in life – might be a bit more complex to handle than others. However, many dogs with behavioural issues are often simply unstimulated.
Dogs are social, intelligent, and active animals. If you habitually leave your dog on its own for five hours a day and wonder why they chew the sofa or scratch the living room door to bits, consider that you’d probably do the same in that situation. They’re bored. They’re frustrated. And they’re lonely. If dogs could pick up the TV and throw it out of the window, they’d probably do that, too.
Socialising your dog
Dogs need to be socialised with humans and other dogs, and they need to be able to do the things they were born to do – explore, play and problem solve. The latter is known as canine enrichment, a practice that can prevent boredom (thereby destruction) as well build their confidence and bring new skills.
If your dog wolfs (see what I did there?) down their dinner then begs you for yours, introduce them to a puzzle feeder. This is a food tray that your dog must manipulate to get the food out of. A bit like when we’re served aeroplane food with a sectioned tray and fiddly things to open, so it takes longer to get through it. You can put kibble, meat and vegetables in different sections. So they’re searching for food rather than just having it presented to them in a bowl. You can also buy rubber ones and fill them with frozen treats to make mealtimes last even longer – this is a great idea in summer.
‘Allowing dogs to forage and problem solve is an essential part of meeting both their physical and mental needs,’ says Val Suleski, kennels manager at Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare in Sussex.
Letting your dogs hunt
“Dogs have an amazing sense of smell. They use it to gather information about the environment around them and to find things. Searching out for food is about the drive for nourishment and survival related needs are particularly powerful, so the foraging and search behaviours therefore work to fulfil their need to hunt.”
Another cheap and effective enrichment idea is to take a cardboard box, fill it with newspaper or toilet roll tubes and hide biscuits within the layers. Do the same with a big box of toys.
If you have a garden, introduce treat trails for your dogs to follow, as this brings out their natural hunting instinct. You can do the same indoors, as well as hiding dry treats in a snuffle mat.
On walks, allow your dog plenty of opportunity and time to sniff. Make sure you go to different places and mix up the route that you take. This will give them new experiences and new smells which they’ll love.
Lucky enough to have a senior? Learn more about doggy arthritis
Hot weather canine enrichment activities
If you have the space, introduce a small paddling pool and/or sandpit for them to play in. Put toys in both so they can bob and dig for them. If they like the water, take them to the beach for the day and see if they want to swim at low tide. Make sure you have fresh water for them to drink and don’t let them drink seawater. Consider a life jacket, too, just to be on the safe side.
As the temperature hots up, you could make some frozen treats. Try grated carrot with plain soya or natural yogurt and organic peanut butter. Let them thaw a little first. Try adding blueberries, raspberries, carrots, baked salmon skin, no-salt beef or chicken broth cubes, baked sweet potato and organic peanut butter along with their usual kibble to their puzzle feeder.
‘With the right enrichment,’ says Val, ‘nervous dogs gain confidence, while reactive and frustrated dogs become calmer, more focused on us and choose positive behavioural responses because they’ve become more emotionally stable.’
Contact Juliette at www.bexhillpetsitting.com
Juliette writes about football, F1, fashion, health and interiors for national magazines and newspapers. She’s also Bexhill’s new Town Crier (true story!), runs a pet sitting sideline and heads up her own creative agency. If she’s not at home she’s in the sea
Just so you know – as if you didn’t – sometimes if you click on a link or buy something that you’ve seen on Silver, we may make a little commission. We don’t allow any old links here though. Read why you should trust us