Canine Enrichment and Why It’s Important
More than ever, we are hearing terms like “mental stimulation,” “decompression exercises,” and “canine enrichment” being thrown around in the dog-owning community. Some owners feel that exercise, food, and obedience are all that our dogs need to be happy. In some cases, this may hold true, but I believe that there is so much more we can offer our loyal companions. I mean, imagine how boring life would be for us if we never had the opportunity to challenge ourselves, both mentally and physically?
That’s where canine enrichment comes in for our dogs. As owners, it is our duty to our dogs to give them the fullest and most robust life we can while they are with us. This can be accomplished by introducing new training exercises, changing up regular meal-time, and setting aside some instances to make your dog hunt for their food. Walking routines can also become more exciting by taking different routes or expanding where you walk to increase sniff opportunities and experiences.
This may be one of the easiest types of enrichment that you can use in your day-to-day life with your dog. Sometimes called “ditching the bowl,” choosing to give your dog their regular meal in more challenging vessels can be a great opportunity for your dog to flex their brain a bit and have a more satisfying experience.
Snuffle mats have hit the dog community by storm and offer a variety of benefits, from slowing down how fast your dog eats to reducing overall boredom. By feeding your dog either a full meal or a handful of treats in a challenging snuffle mat, your dog burns mental and physical energy by trying to “solve” the puzzle. The folds within the snuffle mat cover up the pieces of food and require your dog to sniff them out and use their nose to maneuver the food out from where it is hidden.
Check out our selection of custom-made, heavy-duty snuffle mats here.
New to the canine enrichment scene are snuffle balls. These balls are unique in that you are able to pour a significant amount of food into the middle of the ball. You then give the ball to your dog and show them that by rolling the ball, pieces of kibble or treats will fall out of the small holes. The folds of fabric keep the food inside of the ball so that only a few pieces fall out at a time. This creates a challenging game that engages your dog completely as they try to figure out how to move the ball so that they can access the yummy food it is dispensing.
Take a look at our variety of snuffle ball color combos and sizes here.
Kongs are an exceptional way to turn mealtime into a longer activity that teaches your dog both patience and persistence to get the delectable treat they are looking for. You can stuff Kong toys with about any food that is dog safe, such as peanut butter, carrots, blueberries, apple slices, treats, chews, or kibble. My go-to Kong stuffing is some pureed kibble with a tiny bit of beef stock and whatever leftover veggies I have in the fridge. I’ll then stuff the Kongs with the mixture and place them in the freezer for use throughout the week.
Regular Walks vs Decompression Walks
Depending on your normal routine with your dog, you may already engage in “decompression” walks without even knowing it. This is basically a fancy expression for just letting your dog walk the way it wants to. There are innumerable benefits of having structured walks where your dog isn’t pulling at the leash and is walking calmly by your side. But, there is so much more to walking than keeping in line with your paces. The plethora of smells, textures, sights, and sounds in even the most mundane environment can be exciting to your dog.
There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to provide your dog with quality enrichment opportunities beyond what I have mentioned. I am merely scratching the surface with those I have gone over in this article. My goal is to get you thinking about your dog in a way you may never have thought about before. Challenge them. Nourish them. And above all, love them with your whole heart.
Given that dogs have a sense of smell that is at least 10,000 times stronger than ours, it’s a no-brainer to create activities that require them to use their nose. My favorite game, by far, is “Find it.” Start this game off by having your dog sit somewhere nearby you (inside or outside!) and hide a treat behind an object. Stand near where you placed the treat and release them from their position. Say “find it!” and help guide your dog to the place where the treat is hidden. Repeat this a couple of times until your dog begins to understand the concept.
To level up “Find it,” you can start by having your dog wait in another room or out of your line of sight. This will allow you to hide the treats somewhere they can’t immediately see. Then, release them and ask them to “Find it!”. Not only does this give them the opportunity to use their nose and burn some mental energy, but it also can give you the chance to brush up on “stay” training and releases.
No matter which activities you chose, your dog is bound to love the additional time spent working out their mind and nose. Depending on your situation, you may have to tweak some enrichment activities based on your dog’s age, activity levels, and food/play drive. Find what works best for you and your dog, and never be afraid to experiment with new ideas! Comment below with some of your favorite enrichment ideas or activities for us to try out!