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What the Heck is Dog Enrichment?

I'm glad you asked, because honestly this is my favorite topic in the whole, wide world.



Let's start from scratch.

What is enrichment? Enrichment is something that encourages an animal's natural behaviors. It is very often used in zoo and aquarium settings.

So, what is a natural behavior? A natural behavior is a behavior that would be exhibited if they were out in the wild. But dogs are domesticated, right? They still have behaviors from their wild ancestors that can be seen today.

What are a dog's natural behaviors? What a great question, thank you for asking! Natural behaviors for dogs include digging, chewing, jumping, plus others. All of the things that we typically find super annoying, or frustrating, are literally just natural to them. It is an urge that they need to satisfy. But this does not mean that we, as dog owners, cannot help them express those behaviors in a way that is mutual, meaning they satisfy their behavior, and we are okay with the way they are expressing it.


Is this confusing? Let me explain in an example.

A natural dog behavior, especially as a puppy, is chewing. I don't want him to chew my shoes or my couch, but I don't care if he chews up a cardboard box. Either way, he is going to chew, but if I give him a cardboard box, I am showing him that it is okay to chew this box, but not anything else. He will be a well-behaved dog because I am giving him a way to satisfy his natural behaviors in a way that works for both him, and me. Sometimes this means giving up the idea that our dog will just stay forever by our side, listen to us 100% of the time, and won't destroy the things we love. What a dream. In reality, we have to compromise.


Enrichment can be organized into 5 different categories:

  1. Cognitive

  2. Social

  3. Food

  4. Environment

  5. Sensory


1. Cognitive enrichment is a toy, or brain game that can be investigated or explored. Training also falls into this category!

Examples:

  • a new toy

  • teaching a new trick

  • food puzzles

2. Social enrichment is a interaction between your dog, and either another dog, human, or other type of animal. This can be meeting a new human or animal, or just playing with one they have met before. Dogs are naturally social, right? They need interaction just like we, as humans, do.

3. Food enrichment is either presenting their food differently than just in a bowl, or letting them try a new food that they have never had before. In the wild, they wouldn't just be handed a bowl of food every day for every meal. That's boring, so switch it up!

Examples:

  • scatter feeding (can be either scattering food on floor, or hiding food around the room)

  • Using a snuffle mat

  • Adding new foods into their diet (slowly)

4. Environmental enrichment is adding something new to their environment, such as a new bed for them to sleep in, or just changing their environment altogether, such as taking them with you to a friend's house.

5. Sensory enrichment can be huge. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell. Introduce them to some new, dog-safe scents! Or if you always listen to country music, put on some reggae music to switch it up. The sky is the limit on how you can enrich their senses.



Maybe it's just the zookeeper in me, but creating new enrichment for Levi has always been one of my favorite things since adopting him. I love seeing him learn, and figure new challenges out all by himself. It is definitely a #prouddogmom moment.


Overall, your dog is an animal, with natural behaviors. Let them be a dog! They will thank you for it in the long run.

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