What did you do this summer? Did you go for a hike? Take a kayak trip? Plant a garden? Try some new foods?
Whatever activity or adventure you enjoy, you probably find yourself refreshed, reset and able to get back to work with a new appreciation of your world. But what about your dog?
As WHS Behavior Program Manager, I’m often asked to evaluate behavior in our shelter dogs while they wait for their forever families. We have a tremendously valuable team of volunteers who ensure the dogs are walked at minimum three times each day to meet their physical needs.
Lucky for our dogs, we have staff and volunteers also committed to meeting their mental and social needs. These activities are classified as enrichment – things that make their environment and experience different each day, mentally stimulating and pleasurable. These enrichment activities, like your vacation, allow the pups to endure the long days without being in a home.
For your own dog, enrichment remains important, especially if your dog is a busy or young dog. Proper enrichment will save your furniture, and quite possibly, your sanity. Enrichment is what I pull out of my training toolbox when a pet owner despairs, “How can I live with this adolescent, crazy dog!?” Enrichment is fun, too. Check out these ideas for enriching your dog’s daily life:
Throw out your dog’s food bowl. Honestly. Dogs are opportunistic scavengers and have proven they’d rather work for food. Puzzle toys are the answer. We have the “old reliables” like Kongs® to stuff. But we also carry slow feeders, kibble nibbles, buster cubes and more. While you are at it, consider your cats. While many cats seem to prefer to have staff fill their bowls daily, what is best for them remains foraging for their calories as research shows.
Dogs need to chew, even into adulthood. They seem to work out stress, and some even fall asleep while working on a favorite chew toy. Use caution and make good choices for your dog’s individual needs. Chew toys should be given with supervision, at least until your dog’s chew style is understood. Some power-chewers can handle certain toys and others will break teeth on the same object. Some dogs ingest what they tear apart, while others have a favorite chew they keep around for years.
If you have multiple dogs, consider separating them when passing out high-value chew items. No need for dogs to practice unwanted guarding. All of that being said, our shelter pet supply store has a nice “parts department” and synthetic chews. Be sure your dog has a different chew at least once a week. Daily chew rotation is important if you have a puppy.
Good for both dogs and (leash-trained) cats of all ages, a simple walk down the driveway or to a park can be fantastic mental enrichment. Our pets’ primary mode of acquiring information is through scent. Their world is literally at the end of their noses.
If you have a house-bound pet, think about ways to bring scent to them. You can purchase animal odors, put a drop on the corner of an old towel and drag it through the yard and end the trail with a pile of treats. You could sprinkle treats (or combine the pleasure of a chew) with the hunt to find it by concealing it simply around the corner. Last week, I took a couple pieces of leftover bacon, broke it into small bits and hid it in my backyard. My dogs were in heaven and worked the yard for 20 minutes before finding it all.
Go to a park. See how many structures you can find to have your dog get up onto, go under, around or through. But of course, be safe! Before asking your dog to negotiate the obstacle, examine it carefully. Be sure there are no paw-ripping or toenail catching elements.
Be sure to “spot” your dog on any obstacle over the height of his own shoulders to prevent falls. If your dog lacks confidence, lure him with food, paying for every little try. If he lacks impulse control, slow him down by holding his collar and help him learn to “wait” before jumping off items.
Ah, the dog park. It’s not everyone’s favorite, but for the social butterfly dog, it can be a wonderful outing. Dogs are social beings and need that interaction. Though consider that not every dog needs to be social with dogs. Some dogs are quite happy to have relationships only with people. Just like humans, not all pups are extroverts.
If you aren’t sure whether your dog is actually enjoying doggy play, we can help. We host playgroups and evaluations on Sunday mornings here at the shelter. Check out the Chase Me! class. Please register in advance.
We know that enrichment is one of the basics of getting great behavior from your dog and cat. By adding a few novel things into your weekly routines, you will enjoy your pet more. And when considering your next vacation or outing, maybe bring your pet along, too.
Are you enjoying reading about ways to enrich your dog’s life? Then you’ll probably like Beyond Squeaky Toys by local authors Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey and Cinthia Alia Mitchell. In addition, enrichment is one of the many topics we discuss in our Dog Smart class as well as during our training and behavior consultations. If you need training to prepare them for the journey, we’re here to help. Contact us at Behavior@whs4pets.org.
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