Enrichment can fall into many different categories. We previously shared how environmental enrichment can improve your dog's welfare.
Other category definitions can vary from expert to expert. At Petminded, we like to describe enrichment as the different ways your dog can engage and disengage with their surroundings. Specific activities can fall under multiple types or categories and treats are often involved! When it comes to dogs, we are usually discussing behavioral enrichment because we're primarily concerned with letting them express natural behaviors.
Training is a great way to teach your dog positive behaviors. Plus, it's a fantastic bonding activity for you and your dog. And who doesn't love making treats rain when their dog learns a new trick?
Here are a few categories of enrichment you can engage in with your dog:
These are activities that get your dog moving and grooving. Walks are great. Decompression walks are even better! These are walks where your dog gets to move and smell to their heart's content. If you have a highly active dog hikes may be the way to go. There are also a variety of canine sports your dog may enjoy if they like working together with you such as: dock jumping, agility and rally, disc dogs, and so much more!
These are activities that engages your dog's senses.
Smell. The first one that may come to mind is their amazing sense of smell but don't forget your dog has a range of other senses as well, like touch, sight, sound, and of course taste! Sniff mats are great for smell sensory activities.
Touch. Activities like petting or deep tissue massages (our community members are fans of Gua sha) can feel really good for dogs! Just remember to do this on your dog's terms. Some dog's enjoy just a little bit of petting while other dogs are happy to be loved on this way all day.
Visual. Doggy television has been gaining traction. While we don't know how our dogs see these images, your dog might enjoy this. An inexpensive and widely available alternative is simply providing your dog opportunities to look out the window or be outdoors in nature!
Sound. Dogs have amazing hearing so you don't want to overdo it on this one! See if they enjoy clicker training, or if nature sounds help calm them down. Playing classical music may be a good activity as well. Have a child learning to read? Reading out loud to Fido can help build confidence for your child and be soothing to your dog.
Taste. Provide opportunities for your dog to taste treats with different tastes and textures in a variety of locations such as the pet store or out on a walk.
These are activities where smarty-pups thrive because it lets them flex their brain. This often includes problem-solving or activities that challenge dogs to figure out how to get what they want in different ways. Training is a great for mental enrichment because your dog must focus on you, read the cues you give them, and figure out what behavior you want in order to receive what they want (a treat!). Food puzzles or sniff mats are also mentally stimulating for dogs where your dog has to figure out how to paw, scratch, and nose their way to some yummy treats.
These are activities that allow your dog to engage with others (this includes you, other people and other dogs). Dogs are social animals and generally like to interact with others, this is why they make great pets! Social enrichment can come in the form of meeting people on their walks, going to day care with their dog-friends, and even just hanging out with you! Every dog is going to vary with who they want to meet and how much interaction they want. For example some dogs are perfectly fine with people-watching while others want to meet and play with everyone.
Ideally, offer your dog a bit of each enrichment type throughout the week. How much depends on your dog. A high energy out-going dog may enjoy long walks where they can meet lots of new people and/or dogs. An older dog may prefer shorter walks and a good view outside.
Here are some great books about dog enrichment to provide you inspiration (and reasons why we love them!)
Good for Dog Parents who want to know the science behind enrichment and learn some fun activities along the way. According to Ken Ramirez, "It focuses comprehensively on meeting your dog’s needs and is written in a holistic, science-based, practical, straightforward, and easy-to-understand way. I love this book!" We can't think of any higher praise for this book by Allie Bender CDBC and Emily Strong CDBC.
Good for early Beginners to enrichment. Author and Behaviorist Shay Kelly opens this book by discussing how the lack of mental stimulation is a leading contributory factor in behavioral problems for dogs. Some of the games are easily found on the internet, so if you are already an enrichment pro, then this is not the book for you.
You may or may not believe that dogs can understand human language. But doing button training can be a way to understand how your dog learns, keeping them mentally stimulated and spending quality time together. Check out this book by Christina Hunger to learn more about Stella's and Christina's journey with Button Training
Join us on Instagram where we share enrichment ideas and other science-based information to help you care for and train your pups!