What we have to understand is that dogs are social and active animals. They need socialization, and they need engagement. A lot of dog owners and pet parents think the only thing they need to do is take their puppy to the dog park and that is it.
Wrong. Taking your dog to the dog park can pose more challenges than benefits. You cannot just let your dog in and expect to play with all the other dogs.
Owning a dog is a lot more than one or two walks per day. Being a responsible owner is much more.
You need to keep your dog engaged and entertained throughout the day. How to do it? Let’s see.
Why is dog enrichment so important?
So, what is enrichment and what is it important in your dog’s life? Simply put, enrichment allows your dog to explore and use its natural instinct.
Enrichment activities help prevent boredom, teach a variety of skills, and build confidence in your puppy. With proper enrichment, your dog will be able to sniff and chew appropriately. And it is a great way to manage your dog’s energy, encourage calmer behavior, and instill good manners and habits in your puppy.
As a responsible dog owner, you should provide daily enrichment. If your puppy gets too excited, you can try ways to calm him down. And it should prevent bad behaviors like mouthing.
How to choose the proper enrichment activity?
When you want to keep your dog engaged, and entertained, and provide enrichment activities, it is vital that you find the best. Here are some things you need to pay attention to:
- Think about the personal preferences of your puppy, what does he like or dislike
- Provide a safe and suitable enrichment environment
- Consider any individual dog, his abilities, dietary needs, and health
- Pay attention to how your puppy interacts with the environment and enrichment. Is your puppy engaged and does he enjoy it?
Types of Enrichment activities
Now, we said you should pay attention to individual preferences and other factors. But what are some of the best engagement activities? Let’s divide them by groups.
Eating is a huge part of your dog’s day. But a lot of people think giving food is simply putting it in a bowl and allowing your dog to eat.
Wrong. You can do so much more with food. You can use food to instill manners in your puppy and learn new things. There are so many food-based games you can play.
And you should never give free food. Your dog should work for it. Working for food gives your dog pleasure and something to do. For example, you can ask your dog to repeat basic commands and reward him with kibble. Or you can use a lick mat for serving dinner and letting your dog eat in a calm manner. Food dispensing toys work as well.
Here is a fun fact. You can make your own snuffle mat and use it to feed your dog dinner. Your puppy will love it and it will provide exercise and mental stimulation.
We often say dogs have a much better sense of smell. Well, why not use it to your advantage? Why not use your dog’s scent to provide engagement, enrichment, and mental stimulation?
Sniffing is a natural instinct and behavior for dogs. Allow your dog to sniff during walks. And when you come back home, you can play scent-based games that will make your dog feel happy. Simply hide treats around the house and let your puppy sniff them out.
Playing games with toys
The Number 1 mistake many owners make is they buy toys, and give them to their puppies to enjoy alone. Wrong. Toys are a two-way street. They are not something your puppy should enjoy on its own me time.
Toys are designed so that you and your dog play TOGETHER. And each and every toy can help you learn a new command or cue. For example, tug of war toys are great for building focus on you and making sure your puppy looks at you at all times. Fetch games are great for improving recall as your dog will naturally come back to you to throw the ball.
Just remember, no matter what you play, let your puppy win games and build his confidence. Otherwise, your puppy will not like playing if only you win. Also, make sure to rotate toys weekly. It keeps your puppy excited and interested in different toys.
Why do dogs love going on walks? Because they get to experience new things. Most dogs love exploring. Milo gets super excited when we go on a new hike, somewhere he hasn’t been. And of course, we repeat some places, but he hasn’t been there in a while.
But it is not as easy as it sounds. If you want to use the environment as an enrichment activity, you have to have perfect recall. Otherwise, your dog might wander around without coming back to you.
Training as enrichment
Training is both physical exercise and mental exercise. It is tiring for your dog but in a good way. How can you use training as an engaging activity? By rewarding your dog for learning new things and improving other skills.
You should try to schedule short training sessions at least three times per day. You can repeat old skills and try to improve them or learn a new trick.
What I try to teach Milo the most is useful life skills. Yes, we do some roll over and similar tricks every now and then. But most importantly, I want to work on the skills that will make his life better and allow him to enjoy more off-leash time.