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Environmental Enrichment for Dogs

Petra Edwards - Puppy School Trainer

Humans and dogs are incredibly social, intelligent and busy creatures. Where we fill up our days with work, sport, television, friends and family, social media, movies, and games etc., our dogs' lives generally revolve around us. Many are lucky enough to get regular walks, to come inside and to be a part of the family, but in most cases even this still results in at least 5-8 hours per day where the dog is left alone. Your dog has a daily behavioural budget and energy allowance, where the amount of energy and behaviour they can expend is limited. Without guidance, their behavioural budget will be filled doing normal doggy behaviours, which usually tend to involve digging, barking, chewing or escaping. Your dog has a daily behavioural budget and energy allowance, where the amount of energy and behaviour they can expend is limited. Without guidance, their behavioural budget will be filled doing normal doggy behaviours, which usually tend to involve digging, barking, chewing or escaping.

Instead of trying to stop these unwanted behaviours that might crop up, try to think about how you can fill your dog's behavioural budget with appropriate, 'good' dog behaviours. If you provide your dog with appropriate and adequate mental and physical stimulation, the time left in their day to be employed doing the 'wrong' thing will be significantly reduced. This is where environmental enrichment comes in – it refers to the activities we can leave our dogs (and any other animal) to do in order to facilitate natural behaviours like scavenging and hunting, or other ways to interact with the environment safely and appropriately. The good thing about environmental enrichment is that not a lot of space is needed, as many of the activities involved are mental, rather than physical, stimulation.

Environmental enrichment is you're iPad or TV for dogs – it's what you give your dog to do when you're busy – at work, with visitors, making dinner, helping with homework.
Many environmental enrichment programs utilise portions of your dog's daily food ration (instead of getting fed for free in a bowl, they'll now be working hard for their food just like we do). Dogs are also what are known as contra-freeloading. That means that they prefer to work for their food instead of get it for free.

Here are a few tips to begin your very own environmental enrichment program with your pup. Once you have a few strategies that work, mix and match so your dog gets something new every day!

  • Stuff your dog's breakfast or dinner into food dispensing toys like Kongs, treatballs, and boba-lots so that he spends a lot of his time interacting with the toys in order to get his food out. You can freeze them for an extra-long lasting treat in summer!
  • Scatter his meals on the back lawn or pavers so he has to spend time finding every single piece
  • Smear peanut butter or cream cheese on bark on trees, pavers, stones or tiles.
  • Tie food in knots in old rags so the dog has to rip the rag open to get the food out.
  • Give your old yogurt, peanut butter or cream cheese containers to your dog to clean out before you throw them away. (Take any caps, lids or rings off the containers before giving them to your dog.)
  • Put dry food in old soft drink bottles or cardboard boxes and then give them to the dog without the lid and ring on – a cheaper, but possibly messier, alternative to the treatball.
  • Leave trails or pockets of food around the house or backyard to encourage scavenging and exploration. Scenting (being the primary sense for dogs) is incredibly confidence boosting and calming.
  • Give the occasional bones, rawhides or pigs ears to keep him busy for longer (depending on your vet's recommendations)
  • Leave one or two toys lying around for him to play with, changed daily to keep him interested.
  • Invest in a clamshell, with one half filled with water and the other with sand or dirt. Encourage him to dig in the shell by burying toys, treats or bones in dirt. In summer, he'll have his own paddling pool.
  • Take him for car rides as often as possible for short errands. Please note we do not recommend leaving your dog alone in the car for any period of time (especially in hot weather).
  • Use a snuffle mat to help utilise your dog's sniffing capabilities – this will both help calm him down, and tire him out.

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RivaPetz Pet Care & Chateau de Cat
8 Gilbert Street
Berri SA 5343

Ph: 08 8582 1344

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