The Importance of Canine Enrichment Activities

03rd June 2023 8 min read

Guest Blog: Renee Rhoades MSc

Top Canine Behaviourist and Wellbeing Expert Renee, explains why enrichment and stimulating your dog's mind is so important for health and how to do it safely and effectively.

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Enrichment is Raw-some

In the last few years, I have noticed an increase in the popularity of canine enrichment. The demand for enriching activities has skyrocketed as more dog guardians have become aware of how important canine mental health is. Dogs, like people, can only thrive when their physical and mental needs are met. The ability to express natural behaviours is a basic need for all animals. Boredom, anxiety, and undesirable behaviours can result from neglecting to understand what your dog’s needs are as a dog. Opportunities to engage in innate behaviours will help your dog feel fulfilled, leading to less stress, improved confidence and calmer behaviour.

Enrichment is not a new concept, although it is relatively new in the dog world. It was first developed in the 19th century as a way of enhancing the enclosures of captive animals contained in zoos. We may not think of dogs as captive animals because they have the ability to accompany us out into the world, but dogs are in fact, captive animals. We control every aspect of their lives. Even in my home with my two boys, they have as much choice as I can safely offer them, but ultimately I am the one who decides when things happen. We have a duty of care to the animals we welcome into our family, just like any other family
member. Part of that care involves getting to know one another for who we really are.

Dogs are, by nature, scavengers and foragers. This might explain why Fido has stolen items off the kitchen sides or raided the bin when given the chance. He isn’t being “naughty” - he is fulfilling a natural behaviour! When I explain to people that a great way to help curb these behaviours is to let your dog perform them, I usually get the same concerns: 1) Won’t he want to do it more? And 2) Am I telling him that this behaviour is okay? The answers are both no. Your dog already wants to execute these behaviours so providing an appropriate, constructive outlet for them means you will see less (if not zero) of the behaviours you find
annoying or worrying.

So, let's talk about how you can use your dog’s Paleo Ridge for enrichment! Here are some examples:

Interactive Fun:

When working through an interactive feeder like a KONG Classic the objective is to solve the puzzle of how to get the food out. It's critical to introduce any new enrichment activities with easy wins so that your dog learns how to manipulate the item. For instance, when you introduce a new toy pop a few high-value treats inside and let your dog roll it around (my boys love the Classic Venison Bites). Gradually build up the complexity until your dog is a pro, then you can start using your dog’s dinner with a few larger treats like the Fish Cubes as the bottom to help your dog get every last mouth-watering morsel. Enrichment should be fun, not frustrating!

Treasure Hunt:

Cater to your dog’s desire to find their own food! Encourage your dog to use his extraordinary nose to find the small portions of raw food you've hidden around your house or in the garden. Use small ramakins or silicone Cupcake Moulds to keep things clean. The first few times you can lead your dog around to help him understand the game, but soon enough you can begin to send him out on his own. This activity supports your dog’s innate foraging instincts.

Lickarific:

Licking is an incredibly stimulating activity for dogs, you might find that your dog already enjoys licking. Licking your arms, their bed, a toy… even themselves! The act of licking releases “happy” hormones for dogs so this can be a self-rewarding cycle. Instead of trying to stop your dog from licking you can use a LickiMat Wobble paired with some of your dog’s dinner and a little Berry Good spread along the sides. To step this enrichment up a notch pair your raw with a couple of splashes of the Classic Bone Broth before putting it in the freezer for a longer-lasting treat.

Choose Chews:

Another satisfying (and calming) activity for your dog is chewing. Some think providing chews is only good for the puppy stage, but chomping down on something is a great way for all ages of dogs to relieve stress. Instead of hard plastic chews, which do not offer much reinforcement when chewed and are not supposed to be consumed, you can provide your dog with much healthier alternatives. Providing your dog with a Duck Neck a few times a week can not only help to keep them happier but also help ward off tartar build-up! To help make your dog’s raw a little more engaging, pack it inside a Beef Trachea. This is a good alternative to a slow feeder if you are looking for a way to help your dog eat slower.

Feeding your dog fresh, nutritious food is incredibly important to their physical and mental well-being. Food is one of the easiest ways to enrich your dog, but keeping your dog mentally fulfilled doesn’t stop there. I would encourage you to keep learning about dog enrichment, as just like us, dogs are individuals, so what one dog may enjoy may not be enjoyed by another. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook where I share the enrichment activities I do with my own dogs as well as share ideas and information around enrichment and behaviour.

Renee Rhoades is an award-winning, multi-certified dog behaviourist with a Masters in Animal Welfare Science and Ethics. She is the founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy that offers private coaching and online courses for dog guardians all over the globe. Renee specialises in coaching dog guardians to help their fearful and fired-up dogs overcome aggression, reactivity, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Alongside client coaching, Renee co-hosts DogLogical, a podcast that educates the public on dog behaviour and provides mentoring services to other dog professionals. You can find out more about Renee including how to work with her by visiting www.rplusdogs.com.

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