The Power of Enrichment

We’ve made a lot of progress toward understanding how to make the lives of our pet dogs better. We’ve learned more about dog behaviour, ensuring dogs have choice and control, using humane training methods, and finding ways to enrich dogs’ lives.

Most owners think their dogs already have a pretty good life: they’re fed, exercised, live in our homes with comfy beds, toys and treats, and have no money concerns. But their worlds are really very small. 

Dogs are completely dependent on the choices we make for them and the opportunities we offer them. They can’t read books, turn on the TV, surf the internet, travel, visit friends, go to school, go out for a meal, (or go out at all) without us. They rely solely on us for survival, and we choose how and when they do everything.

We love our dogs, and we want our dogs to love living with us. As a dog trainer, it’s exciting to see more pet owners discover the power of enrichment. 

Enrichment could be defined as offering dogs frequent opportunities to do the things they instinctively do – sniffing, scavenging, digging, chasing, chewing, playing.  

Adding regular enrichment has other benefits too. It can help build confidence in fearful dogs, lower arousal in young or hyperactive dogs, maintain cognitive function, lower anxiety, and prevent, reduce, or even solve behaviour issues like nuisance barking, separation anxiety, reactivity, compulsive disorders and more.

Giving your dog opportunities for enrichment can be easy to do:

Try treat dispensing toys that mimic scavenging for dogs. Choose from an enormous variety of commercially produced treat dispensing toys that require chewing, licking, chasing, rolling, tossing, or toppling.
Make up your own games:
- Toss handfuls of treats into long grass.
- Tuck small treats in rolled up old towels.
- Hide toys or treat dispensers all around the house.
- Put treats in an empty water bottle, egg container or cardboard boxes.

Give your dog opportunities to chase by playing fetch, chasing you, using a flirt pole or even tossing treats instead of feeding from your hand. (Do NOT use a laser pointer for chase games which can lead to the development of light or shadow chasing – an obsessive behaviour.)
Build a digging pit for dogs who like to dig. (See “Diggin’ into Spring,” Fernie Fix, May 11, 2023.)

If you’re keen to join in the fun with your dog, seek out some positive reinforcement training classes like Tracking, Nose work, Tricks, Agility, or Rally Obedience.

Many dog owners take a class with their puppies and try a few toys but are surprised to discover that enrichment is so beneficial to their dogs in so many ways. Ideally offer opportunities daily and continue for your dog’s whole life.

Ready to get started? Check out these resources for some ideas and inspiration:

Canine Enrichment for the Real World: Making It a Part of Your Dog’s Daily Life, a book by Certified Dog Behaviour Consultants, Allie Bender and Emily Strong.
Canine Enrichment – a private Facebook group founded by Shay Kelly.
Canine Enrichment: The Book Your Dog Needs you to Read, a book by Shay Kelly, MSc.