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What is enrichment and why is it important for our pets?

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

You often hear pet professionals talking about enrichment and mental stimulation. But do you know what enrichment is and why it is so important for our pets?

Enrichment is allowing your dog to engage in their natural and innate behaviours such as chewing, digging, sniffing, herding,and hunting. All dogs were bred for a specific purpose. Whether it be hunting, herding, guarding etc..

Each of these roles or jobs equips these dog breeds with certain characteristics, energy levels, and innate behaviours.

Why is enrichment important?

Modern living often doesn’t allow dogs to be dogs or to engage in their natural behaviours. Dogs (or other pets too) who don’t receive enrichment or an adequate outlet for their natural behaviors often find their own ‘jobs’ to do. These jobs are rarely behaviors that humans appreciate e.g. digging up the back yard, chasing cars, or problem barking.

Enrichment encourages physical activity and can mimic behaviors that our dogs would have done in the wild. Essentially enrichment provides dogs with constructive, non-destructive ways to engage in their natural behaviors.

Below are just a few enrichment ideas you can start with!

Snuffle Mats

If you’re wondering what the heck a snuffle mat is you’re not alone. These are something even I have only been hip to for the last couple of years, and I consider myself very enrichment knowledgeable. A snuffle mat is basically a rubber mat with lots of fabric strips (usually fleece) tied to it. They’re designed to mimic grass, and they’re used to give your dog a fun yet challenging way to sniff out food and treats. They encourage your dog to use their natural sniffing and scavenging abilities, and they’re a fun way to have your dog work for their food.

If you’re not convinced that your dog will love sniffing out treats there’s a simple way to gauge their interest — try hiding some treats in a rolled up towel. Put it on the floor in front of your dog and encourage them to “find the treats,” and praise them every time they find one. If your dog enjoys the towel game they’ll also enjoy a snuffle mat.

Stuffed Treat Dispensers

Stuffed treat dispensers are one of the easiest ways to keep your dog mentally stimulated and entertained with minimal effort. It’s as simple as filling it up with treats in the evening and letting it freeze overnight. The next day you’ve got an interactive toy that should keep your dog busy for at least 20 minutes. (will be much longer depending on how much you fill it up, and how much of a pro your dog is using food dispensing toys)

Not sure what to use for stuffing? There's a wide variety of healthy foods you can use in your treat dispensers. Soda pup has compiled a list of 39 ideas that you can find on this link:

Indoor Scent Games

Dogs experience much of the world around them through their sense of smell. Scent games allow dogs to channel their love of sniffing while also enriching their minds. Nose-based games are a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated indoors!

Heres are a couple you can start with

Muffin Tin Puzzle: This is a fun introductory scent game that requires only a few items which you might already own. All you need is an empty muffin tin, 12 tennis balls, and some smelly dog treats that they love.

  • Put treats into a few of the muffin tin holes and cover them with tennis balls.

  • Next, put tennis balls into all of the other empty muffin tin holes.

  • Give the “puzzle” to your dog and let them explore by moving the balls to find the treats hidden underneath.

Each time you play, change the location of the treats so your dog needs to use their nose to find the treats.

Box Search: For this game, you’ll need to gather several empty boxes. Clean boxes leftover from deliveries work well.

  • While your dog is in another room, put the empty boxes out on the floor.

  • In one (or several) boxes, put treats.

  • Bring your dog into the room with the boxes and encourage them to search. When your dog finds a treat in a box, praise and let your pup eat the treat.

When your dog has found all the hidden treats, come in with another treat and lure your dog out of the search area by keeping their nose on the treat in your hand. Praise your dog and give the treat that you used to lure them away with. This helps to build your dog’s understanding that it is a game you are playing together. It will also keep them from continuing to search and getting frustrated by not being able to find more treats.

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