November 20, 2023 | General
Quality of life plummets when your dog feels anxious, scared or displays compulsive or disruptive behaviors. The good news is, it’s easy to build ‘enrichment’ into your pet’s everyday life to enhance her health and well-being (and your own sanity). Here are more than two dozen ideas to try.
By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker – https://www.barkandwhiskers.com/2023-11-13-environmental-enrichment/
When veterinarians and other pet care experts talk about “environmental enrichment,” they’re often referring to improving a cat’s environment.
However, all companion and captive animals can benefit from environmental enrichment. Today I want to talk specifically about ways to enhance your dog’s quality of life.
Environmental enrichment for pets, also called behavioral enrichment, means enhancing an animal’s surroundings and lifestyle so that he is presented with novelty in his environment, opportunities to learn, and encouragement to engage in instinctive, species-specific behaviors.
Environmental enrichment is used to address many behavioral disorders in dogs, including “rowdiness,” cognitive dysfunction syndrome, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and behaviors resulting from boredom and/or frustration.
In addition to treating behavioral disorders, environmental enrichment should be viewed as an essential part of providing an excellent quality of life for all pets, and especially handicapped animals and pets that don’t leave home much, due to its proven positive effect on the health and well-being of animal companions. Following are the major components of canine environmental enrichment.
When you offer a new toy to your dog, you’ve probably noticed that while she’s very excited by it initially, she loses interest within a day or so (or within hours or even minutes, depending on the dog and the toy). That’s because dogs habituate to toys, meaning they get used to them. The new toy quickly becomes just another inanimate object in your dog’s environment.
You can work around the problem by rotating your pet’s toys. Provide your dog with a supply of different types of toys in varying shapes, sizes, textures, colors and scents. A general guideline is to offer 3 toys per day. At the end of the day remove them (put them out of sight) and reintroduce them about every 5 days so they remain “new” to your dog.
Interactive toys are always a good idea, because dogs love to play games with their humans!
Dogs need daily exercise to be optimally healthy and emotionally balanced, and this goes double for young pets and high-energy breeds. It’s important to understand that your dog — no matter how small—can’t get adequate exercise running around your home or backyard by himself.
In a perfect world, every dog would have opportunities to do some high-intensity endurance running on a regular basis to release endocannabinoids, which are the “happy hormones” responsible for the “runner’s high” in both humans and canines.
Most dogs don’t engage in intense exercise with their owners for a variety of reasons, but your dog really does need your help to get the most out of exercise and playtime. There are lots of activities you can enjoy with your pet, no matter your own level of physical fitness or limitations. Suggestions:
Another way to enhance your dog’s experience of her environment is to take her on a variety of different types of walks. For example:
If your canine companion does well at the dog park, visits there can provide opportunities for dog-to-dog interaction, exercise, and vigorous play.
If you have friends with dogs, arrange play dates. These can be excellent low-pressure social situations for dogs that need to hone their interaction skills without being overwhelmed by too many dogs, or an overly dominant dog.
Involve your dog in agility, obedience, nose work, tracking, flyball, canine freestyle or another dog-centered event.
It’s a good idea to stuff the toys with small amounts of healthy treats your dog loves so they’ll hold his interest. You can also try freezing the toys to keep your dog occupied for longer periods. And since you want to avoid weight gain in your pet (unless he’s underweight), be sure to account for the calories in the treats by adjusting the amount of food you offer at regular mealtimes.
Sources and References:
Clinician’s Brief February 2014