Oftentimes, the word “enrichment” in canine care refers to creating a more challenging or difficult way for the dog to get food. Unfortunately for dogs, these activities do not keep them engaged and do little to stimulate natural species behavior.
At Doglando, we define “enrichment” as the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of an experience. We break down each prefix, root, and suffix of the word to get an even more specific and meaningful definition of the word.
En: the width of a unit of measurement
This unit is the rate of repetition frequency duration, or the intensity, strength, and engagement of a dog to a certain activity. We are measuring through behavior how frequently does the dog do something and stay engaged.
In order for a dog to feel that an activity is enriching it must be rich in abundance versus creating a temporary distraction that has no real benefit or purpose for the dog.
Ment: expressing the means, or a result, of a species-typical behavior in a way that strengthens each individual dog in their behavioral well-being
Whatever we create we want to make sure that ultimately it is a rich and above average experience that allows a dog to be a dog. Enrichment is not something you do for the dog. It’s an opportunity you create by giving your dog access to an environment that is carefully, thoughtfully, and strategically created to allow a dog to behave in the most species-normal way.
For example, if your dog has the habit to dig through your yard, many dog training blogs would advise you to fill a kiddie pool with sand and let him dig in that contained area. However, that activity is very limiting to the do because how deep can he dig in the pool versus the yard? This activity does not give enrichment or abundance of depth, and thus will probably keep the dog engaged for a minute or two and then he will get bored.
We have taken our field research of documenting street dogs and free-roaming dogs in developing countries over the last two decades, and applied it to create an enrichment activity at Doglando that provides the fundamentals of living standards for dogs. We measure an activities enrichment through these four principles:
- The power of the experience that engages the dog for the longest period of time;
- The opportunity for the dog to explore all of its senses;
- Focus on activities that the dog can use its whole body as much as he wants;
- Giving the dog the freedom to choose to participate in the activity. It needs to be accessible to them when they want or need it.
Our Doglando enrichment curriculum is built on the 8 Spheres of Enrichment framework, allowing us to create enriching experiences for dogs in our care, but in this blog we want to give you three ideas on how you can create activities that are enriching for your dog at home!
Explore the Outdoors – Habitat Enrichment
Habitat enrichment is a massive sphere to understand, but the goal is to provide an abundant amount of options and range for behavior to happen. In our homes, our dogs are very limited to the richness of experiences they can have. Our homes have furniture and objects that the dogs can’t touch or climb on. Most items in a home are off-limits to dogs, except for their bed and theri bucket of toys. We continually tell them to “stop that,” “leave that,” or “don’t do that.” The habitats they live in are not conducive to explore, create, imagine, tear down, shred – normal dog behavior.
How can we create enriching experiences with the habitat they live in? Take your dog into a wooded area or on a trail at a park and give them the freedom of space to explore other living beings that are a part of that habitat without being leashed. Instead of telling them “don’t go there” or “don’t smell that,” encourage them to observe the world around them.
Over the last few months, my family and I have been taking our dogs to the woods near our home 2-3 times a week. In the beginning the dogs would stay close to us, afraid to explore their surroundings. But as we have gone more frequently and they have no established landmarks and trees to follow they take off, sometimes so far we can’t even see them. They have broadened their behavior and have begun experiencing new sights, new smells, and new sounds.
The goal of this activity is to consider beyond your home how we can create a habitat where the majority of things are accessible and free for the dog to explore. Give your dog the freedom to receive all the possibilities in their environment.
Bedtime Together – Physical Handling & Conditioning
Oftentimes people think that dogs like to be petted. We just make the assumption that dogs like being petted, so we pet them. But we never take into consideration what if they don’t like to be touched, and we certainly never teach them how valuable our touch is. The way we like with our dogs today requires us to be very hands-on with our dog. They sit on our furniture. We take them to the groomer or vet. They ride in the car with us. We dress them up during the holidays. We’re very physical with our dogs and we expect them to just accept it.
We need to teach our dogs how essential our touch is and that they gain a pleasurable experience through it. Even if some experiences are a bit unpleasurable, like getting dressed up for Halloween, we can teach touch in a way that creates a greater bond with our dogs, by becoming a vehicle sensation or experience that the dog wants.
Dogs, especially puppies, rely on touch. Touch provides comfort. We need to understand what kind of touch or what that touch looks like. Usually when a family gets a new puppy, people do crate training or what we call abandonment training. This teaches puppies how to handle abandonment rather than how to handle bonding with a human. We put them in a fragile position at a time when you need to bond. We say, “I’m going to teach you how to replace contact with no contact’ or ‘I’m going to teach you distance, isolation, and abandonment and expect you to be bonded with us for the rest of your life.”
When a puppy is born it relies on contact from their siblings and its mom, and that contact is assuring the puppy comfort, security, and everything the puppy needs to know to be safe. One great way to enrich your puppy’s life in its early stages is to let them sleep in the bed with you. This will not only help them transition into your home more easily, but it will also allow your puppy to bond with you and other humans in a much more deep, meaningful way.
Part of the enrichment experience is breaking down each of the dog’s five senses into smaller sensory components, and creating intense moments for one sense rather than a vague experience for all five senses at once. For example, you can engage your dog’s tastebuds in such a way that they are able to explore and experience a diverse range of edible foods, not just vegetables or dry kibble. Consider offering your dog different foods with various textures, like carrots or a raw egg, to create an out-of-this-world experience for your dog.
You can broaden the intensity of the experience of food and eating by giving the dog an abundance of options or variation of foods to eat. And in terms of taste, the taste will stimulate different behaviors. For example, if you give the dog some goat’s milk, they will have to lick and lap the liquid in order to enjoy it. If you offer them a carrot, they will have to hold one end of the carrot and bite the other end to successfully eat it. Not only are the foods stimulating their senses, but it is also teaching them how to use their bodies in a way that is natural to their species.
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Teena Patel is a Certified Dog Trainer and Behavioral Counselor who works with pet owners and owners of doggy daycares to bring her philosophy of Enrichment to the canine population. After almost two decades of successful dog training under her belt, Teena has done away with the standard doggy daycare “warehousing” of animals in kennels and runs. In place of an industrial model, she focuses on what is right for the dogs as living beings, providing experiences that improve and enhance their behavioral health. Coupled with a program of careful training, the Doglando experience results in companion dogs who are better-behaved, better integrated into their families, and above all, much happier. True to her passion, Teena Patel gives dogs the freedom “to be dogs”.
If you’re ready to provide more purposeful and meaningful engagement for the dogs in your care, talk with Teena!