Environmental Enrichment for Dogs is the process of making the animal’s living space interesting and stimulating so as to decrease boredom and its subsequent problems. For example, food dispensing toys are great for relieving boredom and stress.
Environmental enrichment is the stimulation of the brain by its physical and social surroundings. Dogs who have access to richer, more stimulating environments have higher rates of synaptogenesis and more complex dendrite arbors, leading to increased brain activity.
SuPaw Enrichment Ideas and Examples
• Muffin Tin: This is a great way to make a puzzle out of things you might find around the house! Place treats/food in a muffin tray and place tennis balls on top. Your dog will have to use their nose to find all of the goodies!
• Egg Boxes: fill with treats and close the box
• Licker Mats: peanut butter, pate, primula cheese
• Empty Boxes: hide treats and close the box
• Rolled up towel: Lay out a rolled up mat or towel and sprinkle dry food or treats over it. Roll it up and let your dogs find the treats!
• 3 Plastic Cups: This is a great game for dogs who like to follow their nose and have experience with scent work. Line up three plastic cups and start by putting a treat under one of the cups while your dog watches. Give them the ok to show you which one is the right cup and let them have the treat when they choose correctly. Once they get the hang of it, you can make it more challenging by mixing up the cups after you place the treat.
• Puzzle Feeders: using a puzzle or toy is a great way to slow down fast eaters and stimulate their minds. Feed your dog their normal meal in a go slow bowl or puzzle, or fill a Kong with peanut butter, cream cheese or treats;
• Snuffle Mats: are also a great alternative to your dogs traditional feeding bowl and make for a much more interesting dinner time – it can be stuffed full of kibble/dry food;
• Play pit: this is a great game for puppies and busy dogs. Fill up a play pool or sandpit with balls or plastic bottles and throw your dogs favorite treats or toys into the mix and watch them scurry around to find the treasures;
• Washing basket game: quickest and easiest way to create a quick game for your dog. Put treats or a toy under an upturned washing basket and let your dog figure out how to get them;
• Ice blocks/Ice cubes & frozen treats: freezing food or toys in ice cube trays or plastic containers can keep dogs busy for hours. This is especially useful in summer to keep them cool, hydrated and entertained;
• Empty Toilet/Kitchen Rolls: fold both ends and stuff with treats – voila(!);
• Toilet Roll Stack: Fill a small cardboard box with toilet rolls (upright) and fill with treats;
• Tug of War: is a great way for our dogs to get a lot of meaningful play and exercise. Before you start make sure your dog has a good “drop it” or “leave it” command. If your dog gets extra rowdy or starts mouthing you it’s time to stop the game;
• Isolation Toys: of course, your dog would much rather play with you, but you can’t be around them 24/7. So, for when you can’t be around for them, consider leaving them with suitable treat-releasing balls/Kongs and puzzle toys stuffed with treats. If you have a dog that gets anxious when you leave, having a TV or radio on in their play area may be a good idea. You can even buy shows and music specifically designed for dogs that will occupy their brains while you are away or busy. Another option is an interactive pet camera that lets you talk to your dog and even give them a treat when you’re not there.
Remember that dogs do get bored of toys, so it’s a good idea to have several different types and rotate them, leaving only a couple out at a time. Put the spare ones in a box. You can even teach your dog to put away toys – as with children, it’s a great trick that provides excellent mental stimulation(!).
SuPaw Exploration Zone
What 20 minute indoor activity is as tiring as an hour-long walk and will leave reactive and distracted dogs in a deep state of relaxation without even leaving the house?
It’s the SuPaw Exploration Zone!
Dogs are naturally curious. We humans tend to dislike this curiosity and train our dogs to be more passive. Providing new smells, new sounds, new tastes, new textures and new environments for your dog to explore taps into their natural doggy instincts and makes them calmer, happier and more fulfilled.
An Exploration Zone is all about the senses. This simple, low-impact activity can be set up in any environment and practiced with dogs of all ages. It’s sometimes called ‘Freework’ or ‘Enriched Environments’ because that’s exactly what it is; we take a normal environment like a kitchen, kennel or outdoor space and make it more enriching.
Choose a place to set up e.g. kitchen, living room, or garden
Gather different objects from the attic, shed or garage. Select different heights, surfaces and textures. For nervous dogs, less is more. You can always add more items later when they become more confident.
Always have a bowl of fresh water in your Exploration Zone.
Include some non-edible scents e.g. used animal bedding, leaves or some twigs.
Set up the area with enough space for your dog to be able to move around freely.
Scatter various kinds of treats around. Try to use a variety of hard, soft, lickable foods and chews.
Let your dog in to explore! Allow them complete freedom to explore at their own pace while you watch and learn.
Observe what your dog enjoys most in the Exploration Zone. Is it a lickimat? A snuffle box? You can even take a mini version on walks or to the vets to help them feel calmer etc.
You can even take a mini version on a walk! Our SuPaw Park, with it’s unique Adventure Play equipment and Sensory Garden, is built on this concept – albeit it on a larger scale!
When to use Exploration Zone
- Stressful times of the year e.g. Bonfire Night, New Year’s Eve or when the household is busier or more chaotic than usual such as Christmas or birthdays (post-Covid!).
- In any new environment i.e. moving home or when a new dog joins the family. Exploration Zone helps dogs settle into new places quicker. So its perfect for newly adopted dogs too!
- When your dog is on restricted exercise after an op or if they’ve been unwell or indeed if your household is isolating, or if you’re feeling ill yourself and you can’t face going for outside for a walk.
Dogs benefit most from regular Exploration Zone sessions. Just make sure you try to vary what’s in your Exploration Zone area each time.
Developing a strong Partnership means understanding how your dog is feeling. Observing them in the Exploration Zone will give you a wealth of useful information!
Try to answer these questions:
- What does your dog do when the first enter? Are they confident? Cautious? Hesitant? Fast or slow?
- Are they clumsy or agile? Do they dive through items or delicately step across or around? Where do they go first?
- What do they sniff first? Eat first?
We hope the ideas above give you some exciting ways to keep your pets, happy, fulfilled and content!
Why not share your videos of your dogs enjoying their enrichment activities via what’s app/Facebook/insta – @SuPawNanny #SuPawChallenge
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See you there!