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Enrichment For Dogs: An Introduction


What is Enrichment For Dogs?

What is enrichment, and why is it so important? Many owners don’t know that incorporating enrichment into their dog’s daily routine can be life-changing for both them and their pup! Every dog needs and deserves enrichment - here’s why.

Enrichment for dogs is comparable to hobbies for humans. Think of some of your hobbies - crocheting, skiing, reading, hiking, cooking, etc. Now think about why you have those hobbies. There are probably many reasons: for fun, to relieve stress, to work your body or challenge your mind, etc. A life without hobbies would quickly lead to boredom, frustration, and depression - our free time would just be spent sleeping or staring into space!

Dogs are highly intelligent and inquisitive creatures that crave novelty and challenges, just like humans.

This importance of hobbies also applies to our pups. Mental and physical stimulation is crucial for the well-being of any animal, including dogs! A dog without “hobbies” (aka enrichment) is much more likely to exhibit undesirable behaviors: such as jumping, barking, chewing, digging, etc. because they are desperately trying to stimulate themselves mentally and/or physically.

Why Do Dogs Need Enrichment?

We must keep in mind that the vast majority of popular dog breeds today were never meant to live in a house or apartment. Most dog breeds were designed with specific jobs for them in mind, whether that’s pulling sleds through the snow, herding domestic animals several times their size, helping hunters catch prey on land or water, guarding people or livestock, catching pests that live in barns, and so on.

Tip: Look up your dog’s breed to see what they were originally bred for.

Most pet dogs today still possess the genetic drive and stamina they need to perform the jobs they were bred for, but unfortunately, they often have no productive outlet for all that energy. For example, a husky living in an apartment who goes on a 30-minute

walk a day isn’t getting its needs met when you consider that it was bred to run for multiple miles through the snow every day! Before adding a new dog to your home, always consider its breed and the needs they have, and whether you are willing and/or able to give them what they need. And keep in mind that all dogs, no matter the breed, have specific needs and behaviors they inherited from their wolf ancestors (the need to chew, dissect things, run, sniff, dig, etc). Enrichment has the added benefit of providing appropriate outlets for otherwise inappropriate behavior. For example, chewing on things is a completely natural and necessary canine behavior, but we can provide our dog with a bully stick to fulfill that need so that chewing on our table leg isn’t their only option to relieve that urge!

Any dog can have a rich and fulfilling life if they are provided with multiple enrichment outlets that give them a “job” to do. What does your dog do for fun? What activities provide them with much-needed mental and physical stimulation?

Dog Enrichment Ideas

When it comes to enrichment for dogs, there are several categories we can look to, which is a good thing since variety is key! After all, when you finish a TV show, do you go straight back to episode 1? No, you try watching a new show! And when it comes to all of your hobbies, do you only do one of them, day after day? No, you rotate them to keep things interesting - otherwise, even your favorite hobbies can become boring after a while.

The same goes for our dogs - a variety of mental and physical outlets is key for keeping them engaged and challenged. We want to ensure our pups are receiving variety between and within all the different categories of enrichment. And it is totally okay if certain enrichment activities don’t excite your pup! After all, there’s no person who does every single hobby in the world. Explore all the different enrichment categories to see which ones your pup enjoys, and then give them variety with those ones. Here are some category examples:

  • Chewing and licking

  • Sniffing

  • Play

  • Puzzle toys/brain games

  • Dissecting

  • Digging

  • Social bonding

  • Sounds

  • Exercise

  • Training

  • Miscellaneous (herding balls, blowing bubbles, new experiences (trip to a store, hike in a new place, even moving furniture around can change up your dog’s world is interesting, novel ways)

  • DIY enrichment (get creative and save money by making your own!)

Check out our Busy Dog Enrichment Masterlist for ideas, but don't hesitate to research ideas of your own! For example, search "DIY enrichment for dogs" or "dissecting enrichment ideas for dogs." The possibilities are endless when it comes to ways to spice up your pup's life.


Work With A Trainer

If you'd like to dive deeper into positive reinforcement training, consider working with a certified dog trainer! Use the link below to see if Busy Dog serves your area and book a free evaluation with your local trainer.

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