In the zoo world we use the term “enrichment” a lot. We define it as any item that encourages natural behaviors. Because zoo animals are provided with everything they need to survive, we need to give them ways to practice the natural behaviors they would use in the wild. As pet owners we also do this, because dogs, although not wild animals, have primal instincts as well. Chewing, hunting, sniffing, and more are all behaviors dogs need to practice in order to live a happy and healthy life. Many pet owners buy their dogs toys to help meet these needs. At the zoo, because money is always tight, keepers need to be creative with what they have. Some commonly used enrichment items include boxes, bottles, scents, and purchased toys (when possible).
My dogs have never eaten out of a bowl. Utilizing meal time as enrichment time is a great way to mentally stimulate your pups. Think of it this way – no animal can just have their food handed to them the way our domestic animals do. Even humans have to work in order to make money so we can buy the food we eat. So why do we make it so simple for our pets?
Another great thing about enrichment for our pets is that it makes them think, which in turn helps you with their training and gives you a smarter dog. It’s also fun to watch them learn and figure things out! This allows you to challenge them with more difficult enrichment items as they progress.
When starting anything new with your dog, it’s important to remember that they need to learn it first. If you start out with something too hard, your dog will get frustrated and give up. Help them learn, and when they start to understand, challenge them with harder things. Most importantly – have fun!
What are some of your favorite creative enrichment tools?
This post was originally published on December 27, 2013.