Enriching the lives of dogs when left at home – Steve Goward

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This seminar was hosted by the Dogs Trust and discussed the importance of enrichment in the lives of dogs. Steve mainly talked about how they used enrichment to help improve the welfare of dogs within the Dogs Trust. However, the same principles also apply for our dogs at home!

Through enriching the environment we can help to address physiological needs that aren’t being met. This can help to reduce any unwanted behaviours. Steve provided some lovely examples of enrichment being used in zoos, my favourite was using food hidden in ice and plastic toys for polar bears…or tucking into a frozen birthday cake! (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/picturesoftheday/8193693/Pictures-of-the-day-10-December-2010.html?image=13)

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INANIMATE AND ANIMATE

Animate types of enrichment include,

  • Training – depending on the type of training we carry out, we can use this to help enrich our dogs lives. If it is positive then this helps to take advantage of every possibility to improve interactions and assocations.
  • Dog-dog interactions – socialising can also help to enrich a dogs life though it is important that this is controlled. Many dogs become less social as they get older, so meeting lots of strange dogs at that point may not be enriching, but allowing them to see familiar dogs that they can play with could be important.

Inanimate types of enrichment include,

  • Furniture – this is something the Dogs Trust do through increasing the amount of furniture and comfy spaces available for their dogs.
  • Toys – similar to the polar bears at the zoo, dogs also need things to help them stimulate their brains and satisfy their inquisitive natures. Toys are a great way to do this and the type of play each dog likes will be very dependent on the individual. Because of this it is important that we know what they enjoy best (tug, chase, sniffing, digging!).

CHOICE is something that can hugely help with enrichment. Even something as simple as bed choice gives the dog the ability to control their own lives. For example, having a comfy bed, a flat bed and also different surfaces that are either cooler or warmer. I know that Mossy will change where she sleeps depending on how warm it is, if it’s too noisy or the brightness of the room!

SENSORY GARDENS

Steve talked about how it is important to utilise all areas to help enrichment and a space that is often forgotten about is the garden. I really love the idea of a sensory garden for dogs. This is something that many rescue centres are now trying to incorporate to help engage and relax dogs.

This can involve growing dog friendly types of plant which they can either use for having a munch on, running about it or just enjoying the different smells. Here is a list of the safe plants which can be used,

  • Birch — known to help with muscular and inflammatory pain.
  • Catnip — good for its relaxing properties and stimulates playfulness in dogs.
  • Lavender — known to encourage scar tissue regeneration.
  • Marigold — often selected by animals experiencing grief or emotional distress.
  • Meadowsweet — often selected by animals with digestive problems, arthritis, and rheumatic conditions.
  • Peppermint — good for its cooling properties and often selected by animals with skin irritations. It can also be offered as an aid for training.
  • Valerian — often selected by anxious dogs for its calming effect.
  • Wheat grass — animals who are nervous, anxious, and exhibit hyper behaviours often select wheat grass.
  • Willow — animals in pain often select willow bark.

There are also loads of DIY things you can do to create outdoor activities and games.

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You could use sticks, branches or logs with holes drilled in them for putting treats or things to sniff. This picture was taken from https://themayhew.org/about/news/sensorygarden/.

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You could use different textures and heights of objects for them to sniff and explore. A great tip Steve gave us for short haired dogs that like a scratch is to use a hard brush mat which they can rub themselves on (Emma and Louise I can see Herc loving that!). This could also be used indoors too to give different surfaces to scratch themselves on during the day. (Photo from http://www.yourdog.co.uk/Dog-Health-and-Care/can-i-create-a-sensory-garden-for-my-dog.html).

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A cheap way to create more interesting smells is to use bird feeders filled with different things to sniff, you could then change these things regularly. Some examples of fillers could be sheeps wool or hay. I have even started to collect bits of seaweed and other things from the beach to hang around our garden for Mossy to sniff! (Picture taken from http://pin.it/QoE5BMD)

IN THE HOME

There are loads of ways that we can keep our dogs entertained in the house, the majority of which don’t take much time or money to do.

Feeding – the way we feed our dogs can also be used as a way to enrich there lives!

  • Treat balls and activity puzzles
  • Stuffed kongs
  • Slow feeders
  • Snuffle mats
  • Hiding treats and playing ‘go find’
  • Scrunched up newspaper with treats hidden inside
  • Toilet rolls with paper and treats inside
  • Cardboard boxes

This can really help to mentally stimulate our dogs especially when they would normally only spend a few minutes out of their whole day eating from their bowls!

TRAINING

Because training involves dogs using their brains to solve problems this can also be used as an opportunity to improve enrichment! The best way to do this is use positive reinforcement throughout the day to reward the behaviours you want. This may involve just asking your dog for a sit before doing something (e.g eating, going outside) or rewarding them for walking nicely on the lead or not barking at something they are nervous of. It doesn’t always have to be treats, other rewards like verbal praise, toys and play can also be used.

HOWEVER for all case of enrichment it is essential that we listen to what the dog wants. Make sure you keep an eye out for any signs that they may be getting over stimulated, stressed or tired and let them have a break or remove the object that is causing the issue. Some dogs may also just ignore the sensory things you put out and that is also OK. There are loads of fun things we can do to enrich our dogs lives so I hope this helps to provide some inspiration on how to start!

 

 

 

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