Enrichment. What does it mean?
From Wikipedia: “an animal husbandry principle that seeks to enhance the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being.” (Wikipedia; accessed 18 Aug 2020)
In puppy raising terms, it means giving your pup many new experiences and letting them interact with lots of different things. A lot of this is covered by socialisation outside the home but within the home you can still do a lot to maximise his neural and emotional development.
Enrichment for puppies isn’t just about keeping him busy and out of your hair. It has so many other, less obvious benefits.
Providing plenty of enriching and mildly challenging experiences helps your pup develop normal emotional control. Here’s a brief overview of some of the results of this type of stimulation:
- Develops emotional regulation. A small amount of frustration now teaches a pup how to deal with more frustration later. What that means is that your pup is far less likely to throw a hissy fit when he can’t have access to something he wants. He’ll have learnt that sometimes life just doesn’t go his way – and that’s just how life works sometimes.
- It teaches emotional resilience. Unexpected things happen and that’s ok. Puppies that experience mild surprises are far better at coping with surprises when they get older. So, they’re less likely to over-react when that stranger pops out the hedge when they’re not expecting it.
- It teaches persistence. If you want a sports dog, you need a dog who will keep on trying. Even pet dogs benefit from a bit of persistence learning – we’re back to emotional regulation again.
- It engages the mind and so uses energy. Thinking and puzzle solving will tire your puppy out safely and quickly. Using his brain on puzzles you set and control means he is less likely to go looking for trouble elsewhere as he won’t be bored and cruising for mischief.
Widely used enrichment techniques
Working for his food:
- Training – no explanation required, it should be mandatory. Food dispensing toys such as Kong® toys, Busy Buddy® toys, treat balls and empty pop bottles with the loose bits removed. Check out ‘food dispensing dog toys’ on Amazon.com for a dizzying array of choices! (Caution; cheap dog toys are cheap for a reason. If you are buying in the pet shop beware cheap versions as they often don’t stand up to vigorous chewing and can be dangerous.)
- Food scatter. Take his kibble meal and scatter it over the floor/yard as if you were feeding chickens.
- Hide it in little piles around the house or yard. Wrap it in newspaper and stuff into cardboard boxes for him to un-stuff. (Messy but a lot of fun!)
All of the above methods utilise your pup’s foraging skills. It takes much longer for him to eat his meal and he has to engage his brain and, often, his keen sense of smell.
Other enrichment techniques
- Introduce novel objects for him to play on or around. Toddler toys are often good. Things that make noise when they are prodded or stood on, (floor piano anyone?), tunnels to go through and things to climb over; dig pits and shallow paddling pools (with things that float).
- Large stuffed animals that may fall over and toddler cars/trolleys that move (slightly – jam the wheels) when pushed or stood in teach about unexpected events.
- Empty pop bottles stood up will fall over with a bit of noise if knocked. The more you have in a group, the more noise they make when they fall. Many dogs LOVE playing with pop bottles, just be sure there are no loose bits of plastic or caps that can be chewed off and swallowed.
- Change what is underfoot. Introduce different textured surfaces such as:
- crumpled sheets of plastic
- slightly slippery surfaces (metal baking trays, smooth wood)
- bubble wrap
- soft, squidgy cushions
- corrugated plastic
Sensible precautions and considerations
ALWAYS SUPERVISE YOUR PUPPY when playing with novel items such as these. Obviously make sure that all movement is safe and pup is unlikely to be injured or scared witless. If you use pop bottles, be sure there are no loose bits of plastic or caps that can be chewed off and swallowed.
Check items for sharp bits, nails, screws or broken edges that could cause injury. Remove loose, dangly or small bits that could be chewed or swallowed.
Don’t leave long hair, string or ribbons on toys as it can be quickly swallowed and cause blockages.
Don’t rush to do ALL the things!
Use common sense and don’t introduce everything at once. Start with easy things that are unlikely to startle and gradually work your way up to more challenging items. You can scatter small treats or bits of kibble to give your pup a goal.
If your pup seems overwhelmed, nervous or shy, reduce the challenge and don’t expect too much. Let pup go at his own pace, NEVER FORCE INTERACTIONS with novelty. Reward him for bravery with praise and food or a game. Keep sessions very short; novelty is tiring. Remember, this is supposed to be fun for both you and your pup.
Sarah and the Gang
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