Enrichment is such a broad topic, and I wanted to break it down by started with the beginning! I truly think enrichment is one of the most impactful – and most overlooked – aspects of dog ownership when done correctly.
The foundation of what I teach is what I call the PUPS Method. This stands for Prepare, Understand, Plan and Start. Since there is so much to talk about with enrichment, this is where we are starting!
Some of the top highlights we touched on include:
When we start anything with our dogs, whether it is when they are doing something good, something not so good, or any decision we need to make, it is most important to start with the Why. It is important to know the why before we move on to anything else. Unless we know our dog’s innate Why, we can’t give them their best, fullest, and happiest life.
Prepare: Why enrichment
When we think about our dog’s Why and Enrichment, we can start with the definition: to improve or enhance the quality of. When
we talk about enriching our dog’s lives, we want to make their lives better. I really do love talking about putting our dog’s brains to work. I think it is one of the most satisfying things to do for our dogs.
However, I think it is also important to acknowledge that enrichment is about enhancing their lives. It isn’t a fix-all. We can give our dogs all of the enrichment activities, but it can’t overcome or make up for chronic stress, bad relationships, or not feeling well. But, what it will do is take your relationship and your dog’s life to the next level. This is so much fun and they are going to love every second of this section.
Understand: Let them be dogs
When we talk about what a dog is, it is important to recognize that our dogs are instinctual, opportunistic creatures that have
developed for a millennia to work cooperatively with humans. But, our dog is still a dog. They still have those instincts, desires, and innate tendencies that make them dogs. SO, I want to hear from you: what are some of these things you can think of that make dogs, dogs?
Nose/sniffing – 30-some percent of their brain is dedicated to processing their sense of smell.
Running/chasing – running, playing, digging
Problem solving – dogs have big brains that we can put to work!
Destroying – the all-time biggest win for some!
Our dogs live in a human-driven world. So, while we love our dogs as our pets, it is important to remember that they still have these innate desires. Nearly everything we do with our dogs – let’s be honest here – we do it, at least partially, for our benefit.
This is our opportunity to give back to them and give them something that is going to feel really fulfilling to them. These things that we often suppress in our dogs we can now highlight with a really positive outlet. This will not only help them feel content in life, but also feel like a rock star – and who doesn’t like that feeling?!?
Plan: Hunt Sequence
So, we know the basics of WHY enrichment is so important and we know HOW dogs need to express these innate behaviors, now we can talk about the what. This is the actual acts that our dogs find most enjoyable.
These are the 5 summarized steps of a hunting sequence. If you know your dog’s breed or breeds, you can get a clue into which behaviors they will tend towards. If you don’t know your dog’s breeds, you can use this sequence to get a clue into what they might be.
Dogs tend to have favorite steps. Since we have selectively bred dogs over a millennia to serve specific purposes, we have bred some of these traits out of some dogs and highlighted them in others.
Start: What are some ideas of breeds and their favorite steps??
For example, a hound is going to love the search, but they might not care so much about stalking or grabbing. They just want to go on a hunt and follow their nose.
Retrievers tend to enjoy chasing and grabbing. They love to play fetch and to hold things in their mouth.
Herding breeds tend to stalk and bite, and pointers tend to stalk.
Terriers tend to love chasing and biting/killing.
Why is this important? Because once we know what our dogs have a preference for, we can start to build our enrichment games around those preferences.
This is why we love them and why we brought them into our house.
Like us, our dogs can feel tired and satisfied when they put their brain to work. If you come home from a long day where you had to do a lot of mental work and problem solving, you might find that not only is your brain tired, but your body is also tired. We can create that same feeling where we are ready to come home after a long day and take a nap for our dogs, too. It is amazing how much more energy we can drain with mental exercise than physical exercise alone. We can work their brain and also work their body at the same. Win-win!!
For busy dogs, even a long walk or hard exercise session is not always enough to satisfy their energy needs. If you have a dog like I had, you can take them on a five-mile hike and they are still ready for more! These dogs tend to have a never-ending need to feel satisfied and to seek out mental stimulation. We can improve their energy levels and meet those needs with metal exercise. This will lead to a more contented dog who can lay down and be more relaxed.
Think about the following:
1) Which hunt sequences does your dog like best?
2) Is your dog confident around novelty/new things or will they need to build more confidence, and
3) Post any questions you have about enrichment for your pets in our Facebook group! (Because enrichment isn’t just for dogs!!)