Canine enrichment is a hot topic right now! We hear a lot about enrichment for zoo animals, but what about our dogs? What are the favorites? We’ll see!
We’ve been going over my favorite training tools and management tools. Both things required to help change a dog’s problematic behavior. Today we’re going to discuss some enrichment tools I love as well.
As I said in previous blogs tools are really broken up into three categories 1.) Training Tools 2.) Management Tools 3.) Enrichment Tools. This week is focused on the last category, Enrichment Tools.
Enrichment tools help reduce stress, anxiety, and boredom for dogs. Enrichment forces a dog to problem solve, sniff, or relax, and is a method of preventing behavior issues from developing. By moving our dogs from having jobs to being indoor pets, we have taken away things that help keep them mentally healthy. We have all see the animals at the zoo that are pacing restlessly up and down the barrier of their enclosure and videos of dogs in puppy mills spinning for hours on end. These are extreme examples, of course, but very real ones as well.
There are MANY ways to enrich your dog’s life. I’m going to talk about the three things I require of all dog parents when they’re working with me. To see other options check out our Facebook Live on Enrichment. Or purchase one of these following books:
Canine Enrichment for the Real World: Making It a Part of Your Dog’s Daily Life
OR!!! Join our Mischief Managed class offered at our Training Center.
You can buy the items I will discuss below from us at our Training Center!
HOLLOW CHEW TOYS: A hollow chew toy is anything that you can stuff with soft food. The most common is by KONG. These are rubber, soft-serve ice cream shaped toys, but things like marrow bones can work as well. I prefer the Kongs because of their shape they roll around on the floor unless the dog lays down and holds onto it. This encourages and reinforces calm behavior in dogs. Licking is a known calming behavior for dogs, it decreases stress and anxiety.
You can stuff a Kong with really anything from soaked dry dog food to fun and fancy recipes you find online. I do suggest when you first give you dog a stuffed hollow toy to make it very easy and full of high value food, such as shredded chicken, canned dog food, or peanut butter. As your dog gets better and better at getting all the food out, you can start packing it harder or even freeze it. This means it will take your pup longer to clean out the toy and gives them a nice cool treat!
SNUFFLEMATS: A snufflemat? What the heck is that? And a look of confusion comes across your face. Yes, a snufflemat. This is a newer dog enrichment toy but one we have been loving! A snufflemat is usually a handmade with strips of fleece tied into a rubber backing. We love the snufflemats from Seymour’s Swag.
When using a snufflemat you simply put your dogs kibble or treats in between the strips of fabric and give it to your dog. Your dog will spend the next 15-20 minutes sniffing and picking out each individual bit of food. Snuffling encourages two natural behaviors that most dogs don’t get to do too often any more, sniffing and scavenging. Did you know, dogs really aren’t hunters?
Anyway, by engaging in sniffing a dog’s heart rate and cortisol levels goes down. I have seen many anxious dogs relax within a few minutes of engaging with a snufflemat. I recommend using a snufflemat at least once a day for your pet’s meal, but also after any stressful situation your dog might be in. It’s like a little massage for your doggo’s brain.
SNIFFARIS: This another word that often brings a confused look across people’s faces. A sniffari is a walk that the dog gets to stop and stiff everything it’s little doggy heart desires. Just like with a snufflemat a dog’s sense of smell is really engaged. By engaging the sense of smell the dog’s heart rate and cortisol levels go down. Somewhere along the line we have decided that our daily walks mean the dog needs to be in a perfect heel position and move exactly at the pace we move. This is not true. It’s not fun for you or the dog. Walks are really supposed to be about them having some fun!
You can certainly do this around your neighborhood on a 4-6’ fixed length leash, but I really enjoy going to empty parks and cemeteries for this. I love using a 30 foot long leash for these adventures. This really allows the dog to explore without violating any laws and gives you the option to reel them back in if you do happen across another walker.
Hopefully this series on positive reinforcement dog training/behavior consulting tools has helped you find new and exciting ways to help your dog. If you are finding that you need additional help resolving some behavioral issues please feel free to contact us and we’ll get you set up!