Canine Enrichment - Why the hype?

Canine Enrichment - Why the hype?

September 13, 2022

What is enrichment, and why is it so important?

Many of us who grew up with dogs may have learned that dogs will be perfectly content if we walk them enough and provide them with the basic necessities. However, we have learned in the meantime, this is usually not the case, and even less so now. Why is that?

One poignant factor is the shift from rural living to city living for a large proportion of our population. Our desire for increased public safety and the safety of our dogs has increased with the urbanisation of our communities. The freedoms dogs once experienced have diminished in many areas, and their ability to fulfil their own needs has diminished along with it.

As our relationship with dogs has changed, we have required both a lot less and a lot more of them. We have brought working dogs and their mixes into our suburban homes where they are unable to express their innate skills, such as our herding Collies and Huntaways, or our hunting Terriers. We have also brought our lapdogs into the bigger world, often encouraging them to express their extreme sociability while simultaneously expecting them to be perfectly calm when we leave them alone for extended periods of time. Leash laws are extremely important for the safety of our dogs and our communities, however they also mean our dogs have reduced opportunities to explore the world on their own terms.

So, what can we do to help our canine companions live more fulfilled lives? One very easy thing we can do for them is to provide them with enrichment. But what exactly is enrichment for dogs?

Enrichment for our companions is being able to engage in challenges and new experiences. Using their senses, their brains, and their bodies in new ways all provides an extra layer of richness to your dog's life. Learning how to use a new puzzle toy is enrichment. Learning a new cue and behaviour is enrichment. Finding hidden food is enrichment. Figuring out how to get a toy out of a tree is enrichment. Tracking a scent is enrichment. Balancing on a wobbly board is enrichment. Experiencing different flavours, sensations, textures, sounds, and sights is enrichment.

Most of the time, enrichment doesn’t involve expending physical energy - it involves our dog utilising their mental resources to overcome a challenge.

When we can’t seem to ‘tire out’ our dog no matter how much they run and play, we need to ask ourselves, what is my dog missing? Sometimes, simply adding enrichment activities to our dog's routine can allow them to properly wind down at the end of the day - having had both their physical and mental needs met. And, of course, their emotional needs, which we fulfil by being kind, fair, loving family members to them!

Yes, the restrictions of what dogs can and can’t do may have increased, but this doesn’t mean that our dogs are doomed to deprivation. Most of us already provide enriching activities to our dogs through training activities and new toys, new smells and new places, even if we don’t recognize them as such. One of the best things we can do for our dogs is to purposefully provide them with interesting activities that engage their brains.