By Carol Besler-Snell on 03/16/2021
What Is Enrichment Anyway?
Carol’s 8 Things About Dogs Blog
If March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, what animal is in the middle? Maybe it’s like a dog wagging its tail! And why not? It’s Spring. What a great time for walks and playing outside again!
We have a lot of dogs wagging their tails at JDPC lately! Our new Canine Enrichment Daycare Program, which we named “Dog U: School of Liberal Arfs & Smarts™,” has been a hit with the dogs and a ton of fun for us humans.
So exactly what is enrichment? Sounds complicated, but really it’s simple. Enrichment is any fun, out of the ordinary activity that dogs do in smaller groups, sometimes one-on-one, at a slower pace. Our intent is to engage their attention, teach, bond, and get that tail wagging!
Here’s an example: One of our customers puts empty boxes around his living room—some of which have treats inside—and his dog gets to sniff and explore. Boy does she love it! That’s a scavenging activity, something that appeals to natural canine instincts. And it’s novel (usually living rooms don’t have empty boxes with treats in them!), which makes it a fun new thing to do. And it happens at a slower pace, which allows the dog to think and problem solve. For a dog who is less confident, perhaps scared to approach the box, it can build confidence! It also gives the dog something independent to do (giving you, the human, a break to do your human things), which is good for clingy or needy dogs who may need to learn a little independence!
So, that’s an example of a simple enrichment activity. Zoos do them. Animal shelters do them. And enrichment with companion dogs in a daycare setting is an exciting breakthrough that’s happening across the country. Just Dogs PlayCare is proud to be on the leading edge in offering a program like Dog U to the Iowa City area!
Here are 8 things to consider with any enrichment activity:
- Physical, Mental, Emotional, Rest/Rejuvenation – Each activity should address at least one of these. Example: Digging up treats buried in the snow is mental (finding it), physical (sniffing and digging), and Emotional (they get praise and pets when they find them!).
- Active Enrichment – These are activities you do WITH your dog – like “Which Hand” – putting a treat in one hand and letting your dog sniff and guess which hand it’s in. Your excitement over how they play this game is more than half the fun for your dog!
- Passive Enrichment – A puzzle toy or kong is something a dog typically interacts with alone. This often tires the dog out, leading to rest time, which is essential for all living beings to rejuvenate. It’s also a good way to kennel train.
- Puppy Enrichment – Young pups need things to do….or they will find them, and that’s sometimes not good for us! We love doing puppy enrichment activities that involve problem solving and learning – like putting a toy on the other side of a gate and giving the puppy time to figure out how to get it (by going around to the other side, silly puppy!).
- Senior Dog Enrichment – While every dog loves attention, senior dogs seem to appreciate it more. Sitting around with humans on fluffy beds, getting pets and belly rubs, having story time or movie time, is wonderful for deepening bonds. Senior dogs can also benefit from appropriate exercise, such as doing different stretches to get treats, walking slowly across low cavaletti bars, and gaining strength on a balance board.
- Engaging Different Senses – Dogs have 5 senses just like we do, but some of their senses are quite different than humans’! Dogs have 10 times more surface area within their noses and 100 times more brain cells dedicated to sense than we do! Dogs can detect a single drop of scent in an Olympic sized swimming pool! With noses like that, it’s fun to figure out different ways to engage them. Putting drops of lavender essential oil around the play room or yards gives dogs something novel to sniff out. And the scent may even calm them! How about music enrichment to engage the sense of hearing. We have a bunch of fun songs to make dogs happy, including some with squeaker toys squeaking along throughout the song.
- Fun, Short, Safe Activities – In our Enrichment PlayCare, there is plenty of time each morning and afternoon for physical play with other dogs! When it’s enrichment time, we keep these activities fun (our dog care counselors are using their happiest voices and loving gestures), short (playing Which Hand for a long time might get boring), and Safe (a long dog like dachschund, a large breed puppy whose growth plates are still developing, or a senior dog should not do activities like jumping through hoops that involve high impact).
- Mental and Physical Fitness – Enrichment activities are simply fun for the dogs – they engage in different kinds of movement than they do during dog play – and gives them time to hang out with their dog and human pals in novel situations, getting oxygen pumping through the heart and brain. Studies have shown that enriched environments can lead to physiological changes in animals, including the development of new brain cells and neural connections, helping the animal become more emotionally stable, resilient to stress, and behaviorally at their best.
If you’d like to try enrichment at JDPC, there are a few ways: Purchase a single day or half day of Enrichment PlayCare at the daily rate, purchase an Enrichment PlayCare package for full days or half days, or try our Hybrid Option (available to Dog U Members only), which gives you a mix of Traditional and Enrichment PlayCare. Becoming a Dog U Member isn’t necessary for your dog to experience enrichment. But if you do, you will get a variety of extra benefits and discounts. And you can try it on a monthly or on an annual basis. Want to know more? Just ask us. We’re here to help you provide the most interesting and meaningful life for your one-of-a-kind dog!
I hope these 8 things about dog enrichment have piqued your interest! Check back on occasion for another “8 Things About Dogs Blog.” After nearly 18 years in the dog care business, I figure I have at least 8 things to share on most dog-related topics! And I promise they won’t all be this long! Thoughts, comments, and feedback – as well as suggestions for dog topics you’d like to hear more about – are welcome!