Physically and behaviourally our pet dogs are meant for a different world. In the wild, dogs spend more than 70 percent of their time hunting and searching for food, involving the use of physical energy and problem solving skills. On the other hand, most of the needs of shelter, food, water and health of pet dogs are met by the owners. Major part of the day of our pet canines is spent waiting for their masters to come home, and even while at home, they do not have enough time to spend on the pets. This makes it difficult for our pets to meet their normal needs for movement or stimulation.
Under stimulated pets are at a risk of behavioural problems like destructive behaviour, digging, excessive barking, attention seeking behaviours, running away from home or yard, and also stereotypic and compulsive behaviours.
Appropriate enrichment can help to improve these problem behaviours. Such enrichment leads not only to reduction of stereotypic, aggressive and fearful behaviour but also leads to improved cognition and memory.
Dogs need different types of enrichment - physical, social, occupational, sensory and nutritional.
Physical enrichment includes altering the quality and complexity of the dog’s space. An array of toys takes care of the dog’s physical needs. Interaction with toys is likely to reduce excessive digging, barking, and destructive behaviours. It also decreases your dog’s response to environmental triggers like noise, unfamiliar people and dogs. Even putting some toys in a dog pit in the yard may encourage him not to dig elsewhere.
The dog needs to interact with others - both people and other dogs. Arranging supervised playtime with compatible dogs and also planning on interactions with friends and family satisfies this need. If your dog is not comfortable around other dogs or people you may need to look more into his preferred social interactions
Toys help to keep the dog from getting bored. Starting with food toys in the beginning, you can go on to other toys, games, puzzles and tasks that stimulate your dog both physically and mentally. Rotating the toys maintains their interest in them. A training class can teach the dog life skills as well as agility, to work as well as to obey orders. It also helps your dog to bond with you and your family.
Scent games, owing to dogs’ strong sense of smell are a great way to expand your dog’s world through sense of smell. Providing a variety of animal scents or herbal-scented toys is another method. Music is a great sensory enrichment method. Listening to classical music has shown the dogs to rest and sleep more and also reduce their stress levels. However, keep the volume low and don’t have music on all the time. Taking them for runs and walks is not only a good exercise but helps them to see and smell new things.
Dogs naturally like to look for food. Use food toys and foraging games. Hide food inside or outside and have your dog hunt and search for it. This helps the dog to express his natural feeding behaviour.
Nutritional enrichment also means including different flavours and textures to the food. Do check with your veterinarian before introducing a new food, and remember to always start with small amounts.
Do remember to add one or two of these enrichment exercises daily. It would go a long way in helping decrease likelihood of behaviour problems and keeping your dog happy and comfortable.