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Enrichment for Dogs – Part Four: The Human-Canine Relationship

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In this series so far, we have covered how enrichment helps our canine pals survive and thrive in our human world (Part One), offered some concrete ideas for enriching training games and puzzle toys (Part Two), and discovered how to redirect instinctive behaviors, such as chewing, digging, and sniffing, into productive activities that are safe and enjoyable for pets and their hoomans (Part Three). 

So, what does all this mean for you and your inquisitive canine? We began this series of posts stating several fundamental facts about environmental, or behavioral, enrichment. Let’s take another look at that list now, with specific examples, that inquisitive pet guardians can implement – starting today!

Small Dog lying down lots of toys

Environmental/Behavioral Enrichment:

  • Can help manage behaviors: One part of managing behavior is to manage your inquisitive canine’s environment, and we’ve seen how enrichment is a vital component here. Is your dog bored in the yard and tearing up the garden? Creating Fluffy’s very own digging pit can help focus her energy to specific allowable areas, providing ‘legal’ outlets for natural behaviors. In this context, so much fun happens in the yard . . . and dogs are playing on their own!
  • May reduce behavior problems: You can help redirect your dog’s energy into other activities by providing alternative types of mental and physical enrichment. Help dogs make good choices by providing good choices to choose from! This will help encourage them to entertain themselves in productive, safe ways with human-approved games, chews, and toys. 
  • Improves dogs’ quality of life: Playing with other dogs, and practicing social skills with other people is often fun and rewarding. Enrichment can even help reduce relinquishment to shelters because it stands to reason that a well-socialized dog, with plenty of legitimate outlets for normal doggy behaviors, is less likely to be surrendered due to unwanted behavior. 
  • Can strengthen the human-canine bond: People whose behaviors predict fun and games can be perceived as reinforcing to a dog, enhancing a relationship of trust and the development of a stronger bond. Use training games to continue to teach “life skills,” even beyond puppyhood. Learn to understand your dog’s needs, wants and preferences and then consider exploring relevant dog-specific sports and force-free dog training classes together. (Dogs are life-long-learners too!) 
  • Fits into any pet care budget: Interactive food toys needn’t be expensive. You can make your own with common household items. For ideas of DIY enrichment toys, check out this post by the ASPCA. The same goes for creating your own hunting/seeking games and scent games. In fact, one of the most enriching activities we can provide for our dogs is completely free of charge. Let them sniff on walks. 
  • Is a necessary part of their mental health: When our dogs learn to, and are encouraged to, think for themselves instead of always relying on us to tell them what to do, they build much-needed resiliency skills, along with independence and self-confidence! 
  • Is not something “extra” we provide for our dogs: Giving choices, and not only allowing but encouraging dogs to be dogs is fundamental to their welfare.
Border terrier with chew bone

Ultimately, providing a safe, enriching environment for our inquisitive canines can help us start out on the right paw together and not only solve, but prevent some common behavior problems faced by pet guardians. This approach focuses on teaching dogs what we want, motivating them to make good behavior choices, and providing them creative alternatives to destructive or unwanted behaviors. And it’s so much fun!!! 

Thank you for being an inquisitive pet parent throughout this exploration of enrichment! Here’s to pawsitively enriching adventures with your inquisitive canine!

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