Enrichment vs. Frustration
Returning to work, pandemic puppies turning into adolescent dogs, busy holiday season... sometimes it might feel like we're running lower than usual on time and energy. Our dogs, on the other hand? Overflowing with both.
Enrichment is a term that gets thrown around a LOT in the dog training world. It's a funny space where dog training and dog ownership overlap in kind of an awkward way, and it seems to be a term getting more and more misunderstood by the minute. It feels like every dog Instagram account has some combination of beautiful pictures of frozen stuffed WestPaw toys, or videos of dogs pressing buttons to communicate, or puppies smacking wobble toys that dispense food.
When considering enrichment toys and tools for your dog, you want to consider a few things. Here's a few things it should not be:
-Replacement for training.
-Replacement for exercise (mental or physical).
Enrichment should be:
-Used in tandem with training.
-Fun (but not exhilarating)
-Used in addition to meeting physical and mental exercise needs.
When presenting your dog with a new enrichment experience, watch them closely. Do they seem to be playful in a joyful, happy way? Or do they seem a little intense, maybe even frustrated? What is enriching for one dog might be frustrating or boring to another dog, or just plain uncomfortable. Many dogs LOVE munching on frozen treats, others would rather let the treat turn to mush and then eat it as normal. Some dogs love snuffle mats, others would rather pick it up and shake it out. If your dog doesn't interact with the activity in the intended way with the intended attitude, that's okay! Try something else.
Here's an incomplete list of some ideas to try with your dog: -Sniffari in an herb garden with dog safe herbs (emphasis on sniff, not eat!)
-Tossing a meal into your backyard, letting them sniff to eat it (be careful not to do this on lawns treated with any chemicals in any way).
-Hide and seek
-Playtime with no toy (try coming down on their level, laugh and have some fun, be soft and silly with them!)
Enrichment, like training, is never one size fits all. Once you find a few things your dog enjoys, try to work it in a few days a week. You might be surprised by how much you start to look forward to it too! Watching our dogs enjoy experiences is a totally underrated joy in life.