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Creating an Enriching Environment for Dogs

Our pets are not only our best friends but slowly becoming part of our family. Providing your dog with an enriching environment can be the difference between a calm, content, happy pet and a destructive, noisy and unhealthy animal companion.

Regrettably, dogs are left on their own for many hours at a time with not much to do. In humans, boredom causes frustration, aggression and anti-social behaviour patterns, while a lack of enriched environment in animals can lead to numerous behavioural problems and potentially illness and disease.

Mornings are usually the toughest time for dog owners who work or study full time, particularly when your dog gives you that ‘sad puppy eye look’. 

Take a deep breath as you are not alone! According to a recent study, around 28% of pet owners leave their pets by themselves between 10-20 hours every week.

The great news is that you will feel empowered once you adopt some of our suggestions and your incredible bond and perseverance will result in a happier and healthier pet.


WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT

Enrichment is intended to promote behaviours that are appropriate, instinctive or “normal” for the species, and fulfil an animal’s physical and psychological needs.

Environmental or behavioural enrichment is achieved by adding to a domestic animal’s setting or by modifying that environment to stimulate behaviours resembling those of a healthy wild animal (Shepherdson, 1992a.)


Examples of Probable Behavioural Signs of Stress in Dogs

  • Panting with wide eyes and mouth, hyper salivation 
  • Trembling or shaking (not medically induced) 
  • Aggression or submissive behaviour 
  • Barking excessively with high pitch, whining or vocalisation 

  • Lip licking when there is no food around 
  • Yawning repetitively as a coping mechanism
  • Destructive behaviour 
  • Pacing and restlessness, chasing tail, self-mutilation and jumping in repetitive patterns 
  • Pica – medical term referred to when your dog is eating non-food related items such as dirt, rocks, paper, cloth and even feces (Coprophagia). 
  • Hiding behind furniture or owner 
  • Not eating (Anorexia) or overeating (Polyphagia)

THE BENEFITS OF ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS

Enrichment provides mental stimulation and therefore prevents behavioural difficulties and improves the overall quality of life of your pet.

Every dog is an individual and will need a tailored enrichment plan which is appropriate for their size, age, health condition and breed specific behaviours to ensure success.

5 TYPES OF ENRICHING ENVIRONMENTS FOR DOGS

#1. SOCIAL


* Dog Walker – Sometimes fitting an extra hour into your day to take your dog for a walk can seem daunting, why not get regular help and exercise for your dog by employing a dog walker. There are several professional dog walking companies and the key is finding the one that is fully qualified, insured and you and your pet feels comfortable with.

* Play date at home with other dogs – Dogs are social species. If you have friends with dogs, why not arrange play dates either at your place or theirs. Place your dog and his doggie friend in a safe, enclosed area and let them interact and become friendly with each other. This is beneficial for puppies and dogs since it’s a low-pressure situation in which they can improve their social skills without getting overwhelmed or defensive.

* Dog Training - Training your dog is not about performing tricks, it’s about making sure your dog lives harmoniously within your family unit, encouraging desired behaviours and overturning the unwanted ones. Training should not stop after puppy school! You can get professional help if you don’t wish to train them yourself by employing a Dog Trainer, nevertheless you will always need to be involved in constant reinforcement (2).

* Daily handling – one of the most important enrichment adjustments is to have humans (family, friends, yourself) handle your dog more frequently and in greater variety of circumstances. Touch produces healing! It is very important not to underestimate the damage that early inappropriate care and handling can cause in dogs, especially those adopted from shelters or neglected by their handlers.

* Dog Day Care – Unfortunately you might need to work long hours and feel guilty for not having sufficient time to spend with your pet. Doggy Day Care offers your canine companion the stimulation and exercise they need while you juggle work/life commitments. When choosing a day care centre for your dog, look for one that offers multiple services, added benefits such as dog massage and home pick-up/drop-off to maximise convenience and minimise your stress and time.

#2. COGNITIVE


* Snuffle Mat – In the wild dogs spend a large part of their day hunting, scavenging and foraging for food. The snuffle mat stimulates their natural foraging instincts and helps to engage their mind. The snuffle mat is also valuable during recovery post-surgery (Dr. Kelly).

* New Dog Tricks, Commands and Skills – There’s nothing more exciting than teaching your pet new tricks and showing them off to your friends and family. The tricks your dog can learn are only limited by your imagination.

The training sessions will keep your pet’s mind sharp throughout their lifetime, strengthen the incredible bond you share and repetition of commands will be invaluable at dog parks and post-surgery (if crate rest needed).

* Interactive Toys and Games – Predatory outlet games such as fetch, tug, hide and seek elicit natural behaviour.

Interactive tug toys require your involvement, great fun and stimulating for your canine companion. Encourage your dog to tug with his neck in a neutral position (the neck should never be extended) and don’t yank the dog back and forth.

* Fetch toys can be fun since they bounce around unpredictably. However, interactive "fetch and treat" dog models (without needing a human) though amusing can cause repetitive strain injury.

If you want to play fetch with your dog, there are things you can do to prepare your dog’s body for this activity: start with slow and controlled ball playing, begin with short distances and small number of reps, keep the throwing low and don’t do this on a slippery surface (3).

* Agility Sports / Obstacle courseAgility is a fun sport for handlers and dogs to get fit together (please check with your vet prior to starting a new fitness/sports program). 


Dogs are required to negotiate an obstacle course through tunnels, weaving poles, A frames, hoops, dog walk, see saws and jumps within a set time frame. You can set up an obstacle sequence in your backyard and practice during the week.


* Alter Dog walk locations and combine Power walks – Just like people, dogs need variety and a change of pace. Consider taking your best friend on new routes and explore new scenery. Mix in power walks (get the okay from the vet prior) to help improve their fitness level and cardiovascular health. Regular aerobic exercise is good for you and your dog. It will help; build muscle mass, maintain musculoskeletal integrity, preserve healthy body weight and resolve boredom.

FitPAWS - Canine Fitness, Conditioning & Rehab Equipment
* Canine Conditioning Training – Canine conditioning is like taking your dog to the ‘gym’.

Dogs that are healthy and non-injured would see amazing benefits such as improved balance, endurance and strength. Take an online class with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy or find a canine conditioning trainer in your local state.

* Talk to your Dogs! Dogs are very sensitive to our body language, movement, intonations and always watch us in order to gauge our responses and mood. Chat to your dogs at all times; they will focus on YOU and your verbal signals which will act as mental enrichment.

#3. PHYSICAL HABITAT


* Comfortable and Appropriate Bedding – A good bed is vital for dogs and should be at the top of the list for pet owners in conjunction with food, water, feeding dishes, collar/leash. Suitable bedding provides insulation, warmth, muscle, joint and bone support, privacy and security. Furthermore, bedding that can’t be easily destroyed or ingested can help prevent pressure sores. Providing bedding likewise has social advantages: dogs play with bedding and use it as a platform to solicit play from others (6).


* Perched Elevation – Dogs like to perceive what’s going on in the world around them. If your best friend has access to a window and can see outside, then they are less likely to bark. When your pet can see a busy street, it has a soothing effect which is more interesting than staring at a high boundary fence. 

* Sandpit / Sandbox – If your dog is a digger, you can either build a sandpit or purchase a digging box. Once you built or purchased your sandpit,  bury some of their toys in the sandbox which will encourage digging. Remember to cover the box overnight to eliminate cats utilising it as a litterbox. 

#4. SENSORY (OLFACTORY)

* K9 Nose Work / Scent Games - There are about 300 million olfactory receptors in your dog’s nose. K9 Nose Work is a scent training game that uses your dog’s extremely strong sense of smell. You will learn how to interpret your dog’s body language and understand how odors travel while your dog will learn how to search for a specific odours and find the source. Scent or nose work programs are a great for dogs who need to be highly stimulated or challenged and can be conducted anywhere (indoors and outdoors).

* Media for Dogs (Audio-visual) – It’s become common for dog owners to leave the radio or TV on when they leave the house in the hope that the sound will soothe their lonely pet. Behavioural science has now revealed that there is much more to the concept of 'music for dogs' than meets the eye.
 
* Psychoacoustics is the study of sound in humans whereas Bioacoustics is the study of sound in non-human animals. Extensive research has shown how music and sound affect human brain waves, heart rate and breath. 

Recently Dr. Deborah Wells conducted a study in dog shelters in Northern Ireland and San Francisco and discovered that, like people, different types of music influenced dogs’ moods, with classical music seeming to ease tension and stress while rock music caused the dogs to become more agitated (5). Listen Through a Dog's Ear is music for dogs to help them relax from anxiety and stress.

You may have also heard of DogTV, a global TV channel designed to be watched by dogs. It provides purposely-designed periods of calming content followed by light stimulation
Both the audio and video have been scientifically altered to provide optimal viewing for dogs. (5)

#5. FOOD

* Frozen Treats – Frozen treats are simple and can be made easily at home. They offer your dog a great distraction, texture and complexity that will engage their brain.


* Food puzzle toys / Interactive food maze – Food puzzles, raw bones and objects filled with canned or frozen food offers unlimited diversity that can be manipulated by your dog to access food indoors.

Some people even feed their dog’s entire meals out of interactive food maze toys to slow down and change their eating habits while at the same time engaging their brains.

Keep in mind also that using food tricks and puzzles during crate rest can avoid risking further injury. Please be mindful that all food puzzle toys must be maintained in good condition to minimise chocking obstruction hazard.

* Hidden Food – There are various places to hide food and it all depends on your specific environment (i.e. indoor / outdoor access). If you have a yard, you can throw the food into the lawn and let them scavenge. Indoors, you can hide the food in a box or place it in an empty dry water bottle.

In order for your dog to remain in good mental health and physical condition, consistent intellectual stimulation will fulfill their psychological and behavioural needs while regular exercise will help promote loss of fat rather than muscle, which will have an overall positive influence on their overall Quality of Life


Melina Grin from Pet Nurture love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Small Animal Rehabilitation. Today, her passion has become her profession.

Melina has many years of experience handling animals: her own of course, as well as pet sitting, dog walking, cat minding and caring for her clients’ beloved companions. In addition to her qualifications, Melina is a member of many professional associations including: Small Animal & Equine Naturopathic Association (SAENA), Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA), DOGS NSW, Feline Nutrition Foundation.

Melina is currently studying to become a qualified Veterinary Nurse with a view to progressing to Canine & Feline Rehabilitation Therapy. She also volunteers regularly at Monika’s Doggie Rescue and gives her time and expertise to several animal rescue events and festivals.



Bibliography

1. Becker, D. J. (n.d.). If Your Lonely Pet Could Talk, They'd Ask You for This. USA. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2017/11/03/dog-mental-stimulation.aspx

2. Grant, L. (2017). Simple Dog Care - 7 steps to a healthy, happy dog. Sydney: Michael Hanrahan Publishing. Retrieved January 12, 2018
3. Gross, D. (2018). Canine Fitness Trainer 2. USA. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/my-courses/248-cc320-lectures/4912-week-3-the-end-no-not-really

4. QLD's, A. W. (n.d.). Fun Backyards: Enrichment for Dogs, QLD, Australia. Retrieved January 05, 2018, from http://www.awlqld.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/3-Fun-Backyards-Enrichment-for-Dogs-Jan-2009.pdf

5. Stilwell, V. (2017). Dog Enrichment. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from Positively Victoria Stilwell: https://positively.com/dog-wellness/dog-enrichment/

6. TAFE. (2017). 12._P10_Enrichment_6_Enrichment_for_Cats_and_Dogs. Sydney, NSW, Australia. Retrieved January 18, 2018

Disclaimer

Individual blogs are based upon the opinions of the specific author, who retains full copyright. The material is not intended as medical advice, it’s intended as a sharing of knowledge and information. We encourage you to make your own pet health care choices in collaboration with a certified pet health care professional.
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