The spread of coronavirus across the globe has meant sweeping changes for humans and their pets. While some pets are delighted to have their humans home 24 hours a day, others are going a bit stir crazy. They are likely going on shorter walks, interacting with fewer visitors, and missing out on hitting the trails and dog parks. Self-isolating is hard on dogs and humans!
Fortunately, there is a way to help our canine companions survive this period of isolation without going bonkers. Enrichment for canines refers to activities that focus on stimulating a dog in ways other than simple physical exercise: it focuses on mental exercise, and working out their brain! Mental enrichment can be just as useful as physical exercise (oftentimes moreso) when it comes to wearing out your dog and helping them feel relaxed.
This week, I’ll be featuring a video each day on my Wiggles and Woofs Facebook page about easy enrichment activities you can do with your dog. The ideas are recapped here with my dog Ada acting as the model. Have fun!
Day 1: “Kibble Roll”
This idea was obtained from Shay Kelly’s Canine Enrichment Facebook page. Roll up some kibble or treats in a towel, and then watch your dog figure out how to unroll the towel and get that kibble out! Like all enrichment activities, this should be supervised to make sure your dog does not try to ingest the towel.
Preparation time: 2 minutes
Day 2: Snufflemat
I purchased this snufflemat on Etsy, but you can also easily find directions on the web for how to make your own.
To see your dog have some snuffling fun, hide pieces of kibble or treats in the mat, and then watch your dog have a blast sniffing around and digging the treats out!
Preparation time: 1 minute, if you already have a snufflemat.
Day 3: Stuff in a Box
Is your recycling bin overflowing with delivery boxes? Put some to good use with this canine enrichment idea!
Loosely create layers in a box using soft dog toys, old rags or towels, or any other non-toxic items. Hide treats and kibble among the layers. Watch as your dog embarks on an epic scavenger hunt to find the goodies! As always, supervise your dog to make sure they don’t ingest any inappropriate items in the box.
If it’s your dog’s first time doing this activity, they may need some extra encouragement to know it’s OK to hunt for treats inside the box. Cut the box flaps off the box if your dog seems concerned about them.
Preparation time: 4 minutes.
Day 4: Toilet Paper Roll Repurposing
I know, I know, you weren’t expecting to see an enrichment idea involving toilet paper! Don’t worry, this doesn’t involve the paper itself (a precious commodity these days), just the cardboard roll that’s leftover after you use up the TP!
After collecting at least a few toilet paper tubes, loosely stuff rags or paper towel into the bottom of each tube.
Then, punch holes into the toilet paper tubes, and thread a string or ribbon through them.
Next, hang your toilet paper tubes along a string at a height that your dog can easily reach. Drop some kibble into each of the hanging tubes.
Finally, watch your dog go to work trying to get the kibble out!
You can make this enrichment idea easier for your dog by stuffing the tubes more loosely, and perhaps even tipping and emptying one tube for your dog as an example. Praise your dog enthusiastically for any progress they make towards exploring or playing with the toy. They’ll get the hang of it!
Soon, your dog will be assisting you in hoarding toilet paper so they can play more of this fun game!
Preparation time: 8 minutes.
Day 5: Easy Nose Games
Does your dog enjoy smelling things? Most dogs do, since their noses are so much more powerful than ours! You can harness their love of sniffing with some easy enrichment games. While some courses and instructors have dogs seek out certain scents, or even truffles, you can play easy nose games indoors or outdoors simply by using some of your dog’s favorite treats!
Start by choosing a container where you will put your dog’s treats. Selecting a treat that is smelly is best for this exercise. Be sure the container either has an open top or holes in the lid so the scent of treats can drift out. I made several containers by taking small plastic containers and poking holes in the lids.
Have your dog wait out of sight while you “hide” the containers with the treats inside. You can achieve this by placing your dog in a “stay” around the corner, or simply enclosing your dog in another room for a brief moment.
Once you have your containers in place, release your dog and give them a cue that you plan to continue using. My dog’s cue to search is “Find it!” Supervise and encourage your dog as they search for the food. Once they locate it, praise them warmly and feed them the food as their handsome reward!
Remember to start out with the food in an very easy place for your dog to find, and praise them enthusiastically for finding it. Build the difficulty level of the exercise very gradually. If you notice your dog becoming frustrated, discouraged, or giving up, you are likely making the exercise too difficult too quickly. Aim to find a balance where your dog needs to hunt around a little bit, but finds the food after a bit of searching, and feels like a success! We want this game to be fun!
After about six rounds of nose games, my dog is usually all tuckered out! This is a great way for her to eat her dinner while getting some mental and physical exercise!
If you find that you and your dog really enjoy nose games, there are many fantastic classes that you can take to get more involved in this activity with your dog! Some dogs compete in nose games and scent detection as competitive sports, or even go on to complete training in Search and Rescue.
Preparation time: 2 minutes
For more enrichment ideas to keep your canine happy and relaxed during these times of social isolation, I highly recommend joining Shay Kelly’s Canine Enrichment page on Facebook. And remember, training your dog (whether it is basic manners or fun tricks!) is also great mental enrichment.