Photo credit: Bethany Rose Photography
Need a New Year’s Resolution you can stick with through the entire year? How about resolving to enrich your dog’s life with at least one fun and novel experience a week? During the cold winter months or hot summer heat, these activities can add some variety to your pup’s days when walks aren’t feasible. Let’s do some thinking outside of the kibble bag and discover a few activities that can add even more joy to your life together.
What are some things that your dog takes pleasure in doing, but rarely has an appropriate means to engage in? Behaviors like digging, chasing, scavenging, herding, snuffling, and chewing are all things that come naturally for many of our furry friends. They are things that dogs do, but we humans often find destructive or annoying. Attempts at stopping and correcting these instinctive drives are often futile and cause frustration for dogs and their owners. However, allowing these innate compulsions to be satisfied in a context that is acceptable to us (ie. providing a digging pit, scatter feeding, splashing in a kiddy pool, etc.), allows for our dog’s intrinsic needs to be met. In turn, we often experience a happier, more content pet who can be trained to resist the urges of engagement outside of the provided context.
Do things your dog enjoys or try something that would accommodate natural behaviors to satisfy their instincts. Here are some non-food ideas to enrich your pup’s life in 2019.
1. Whiff Walks: How often do you take your dog outside and let their nose lead the way? How amazing do you think it would be for your fur friend if every now and then you let their walks be more of an experience than just an exercise? Today, I took Dolly for what I call a whiff walk. We spent 30 minutes covering zero distance, so she could just put her nose to the ground and inhale where she pleased. We literally went 3 houses up the street and three houses back down. Bonus! It was garbage day and she could sniff all the stinky cans. The girl had a blast!
2. Bubbles: If your dog likes to catch things in the air or tries to snatch flying insects, then non-toxic edible bubbles may be just the right thing for providing them an enriching exercise. Peanut butter and bacon flavored bubbles that dry in the air can be purchased online. Balls and frisbees can be fun, but bubbles can add more variety for enthusiastic play.
3. Obstacle Courses: You don’t have to enroll in an agility class to create interesting obstacles for your dog. Use boxes, chairs, couch cushions, and other household objects to create barriers for your dog to jump over, crawl under, and maneuver around. They will have great fun exercising their brain and body figuring out how to get from wherever they are to wherever they want to be.
4. Flirt pole: Have you ever heard of a cat teaser wand? That’s basically a flirt pole. Cats love to bat at and chase things, but guess what? Dogs love to chase, too! You can make your own dog teaser flirt pole/wand or buy one on-line. It’s important that you learn some technique to prevent injuries in your dogs when using this fast-paced fun. Flirt poles are meant to keep pup’s heads close to the ground chasing, catching and occasionally tugging. Used appropriately, they can be immensely entertaining and incredibly useful for training impulse control in dogs with high prey tendencies.
5. Car Rides: Strap your dog in safely, crack the window and take your pup for a ride. You could run an errand (like dropping mail at the post office mailbox or grab your favorite cup of joe). Your pup’s head doesn’t have to be unsafely dangling out the window to take in the smells and enjoy the ride.
6. Grocery Sniffing: How often do you plop your grocery bags on the floor for your pooch to take in the smells? It’s a simple thing to do that provides some new and interesting odors for your dog to explore. Of course, this might not work if you have a food thief on your hands, but letting your pup sniff the grocery goodies can be quite fulfilling and entertaining.
7. Doggy Play Date: I am not a fan of dog parks, but there’s a lot to be said about intentional, positive play dates with a friend and their pleasant pup. Some dogs don’t do well being inundated and overwhelmed with unfamiliar dogs, but sometimes a one on one playdate can bring out the best when carefully guided.
8. Social Vet Visits: How strange to see visiting a vet clinic as an enrichment activity! Chances are that your dog only sees the vet for a yearly wellness check or when they are ill. It’s not difficult to figure out why it wouldn’t be one of their most favorite places on earth. Yet, for most dogs, you can change that! Frequently taking your dog to the veterinarian for some smells, scratches and snacks can help turn a stressful place into an enriching one.
9. Monthly Subscription Box: Bark Box, Bullymake Box, and KONG Box (not a subscription) are just a few suggestions for ensuring that your pup gets useful new toys and treats monthly with just the click of a mouse. Not only are the contents interactive, but sniffing the box upon arrival, foraging through the contents, and destroying the box when done ensures a doggone good time. While I’m on the topic of boxes, have you ever let your dog commandeer a pizza box? Of course, no consumption allowed, but licking, shredding, shaking, digging, destroying and playing is something your dog will look forward to on pizza days.
10. Mud, Puddles, Snow, Swimming: It’s not very often I encounter pet parents who are thrilled when their pups take a good ole romp and roll through mud, puddles or snow. But, oh my goodness! Have you seen your pooches’ face after one of those excursions? Priceless. Sure, it may not be an everyday activity, but it’s certainly something you can plan for before bath day. Using a long leash or drag line is an excellent safety precaution to allow pup some freedom but not be completely off leash if their recall is unreliable.
Looking for more canine enrichment ideas or wondering what types of benefits they provide? Check out our January and February 2018 blogs for more information.
*Always exercise common sense and supervision to provide safe enrichment activities for your pets.