What is Mental Stimulation and Enrichment for dogs?
Mental Stimulation and Enrichment is often recommended as a way to ease dog behaviour problems, and can even sometimes help curb the behaviour entirely. I often hear my clients say that they walk their dog everyday, often twice a day. Unfortunately walking the dog is one of the minimum requirements of their dogs needs, and unfortunately simply walking the dog will generally not solve the behavioural problems they are seeing.
Although a dogs exercise is very important, it is only a small part of your dogs needs. Often, many dogs simply cannot be 'worn out', often because either the dog has not been mentally stimulated enough, or, because the dog has literally been designed/bred to be able to manage physical exertion for long periods of time.
Another typical cause of unwanted behaviours can be a lack of sleep and good quality rest, particularly in dogs under 1 year old, please make sure they are getting sufficient naps in the day before you over walk them due to their energy and/or over-excitement.
Enrichment is defined as "the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something."
More specifically for dogs, enrichment is the process of allowing a dog to engage in their innate behaviors,
"playing, chasing, smelling, chewing, and scavenging." It also generally involves adding something to their
environment in order for them to carry out these behaviours.
Enrichment has been known to lower stress levels and increase their ability to learn and retain information.
It also often increases the dogs problem solving skills, confidence and emotional stability.
Enrichment ideas for dogs include;
2) Lick mats
3) Snuffle mats
4) Puzzle toys
5) Ball pits
6) Day care
7) Scatter Feeding
These are great, even better if they involve you in some way, instead of offering and walking away,
try to be part of the dogs enrichment, this will help improve your bond.
Mental stimulation is defined as 'giving your brain a good workout!', this absolutely applies to dogs,
and often needs to involve more than simply giving your dog a stuffed Kong and walking away.
Mental Stimulation activities can include;
1) Trick training
2) Lead training
3) Scent games
4) Agility/other dog sports
5) Equipment association training
6) Gun dog training
This list is BETTER because all of the above must include you and therefore communication
between dog and owner is ongoing during these activities, which in itself, acts as mental stimulation,
as well as improving the relationship between you.
Can you use enrichment and mental stimulation on your walks? Yes absolutely you can! Though depending what you
are trying, you may need to begin at home, so your dog can learn what you want from them in an easier environment, before introducing the activity outside where there are lots of triggers/distractions and general smells.
If your dog is not used to getting cues from you out on a walk on a walk generally, they will less likely respond to you giving cues when there is a trigger present. Using the above techniques at the right time, and practice with your dog, have fun with your dog, the relationship will flourish and you will see much less undesirable behaviours.
Please see a professional trainer if you are unsure and/or need help finding the right thing for you and your dog/s.
Written by Victoria Bickley,
Leads and Feeds
After going out to visit my parents in Sicily for a short holiday, the virus struck and I was unable to come back to the UK for ten months. I spent time helping my parents run their small holding, including their vineyard, honey bees, chickens, olive grove, vegetable patch etc. I helped train and work with their German Shepherd Dog Max who had been rescued from a local town.
Thats where the adventure began!
Walking Max the GSD
Walking Max for miles in a very open, wild terrain.
Recall training was essential, as was observational awareness training.
Ash getting acclimatized to his new home with Max (GSD), Amber (Ginger cat) and Pepper (Tabby cat)
Even though when we found Ash he was around 4-5 months old, severely skinny, and afraid, wandering around on mountain roadsides, he was impossible to catch on the first day, when we found him again, so we managed to grab him and take him back home with us where he began his rehabilitation.
Walking Max (GSD) with Ash the rescue mix
Together they were more confident, I had to ensure they would still reliably recall despite unpredictable environmental triggers.
There were so many different environment/terrain types from the beach, to large wooded lakes, mountain trails and rocky roads.
Ash enjoying his new views
Ash has alot of space to roam, but never has to worry again about his next meal, feeling unsafe or ever being alone again.
A healthy, happy Ash
A year later, Ash is an entirely different dog, super intelligent, a problem solver, and a very fun and loyal dog.
I also had the opportunity to provide help and care to client's in the local areas, I worked with a variety of different dogs from a small pointer, to a few Maremma's (Italian sheepdogs), a pug, a spitz and multiple cats.
It was a fantastic experience I will never forget, where I begun learning some basic Italian language and not least of all, seeing how deeply they love, as well as utilize their animals for the benefit of the community.
Written by Victoria Bickley,
Leads and Feeds
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