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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.
I spent ten months in Sicily, Italy in 2020, where my parents live, spending time visiting them and working with local rescues and businesses, learning some of the beautiful language, as well as doing some hands on rescuing of our own!
It turned out to be a bit of an adventure, I learnt a lot about the Sicilian way with dogs and other animals, and what it is like to work with a variety of Italian and non-Italian breeds in a different language.
Walking Max the GSD
Walking Max for miles in a very open, wild terrain.
Recall training was essential, as was observational awareness training.
Rescuing Little Ash
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 deathly afraid, wandering around on mountain roadsides looking for food. He was impossible to catch on the first day due to his nervousness, but thankfully we found him again a few days later, so we managed to very carefully pick him up 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.
Max and the Many Environments!
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 dog training and care for client's in the local area, I worked with a variety of different dogs from a small Pointer mix, 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 got to meet a wonderful variety of amazing people who have one of the biggest sense of community I have ever experienced and not least of all, seeing how deeply they love, as well as utilize their animals for the benefit of the whole community.
We Signed the Armed Forces Covenant!
Since starting in 2010, Leads and Feeds Dog Training has had four subcontractors to help support our previous dog walking and pet care needs. I'm extremely happy and proud to say that all four contractors have since moved on and all set up their own successful dog walking companies and are still thriving. Although due to recently relocating to Raunds, and therefore not currently looking for additional help, I know I will need it in the near future and I wanted to know how I could help more.
I was incredibly fortunate to meet and work with so many fantastic and interesting people while I was situated in Towcester, and it was in March 2023 that I was invited to Towcester Town Hall to sign and join the Armed Forces Covenant (AFC), along with many other local businesses and organisations. As a small business, I could not have been more proud to join a worthy cause. A huge thanks to Jim Wright for asking me to be involved.
Signing the Contract
It was an honour to meet those from the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence who came to speak to us. It's a shame I kept my coat on but the Town Hall was not very warm!
We were joined and supported by local council members, the Mayor of Towcester, personnel from the Ministry of Defence and the Army, showing our support to the Military, Reserves, Cadets, Veterans and their families. Thank you to everyone involved for that evening, It was an absolute pleasure to meet everyone there and find out a little about their background and how their individual stories related to the AFC.
Lots of fantastic local charities and businesses from Towcester also joined that day, and it was brilliant to be part of the community in such a wonderful way.
I am extremely proud to support such a cause, to, in any way, big or small, offer support to those in need. Thank you to all our past, present and future Armed Forces.
Leads and Feeds Dog Training is officially a signed member of the Armed Forced Covenant, UK!