How rich the world is around us. It’s easy to overlook all the amazing smells, textures, sounds, tastes and sights in life when we get busy and focused on the demands of life. Our dogs are probably more tuned into these things than we are, but we tend short-change them on those experiences. Instead, we focus more on training behaviors, setting rules and ensuring compliance.
Now don’t get me wrong: those things are really an important part of dogs being successful members of human society. But that’s more for US. Enrichment helps our dogs get more out of THEIR lives. For example: why not let your dog really sniff that spot on the ground until their curiosity is fully satisfied, instead of keeping that walk to a scheduled time and distance?
I’m not suggesting you forego walks with your dog for just sniffing around a plot of land — although your dog may love that! Rather, appreciate what great mental enrichment your dog will enjoy by experiencing novel sensory stimuli, and plan those experiences strategically.
Dogs have more than 220 million scent receptors (some breeds more!) versus a human’s paltry 5 million. We will never know everything dogs discern from what they smell, nor do we have to. Just provide them with the opportunities to experience them. They don’t have to enjoy every single scent, just experience it.
- Place various scents on cotton swabs in jars with vented lids. Use essential oils, spices, flowers, etc.
- Take your dog for walks in parks when flowers and trees are blooming
- Hide treats in boxes around your basement and let your dog search them out
- Take nose work classes which give you and your dog a structured scent-seeking experience to enjoy together. We have room in our Thursday night and Friday classes!
Let your dog decide how much time they need to mull over a scent and then move on.
Walking over different surfaces (carpet, concrete, tile, stone, grass, artificial grass, etc.) is one way dogs can experience texture, but not the only way. Ever see your dog rub against some bushes or a piece of furniture? Maybe she is taking care of a pesky itch, but maybe she’s just figuring out what that texture feels like. You can set up such textures in different ways.
- Create stations where your dog can walk on, touch and rub against broom bristles, bubble wrap, sandpaper, and any other type of surface that isn’t a part of everyday life.
- Take your dog for walks places that have different textures: beaches, graveled paths, sawdust/wood chips, artificial grass, etc.
- Freeze a chew toy into large block of ice and let them chew on the ice block to get it out.
I’ll be the first to say that sound is not most dogs’ preferred source for information from the world, but that’s not to say sound sensory enrichment isn’t important. If you’re familiar with the Through a Dog’s Ear Canine Music Series
, then you know dogs can really enjoy music. So playing music for them nonstop should be great for them, right? Well, not necessarily. Regardless of what music genre your dog likes, too much of any good thing is still too much.
So what if you trained your dog how to turn on and turn off music for herself? Wouldn’t that be the height of enrichment? Not only is it pleasurable sound, it’s on your dog’s terms.
Of course, YouTube is loaded with videos that have a variety of other sounds, that you can play for your dog. Please be careful, however, to expose your dog to new sounds in a low volume, non-threatening way until she acclimates to the sound.
Do you get into ruts on the foods you eat? I sure do! Imagine what it’s like for your dog, for whom mealtime is pre-determined. Unless your dog has a restricted diet, there are many ways for them to experience new tastes.
- Add a little bit of a different taste to your dog’s meal: shreds of cheese, broth, brown rice, a dab of yogurt, etc.
- We suggested a “lickimat” in the post about food enrichment: a pyramid cone silicone mat (or Lickimat Buddy) — turn it over and smear ripe banana, pumpkin puree, wet food or baby food into the pyramid indentations and let your dog lick the food out — texture and taste!
- Regularly rotate the protein source of your dog’s food. If you feed a brand/formula that has several different options, change to a new protein with each new bag or can. Staying within that brand and formula should keep digestive problems to a minimum, if any.
Ever see your dog transfixed by something they see? I often wonder how things appear to my dog without a human’s level of comprehension. Dogs are fascinated by different-looking people, vehicles, dogs and other animals, and the like. But what about things they don’t see on a daily basis?
- A bubble machine
- Kites flying
- Balloon launch (helium or hot air)
It can be a challenge to find creative ways to expose your dog to these novel visual stimuli. It’s also fun to sleuth these opportunities out. Visit new places and attend events with your dog. Spend some time at a toy store to see which toys, like bubble machines, offer some enrichment opportunities for your dog. Just watch for signs that your dog is overwhelmed and needs a break from all the unusual sights.
Just exploring enrichment options for each individual sense alone could keep you and your dog busy for some time to come. Sensory enrichment opens up a whole new area of discovery for you and your best friend. Enjoy!