What is Enrichment?

What is Enrichment?

It’s this fancy word dog trainers use and something that a lot of people associate with the toys and chews they give to their dogs. But really, it’s so much more than that.

On a fundamental level, enrichment is what is required to meet our dogs needs so that they can be physically, behaviourally and emotionally happy. Without enrichment, an individual’s fundamental needs are not being met and their behaviour will be reflective of this. Deep right?

There are different aspects of enrichment, chews, toys and exercise are the ones that are commonly known in the world of pet dog owners but we wanted to highlight the below to consider how many ways that our dogs' lives can and must be enriched for them to live a healthy life.

  • The perception of feeling safe 
        • The dog's perception of safety is the foundation of behavioural health. This should be the priority for us to ensure our dogs feel safe in every scenario we expose them to.
  • Calm and Relaxation
        • So many of us think of dogs as these fun loving creatures, and in many ways and circumstances - they are. But the fundamental requirement of being able to decompress, relax, and have personal space can go a long way to establishing consistent and predictable behavioural health.
  • Health & Veterinary
        • Pain, illness & stress and anxiety will all affect our dogs behaviour exactly the same way in which it would our own.
  • Diet, Nutrition & General Hygiene
        • Discomfort, stomach upsets and how much energy we have because of the food we consume will all affect our mood and capabilities at every given moment.
  • Physical Exercise 
        • We all know how important this is, sometimes this has even been over emphasised to the point that over exercise, ensuring we don’t create the athlete we cannot keep up with, and a dog that is been asked to run a lot but has never been asked to think are becoming serious issues within the pet dog community.
  • Sensory Stimulation 
        • Ensuring our dogs are desensitsed to this human world we live is essential. Striking a healthy balance between exposing our dogs to enough for them to be able to normalise and feel comfortable and over stimulation, creating hyperarousal and potential behavioural issues is the real life scenario we find ourselves in when raising our dogs.
  • Social Interaction, Exploration & Foraging
        • The opportunity to be autonomous over their own outcomes, having unstructured play and interaction, seeking out rewards and exploring their world is something that we must enable our dogs to do, how we do it in this human world is open to interpretation and we have to get creative while ensuring that our own dogs behaviour is not imposing on others in a negative way.
  • Mental Exercise & Independence 
      • Problem solving is something easily overlooked. We want to take care of our loved ones, our dogs included and make their lives as easy as possible. But being given the opportunity to learn how to problem solve in a safe environment will build any individual's self esteem.

    If we do not take these considerations into account, or take them for granted then the behaviour in our dog’s will show this. Too often, when our dogs display undesirable behaviours we are quick to label them naugty, stubborn, spiteful or disobedient. Instead, we must remember that their behaviour is information for us, and before we start labelling their behaviour we should take a look at why this behaviour is happening from the dog’s perspective. Taking a look at whether or not the fundamentals enrichment needs of their very being have been fulfilled is a great place to start.

    Written by Ian Shivers, Bondi Behaviourist
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