Roohi Kulkarni Kale*
An enriched life is when one is allowed to express their innate nature. A dog’s natural behaviour is to sniff, bark, bite, jump and chase. However, when they live in the human world, most of these activities become issues to us such as jumping on people or furniture, chasing children, excessive barking, etc. To avoid these issues we don’t allow our pooches to engage in any of these activities because of which they are not able to satisfy their innate nature. Thus, we need to find a balance to ensure that our pooches lives an enriched life in the human world. The best way is to research your pooch’s breed to find what they were originally bred to do and match that activity in modern-day life. For example, retrievers like Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever were bred to retrieve game; shepherds like Belgian shepherd or German Shepherd were bred for herding.
Today, we do not require our pooch to herd sheep, retrieve fowl, or hunt rabbits. However, they still have these innate desires in them. We can make them do acceptable activities which imitate the ones they were bred for like fetching a ball, sniffing for food hidden in a snuffle mat, or chewing on bones.
To ensure that our pooch thrives with us, we need to first understand what are the different types of enrichments for pooches and how to create opportunities in the modern human world.
- Physical Enrichment: Any activity that pooches enjoy doing which physically work them would be physical enrichment. These would include walks, free play in the garden, chasing a ball, swimming, agility, digging in the sand, hiking, etc.
- What you can do: You can make a sandbox in your garden or balcony, ensure your puppy gets enough free run-play time, or take your pooch on walks in areas with natural surfaces like grass or dirt. You can also make a mini agility course from chairs and tables available at home. Simply line up chairs in a zigzag pattern to create a weaving area or put sticks on two chairs to create a hurdle to jump on. Do provide mats or carpets to cushion the jump and avoid them slipping.
- Mental Enrichment: Every dog needs a job to do because they were bred to do a certain job. Some activity every day where they can use their brain gives them immense satisfaction and happiness. Dog’s primary sense is that of smell, so engage them in scenting activities like sniffing for their food, sniffing out their toy, using snuffle mats, taking on exclusive scent walks where your pooch gets to sniff interesting spots with trees, bushes, cars, etc. Mentally stimulating your pooch tires them faster than most physical activities done for the same amount of time, drastically reducing unwanted activities like destroying your couch or slippers.
- What you can do at home: hide treats or dry food in a rolled towel or cut holes in an empty clean juice carton and put kibble for your pooch to sniff out. Make food time interesting by putting your pooch’s meal into different bowls and hiding all of them. She can then search for the bowls one at a time and be engaged and excited to find the next one. You can teach your pooch names of various toys and other objects and further teach her to fetch those! Pooches can easily be trained to fetch you their favourite squeaky toy, your mobile phone when it rings, or even your car keys!
- Emotional Enrichment: This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of a pooch’s life. A pooch’s emotional enrichment will be when he has a thriving environment, companionship, is allowed to indulge in doggy stuff and is not forced into only human aspects of pet life.
- What you can do: Ensure that your pooch has access to nature during the day, gets to engage in sniffing activities not just on a walk but inside the home as well, is not confined for long periods, gets undisturbed sleep time to decompress during the day as well, gets to spend sufficient time with humans and other pets in the household. The other aspect we should be very aware of is our pooch’s personal preferences. If your pooch doesn’t like other humans or animals we shouldn’t force him to interact with them, or if he prefers short walks where he can mostly sniff over hiking, we should ensure that most of their walks are sniff walks.
- Mixed Enrichment: Most activities eventually cater to multiple enrichments or do not fall under a very specific category. One example is training which when done regularly, not only helps to keep her mind and body engaged but also strengthens your bond with her providing physical, mental, and emotional enrichment all together.
- What you can provide: Appropriate chew bones and toys to satisfy her natural need to chew and bite, training, outdoor agility where your pooch follows commands to complete a physical course, game of fetch or tug which satisfies her natural urge to hunt while interacting with you, or a flirt pole which satisfies her prey drive, ensures physical exercise and needs your pooch to follow few commands keeping her engaged with you as well.
- Rest: Pooches require more amount of sleep than humans do. We must make a schedule as mentioned in the last article of this series ‘A day in the life of your pooch: Toilet Training’ to ensure that she gets enough rest during the day as well. Sometimes, a pooch will seem to be misbehaving and engaging in destructive activities like biting the furniture, mouthing, or excessive barking but may just be sleep deprived.
- What you can do: Ensure that all family members are aware of the nap times and do not disturb your puppy during those times. This applies to guests as well who want to meet your puppy. Call guests during your puppy’s playtime so they have healthy socialization and are well behaved. Do not force your pooch to over-exert on walks or during playtime. Watch her and check if she is getting tired and stop the activity accordingly. Sometimes we unknowingly push our pooches physically, which results in him over-exerting himself mentally, making him a hyper dog.
How do I know how much enrichment my pooch needs?
Each pooch is different so we must measure our pooch’s capacity and ability. If you have a pure-breed or even a mix-breed, observe your pooch to see what she likes to do every day, and create opportunities around them. For example, if your pooch always keeps her nose to the ground sniffing for scents, add sniffing games during meal times and on walks, provide with snuffle mats or scatter feed dry food and treats.
It is a myth that small breed pooches do not require mental or physical enrichment. Though the amount of time may differ, every pooch deserves to go out of the house and experience and explore new scents, sights, sounds and socialize. They can then decide for themselves, how long or how often do they like the walks, or if they prefer car rides or lounging indoors with a chew bone.
We should never over-exert our pooches in any physical activity or force them to engage in something they do not like. While playing with any toys whether with us or by themselves, they should be trained to understand clear start playing and stop playing commands. This helps them to differentiate between a toy they are allowed to chew on and maybe a soft toy a child has dropped, or even between a home-made carton toy they are given to play with and a carton they may find lying on the table.
What should a pooch’s enriched day look like?
An enriching day in the life of your pooch will include physical and mental stimulation according to your pooch’s needs and preferences, with appropriate breaks to rest and spend quality time with family while not being forced to confront activities they resent.
* Author is a Certified Canine Trainer from Canines Can Care (India). She is also certified as a Canine Trainer & Behaviourist from ‘The Northern Centre for Canine Behaviour’ (UK). She specializes in companion dog training, therapy dog work & aggression after completing specialized courses for the same. She also has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Animal Protection Laws form NALSAR. Recently she became a Canine Groomer from Akil’s Pawsh Pawz (India).
Roohi has pioneered the concept of pet dog training with reward based, positive reinforcement methods in Nagpur. She helps match families with the correct puppy for them and guides them from the very beginning of puppy keeping. With Coach the Pooch dog training, her aim is to help pet owners build the best bond with their dogs through communication, compassion & commitment.
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