The Importance of Dog Enrichment Posted on January 25, 2024 Although the holiday period can provide opportunities to mingle with family, friends, and pets, our furry friends can feel bored and isolated once work and the school year resumes. When that happens, it becomes important to ensure they are getting regular mental stimulation by engaging them with enrichment activities to keep them entertained while home alone. Enrichment activities, or environmental optimisation, can ensure that a dog’s individual and species-specific needs are met, helping maintain and improve their physical and emotional well-being. These activities go beyond a pets’ basic need for food, water, and shelter, prompting sensory experiences, mental stimulation, and occasionally social engagement. The benefits of enrichment can be surprisingly far-reaching, from reductions in stress and anxiety to addressing behaviour issues. For dogs in particular, enrichment improves health and can strengthen the bond between dogs and humans. Proper enrichment is achieved by engaging an animal’s five keen senses: touch, taste, hearing, vision, and smell. There are two different types of enrichment that all dogs need, including animate interactions (activities that involve other people and animals) and inanimate interactions (engagement with toys and other non-living things). Beyond these interactions, different classes of enrichment contribute to different behaviours. With different uses, each class of enrichment can be applied or not applied depending on the needs of individual dogs: Social enrichment – activities that include interactions with other dogs and/or people. Environmental enrichment – can include exploration involving ‘nose work’ (e.g., sniff-walks), off-site walks and trips to the park, as well as playing with toys outdoors. Cognitive/behavioural enrichment – activities best described as training and problem-solving tasks. Feeding enrichment – which incorporates toys filled with food. Musical enrichment – best exemplified in the use of calming music. Scent enrichment – involves exposure to new scents using scented toys or snuffle mats. It’s important to keep our dogs enriched as our schedules start to fill. Here are just a few ways to keep your canine entertained and well looked after while at home: Snuffle mat Morning/afternoon walks Toys filled with food Making sure your dog has easy access to a sufficient amount of water is important and essential when you’re at work or school. This is especially true in summer, when the warmer weather can be a threat. Regardless of its form, enrichment is essential and should always be tailored to individual dogs, responding to each pup’s personal needs and maintaining their happiness and overall health. Enrichment helps us to look out for our dogs’ physical and mental wellbeing, improving their behaviour, lowering anxiety, and ultimately strengthening their bond with you! For more information and resources on enrichment for your own furry friends, visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase here.