Due to space and affordability, many people these days now choose apartment or unit dwelling. They then introduce a companion dog to this environment and expect them to be content with a daily walk and to behave while they’re at work all day. Sadly, this expectation is not realistic.
Prior to becoming companion animals, dog used to have jobs, whether rounding up and herding livestock, hunting, getting rid of pests or as security. The majority now spend their time with no specific job or activity to keep them busy.
Restriction of space and not enough environmental variety can cause boredom, and frustration which can lead to behaviour problems such as destruction, excessive barking or whining, toileting inside, fear and separation anxiety. This is why setting up strategies to enrich your dog’s environment is important. The goal is to reduce abnormal and unwanted behaviour by increasing positive use of the space, through interaction with toys, feeding enrichment i.e. toys that require the dog to work to get it’s food, olfactory (smell) stimulation or auditory (hearing) stimulation.
Types of enrichment
- Social enrichment: Dog parks are a great place to take your dog for interactions with other canines and work on their sociability. Dogs will also benefit from leaving the confines of an apartment to get out in the world to see, sniff and interact with new surroundings and engage their senses. It is also a good measure to have your dog socialise with other people in a variety of locations. The Happy Jack Co. Canine Confidence and Bliss and Chill aromatherapy oils can help dogs that have problems with socialising.
- Outdoor Enrichment: Getting outdoors away from the home is incredibly important for dogs that spend a lot of time indoors. Frequent walks, outings to new locations and exposing your dog to new smells, sights, people and other dogs will add to their experience your dog can engage all their senses and it provide a positive experience for them.
- Feeding enrichment: An easy way to provide enrichment for your dog is to feed them from a food dispensing toy, this will encourage mental problem solving and physical stimulation. There are many toys to try; the Kong Wobbler, a snuffle mat or an interactive food maze toy. Filling a slow feeder mat with peanut butter can be a pleasant distraction for your dog while you give them a bath or are leaving for work.
- Training Enrichment: Teaching your dog new tricks and behaviours is an excellent form of enrichment. Learning requires concentration and problem solving and when combined with positive reinforcement training, most dogs will love the opportunity to acquire new skills. Using treats and short, frequent sessions (aim for at least once a day) will maximise your success, consistency is the key to changing behaviour.
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Smell and Emotions
In dogs, scent goes straight to the limbic system that regulates mood and drives emotions and memory. By using food when teaching, you can harness a dog’s powerful sense of smell to help them learn and achieve emotional stability – an important part of sensory education. Food is an important part of the learning process and can help nervous and anxious dogs overcome their fears.
Using other scents, such as essential oils, helps lessen anxiety by promoting feelings of calm. You can also try putting a shirt with your scent on it in your dog’s bed to help them cope during your absence.
Encouraging your dog to learn new behaviour by using scent can improve their mental and physical state by utilising sense of smell to overcome any emotional issues they may have.
In short, taking time to bond with your dog, through massage, training, enrichment and excursions will ensure that your dog’s emotional wellbeing is being looked after.