Enrichment Activities for Dogs Can Mean a Delightful Pawliday Season for Everyone
By Joan Hunter Mayer
Discover how providing enrichment opportunities for inquisitive canines can help keep your pawliday festivities fun and rewarding for you, your pets, and your guests!
Throughout the year, and especially during the holidays, managing the environment goes a long way towards keeping pets and people feeling safe and happy. Part of a solid management strategy includes enrichment; think mental and/or physical activities, like “brain games.” Enrichment is important for all animals, including humans. With our canine companions, it is especially important during those times when we might be busier than usual, more distracted, and/or have our own daily routines disrupted — even in a good way.
Environmental, or behavioral, enrichment in the form of hunting/seeking games, interactive food toys, playing with other dogs, dog-specific sports, and force-free training games can improve dog’s lives with us, and our lives with them. For those times when you need Fluffy to enjoy “me time,” you can condition her to appreciate being her own problem-solver — as opposed to a problem-creator!
Joy to the Canines Living in Our Human World
Dogs are social animals, hunters and scavengers by nature, problem-solvers, and also unique individuals, with their own preferences. Unfortunately, dogs experiencing boredom often find other ways to expend excess physical and mental energy, such as destroying prized objects, barking, digging, jumping on people, dashing out of open doors, counter-surfing and so on.
It’s our responsibility to provide proper outlets for our fur friends to meet their physical, emotional, and social doggy needs. For instance, during holiday parties, hiring a qualified pet sitter and/or dog walker - even if you’ll be home, but know you’ll be busy with other things - can be helpful. Think of it as inviting your pup to have his or her own plus one for the event!
Whether it’s the holiday season, or just an average weekday, providing activities to keep your pup engaged with his environment is an important part of letting your dog be a dog. We can work with our pups to fulfill their fundamental needs for digging, chewing, sniffing, and more.
Give the Gift of Harnessing Fun
Let’s dig into productive outlets for some of these common behavior concerns. The short answer is fun and games! Help encourage dogs to entertain themselves with human-approved activities and chew toys.
Digging. Create a distinct digging pit to redirect your dog’s energy to specified, allowable areas or take him to an area where you are sure he is allowed to dig, such as a sandy beach or lakeside area (be sure to check local regulations). Trust me, if Fido has the urge to dig, providing him with the time and place to do it will make you all happy! Giving your inquisitive canine an approved release for this innate behavior can increase behavioral wellness, decrease anxiety, and burn energy.
Chewing. Bones and chews are great – and not just for puppies. Speak to your veterinarian to find out what is safe for your dog, and then explore which textures, shapes and tastes your inquisitive canine likes the best.
Sniffing. Encouraging dogs to explore the world with their powerful olfactory sense is one of the most enriching activities we can provide. Dogs love going on “sniffari”- checking out the neighborhood with their noses, stopping to smell bushes, lampposts, mailboxes and, for some, meeting other dogs. For a no-cost enrichment option on walks, give dogs choices and encourage exploration (as long as it’s safe for them and others). Not only allowing but encouraging dogs to be dogs is fundamental to their welfare.
Unleash Adventure with Interactive Toys and Training Games
Remember, keeping your dog physically and mentally active can also help prevent boredom-related problems – as long as you create activities that are more motivating than your dog’s Plan A. Help dogs make good choices by providing good choices to choose from!
Interactive Food Toys. Get creative with puzzle-like toys to keep your pup occupied and stimulated doing what many dogs do very well, solving a problem to get food. Think outside of the bowl and encourage inquisitive canines to entertain themselves with interactive food toys while you’re catching up with your human loved ones this season (and throughout year). Approaching challenges, such as food puzzles and scavenger hunts, on their own can assist in not only keeping puppers entertained but can also help build self-confidence and promote independence.
Training Games. Why not brush up on those most-needed holiday skills? For example, practicing social skills with other people can be fun and rewarding for dogs of all ages. If you’re entertaining guests, reward your dog’s self-composed attentiveness on his mat (or “place”) by releasing him to “Go Say Hi” to the visitors – provided they’re okay with it!
Dog training games you engage in together, especially those that reinforce coming when called, or leaving things alone when asked, can help prevent Fido from practicing behaviors you don’t want, while also strengthening the bond you share. Just remember to enjoy your quality time together!
Give Thanks for the Human-Canine Relationship
A well-socialized dog often has a much more enriched life, being able to do more things and go more places. If you and your inquisitive canine will be away from home during the holidays, be sure to plan ahead for the types of enrichment you’ll be providing. In case holiday commotion gets a bit stressful, also have a quiet, cozy spot where Fido can relax and rest – undisturbed, but not banished.
Particularly this time of year, the behavior of stressed-out pets, which may include eliminating indoors, vocalizing repeatedly, and seeming to forget every bit of training you ever did with them – can exasperate even the most calm, cool, and collected human. It’s okay. Take a deep breath and then try to accommodate your pet’s need for stress reduction however you can. It’s important to go easy on yourself and your furry friends. You can manage behaviors and harness your inquisitive canine’s energy in productive – and super fun - ways.
As inquisitive pet guardians, when we dig deeper and look for the underlying need beneath a dog’s behavior, we can usually find solutions that are mutually beneficial to us and to our canine pals, often in the form of enrichment activities. Plus, what’s more rewarding for both you and Fido than carving out some quality time to savor together during the holidays?
And with that, cheers and woofs to you and your inquisitive canines for a magical and pawsitively enriching holiday season!
The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. As a specialty trained Family Paws Parent Educator (FPPE), Joan offers services both in-person and online for growing families. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!