Canine Enrichment

What Is It?

By definition, “enrichment makes something more meaningful, substantial or rewarding. Enrichment improves something”. You might be familiar with the term enrichment if you have ever visited a zoo or had a child do a project on captive animals. Zoo’s and facilities alike provide captive animals with enrichment because we’ve stripped them of the things they would do naturally and instinctively. For example, a tiger in the wild would hunt for its prey, establish and maintain their territory, interact with other tigers and other species etc. In captivity, we provide the tiger with its meals & water, we provide them with a safe territory and we’ve pre-established their groups to ensure everyone gets along as best we can.

So with all of those areas pre-determined for them, what are they supposed to do with their spare time?

Like captive animals, if dogs are not given adequate enrichment than we see problems such as;

  • Hyperactivity
    • Constant state of movement, engages in behaviours that would get them into “trouble” but ultimately is self-rewarding.
  • Barking/Digging
    • At distant noises, howling, passersby
    • In the yard
  • Behavioural Issues
    • Separation anxiety etc
  • Destructive behaviour
    • Getting into the garbage, chewing shoes, ripping the couch
  • Anxiety/neurotic behaviours
    • Overly interested/focused on specific thing, repetitive behaviour
  • Anti-social behaviours
    • Lunging on leash, barking at the window
  • Excessive grooming habits
    • Licking paws, general over grooming
  • Weight gain
    • Increased risk for joint, heart, musculoskeletal, cardiac, respiratory and other issues
  • General health issues
    • Increased risk for cancer, diabetes, dermatological and other issues


Types Of Enrichment

There are 6 main categories of enrichment. With a little knowledge and a dash or creativity, each area of enrichment can have thousands of applications. The 6 main categories are:

  • Sensory
    • Encompasses areas of a dogs senses: sight, sounds, taste, touch and smell. Ex: A dog trained in scent detection or giving a cat catnip
  • Foods/Feeding
    • The main goal is to prolong the animals feeding and stimulating natural instincts. Ex: Having a dog forage for their meal
  • Cognitive/Manipulative/Toys
    • Utilizing novel objects or IQ games to stimulate a dogs thinking and problem solving ability. Ex: Putting a dogs meal into an IQ game where they need to solve the puzzle to receive the meal
  • Environmental
    • Positively enriching their environment so that it reflects a positive and engaging space. Ex-A dog chewing on a bone, giving a dog a sand box and providing calm and relaxing sleep areas
  • Social/Behavioral
    • Involves housing animals with similar species that they would normally engage with. Ex: Providing daycare regularly and other outings with canine friends and developing positive & meaningful bonds with their pet parent.
  • Training
    • Provides mental stimulation, bonding with handler, increases intelligence and problem solving abilities.

Why Is It Important?

Now my intention isn’t to bore you with science and facts but a lot of research has been done on the effects and benefits of enrichment and the facts are too good not to share!

Brains in richer, more stimulating environments have higher rates of synaptogenesis and more complex dendrite arbors, leading to increased brain activity”

“Research on animals finds that environmental enrichment could aid the treatment and recovery of numerous brain-related dysfunctions, including Alzheimer’s disease and those connected to aging, whereas a lack of stimulation might impair cognitive development. Moreover, this research also suggests that environmental enrichment leads to a greater level of cognitive reserve, the brain’s resilience to the effects of conditions such as aging and dementia.”

What Can You Do?

There are a lot of easy changes and simple additions you can do to incorporate enrichment into your dog’s life. Check out our social media weekly for enrichment ideas!