For dogs to perform at their best, they need a solid foundation, including socialization, exercise, play, enrichment, focus, engagement and basic obedience training. Below are excerpts from our online k9 scent detection courses.
Top 5 Enrichment Activities to Calm Your Dog
Wondering how you can calm down a hyper puppy or stressed dog? In the Spring 2020 IAABC Journal, Rebecca Hunt and Dr Helen Vaterlaws-Whiteside evaluated the options in their article “The Effects of Environmental Enrichment on Dog Behavior” (12).
Environmental enrichment (EE) encompasses a wide array of activities (such as playing music or providing toys), to enhance the quality of animals ranging from farm livestock to zoo animals. Research has shown that EE can help reduce stereotypic behaviors such as repetitive pacing, improve brain function, reduce signs of stress such as excess panting and barking, and increase relaxation behaviors. Dogs and cats benefit from enrichment too, whether they are housed in daycares, shelters, homes, kennels or military barracks.
Hunt and Vaterlaws-Whiteside counted specific behaviors before and after various EE activities, to come up with a ranking (see Fig. 1). The top 6 enrichment activities to increase relaxation behaviors in dogs are:
- playing with known, canine friends
- chasing bacon flavored bubbles (see https://smartdogowners.com/dog-safe-bubbles/)
- playground equipment
- tug play with a handler
- bonding session with a handler and
- food stuffed toys such as Kong or interactive food puzzles.
In a 2020 interview, veterinarian Andrea Tu elaborated, “Think about what a dog would usually do…What is your dog’s job?…most dogs in the wild spend the majority of their time hunting for food, killing food and eating food.” So, eating is a puzzle for them…What we’ve done is put [the dog’s] food in a bowl, and the dog wolfs it down in 30 seconds flat…then has nothing else to do when normally if they were given the chance, they would be spending hours dedicated to the task of food”(13).
Free food in a bowl is boring. If you’re stuck in the same old rut, change how you’re delivering dinner. Try turning dinner into a feast for canine senses, like hunting for food stuffed toys, finding food in a snuffle matt (see the video below), scatter feeding, or bobbing for wieners. Start with obvious hiding places, and gradually make the searches more difficult as your dog’s confidence builds.
Enrichment needn’t be complicated, when you understand how to achieve the biggest impact on a limited budget. Further, Hunt and Vaterlaws-Whiteside recommend the following best practices in environmental enrichment for kennel dogs, service dogs and pet dogs:
- Provide a range of enrichment items, incorporating humans, dogs and objects
- Rotate enrichment activities to maximize the benefits
- Include play and introduce novel items, in novel locations
- In addition to providing stuffed food toys to help dogs settle and relax (14).
Most readers probably aren’t be surprised that exercise is a good off switch for settling down around the home. But this research pains a clearer picture of how to prioritize and rotate the most relaxing enrichment activities. I hope this article inspires you to try at least one new activity to exercise or play with your dog. Let me know how you make out in the comments below.
Learn the next steps in our online Scent Dog Foundation course.
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- Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties
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- Karlee Ainslie (2020). Why is training recall so difficult (tips and tricks). Retrieved from https://fordogssakeyyc.com/2020/02/27/why-is-training-a-recall-so-difficult-tips-and-tricks/?fbclid=IwAR1idIb5ZUZiN96JT8TA7tZH-3u5QWHBjnzpTVcFYFAgCm-Vjh93zrxCNko.
- Anna Burke (2019). How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day? Retrieved from the American Kennel Club at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-much-exercise-does-dog-need/
- Carla Simon (2020). Dinner Dos and Don’ts [Video]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/383476186/b93b014125.
- Rebecca Hunt and Dr Helen Vaterlaws-Whiteside. IAABC Journal, spring 2020. Retrieved from (https://spring2020.iaabcjournal.org/the-effects-of-environmental-enrichment-on-dog-behaviour/
- Jillian Blume (2020) The Top 6 Parenting Mistakes, According to a Veterinarian. Retrieved from https://www.thisdogslife.co/the-top-6-dog-parenting-mistakes-according-to-a-veterinarian/?fbclid=IwAR0-fSVn4dNAMxvlfwpQgG_r7EySsg4Mp4LllWbwSZlklWBooeeoWTlyaRw
- Busy Noses (2020). How To Make a Snuffle Snake. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Jw3ZCr-1WLY