Imagine how it would feel if you had to stay in the same place, day in, day out, for most of your life and on your own. How would you pass the time? Wouldn’t it be great if you loved to read, someone left you with a whole library or if you loved watching TV, someone left you with a big screen and some movies. That’s exactly what environment enrichment is all about. Dogs are social creatures- one of the many reasons they have been invited to share our lives. Mostly we want dogs in our lives is because they provide us with companionship and loyalty (unless there’s a better looking dog around). But, because of this lovable trait they can also be difficult to leave home alone.
Environment enrichment can greatly decrease issues such as mindless barking and inappropriate digging and chewing. Aside from that, why wouldn’t you want to give your dog something to occupy their mind while they eagerly wait for your return? Yes, your dog is waiting for you to come home…. all day. Giving your dog something to look forward to doing in your absence is also empowering your dog to be comfortable with you leaving.
As a dog owner it is your responsibility to give your dog mental stimulation as well as physical exercise and environment enrichment is great exercise for their brain. Zoo’s all around the world are getting better and better at doing this for their animals. You are no different, you have an animal on your property and you are responsible for their mental and physical well being. Rest assured that if you do not provide the proper entertainment for your dog you will ‘loose’ some things in the yard or home.
There are so many wonderful things you can do and buy for your dog to enrich their environment. This is the fun part, start off by visiting your local pet shop (please pick one that does not sell puppies). There are many enrichment toys available on the market, buy as many as you can afford, if you are on a budget, invest in one stuffable chew toy, and one treat dispenser- great for dishing out treats (or your dogs dry food) when they nose it around the yard.
You can also leave your dog with raw bones (if their stomach can tolerate) as a replacement for their breakfast. Pigs ears, kangaroo tails, trotters- all of these eatable items will pass the time nicely for your dog. Chewing releases endorphins in dogs, much like exercising does for us, so your dog will feel great and will probably sleep most of the day after this.
Try building your dog a sandpit for them to dig and roll around in. Trust me, it doesn’t need to be fancy, I had four lengths of timber laying around, I dug them in to the ground a little to form a square and filled it with sand. Place some treats on top of the sand, bury some a little way down and bury the best treats even deeper. Dogs dig, and often love doing it, why not give them a place to have a little fun? At the least it will save your garden beds.
Throw a handful of your dogs food or treats around the yard before you leave home. You can even place some in a line where your dog will sniff out a track to find them. This will keep your dog busy for a little while and tired at the end of it. Sniffing and walking uses a high amount of energy, a tired dog is a happy dog with a happy owner.
Each of these ideas will only take a short amount of time and the pay off is huge for you and your dog. When you are enriching your dogs’ environment allow them to watch you do this, they will be beside themselves trying to get out discovering what you have planted in the garden for them. If you combine environment enrichment with a walk before you leave you will have set your dog up for a very pleasant time without you.
The ideas above are only the beginning, be creative and have some fun with environment enrichment. Feel free to comment and share some of your successful ‘home alone’ ideas for other dog owners to read.