By Dr. Kelsey Woolsey, DVM
What do you do with your dog when going outside for a walk or to play fetch is not an option? Maybe the weather is too cold, too hot, maybe it is smoky and the air quality is unsafe. How do you keep your dog active and mentally stimulated? With enrichment!
There are 5 categories of dog enrichment:
Social enrichment promotes contact with dogs and other species. This type of enrichment may be hard to provide when going outside is not an option. If your dog has a friend that they get along with, consider an indoor play date.
Nutritional enrichment is a great option when stuck indoors. You can use your dog’s normal diet or provide new and exciting foods. Here are some ideas:
Get a new puzzle feeder and fill it with your dog’s normal kibble.
Fill a Kong or lick mat with peanut butter, low fat plain yogurt, canned food, or pumpkin. Kongs and mats can be frozen to increase difficulty.
Provide a novel treat - maybe your dog has never tasted salmon or tuna. Try out a new salmon jerky or freeze dried tuna. If you haven’t offered your dog fruit before, try offering a small slice of apple or a blueberry.
If your dog likes shredding, put his normal diet in a cardboard box for him to shred to get his meal.
Keep an eye on your dog's calorie intake! Use his regular diet when possible. If giving other yummy treats, like peanut butter, make sure to take into account the extra calories your dog will be consuming. If your dog is already overweight, consider only using his regular diet for enrichment.
Occupational enrichment gives your dog a “job” that is both physically and mentally enriching (agility, rally, sent work, playing fetch, etc.). While you may not be able to fit a whole agility course in your living room, you can still practice individual obstacles like a jump or tunnel. Positive training also counts as occupational enrichment. You can teach your dog to “sit” or “down”. Maybe you want to teach them a new trick like “shake” or “roll over”. Dabble in some scent training by hiding your dog’s kibble or treats around the house for him to sniff out.
Need new trick ideas? The AKC website has lists of tricks as well as videos on how to teach them (https://www.akc.org/sports/trick-dog/).
Sensory enrichment is another great option when confined indoors. This type of enrichment involves stimulating your dog’s different senses such as sight, sound, or smell.
Consider playing soft soothing music or nature sounds.
Put on a nature documentary for your dog to watch.
Entice his sense of smell by putting different herbal scents around the house or your dog’s living area (eg. lavender, chamomile, vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, ginger). If your dog enjoys the scent of prey, there are commercially available animal scents.
Physical enrichment may be a struggle when you can’t get outdoors, but be creative!
You can play tug-o-war inside.
Build or purchase a platform for your dog to jump up on.
Improve your dog’s balance by teaching him to use a doggie balance ball.
If you have stairs in your home, toss your dog’s ball up the stairs for him to retrieve.
Keeping your dog mentally and physically enriched not only improves his health and quality of life but reduces unwanted behavior caused by boredom and anxiety. By focusing your dogs' metal and physical energy you can reduce barking, destructive chewing, food searching (counter surfing), excessive licking, and other unwanted behaviors. Don’t let weather extremes or air quality get you and your pup down - implement new enrichment into your routine!