This Valentine’s Day, show your dog love by giving her the gift of enrichment.
Do you want to give your dog something truly special for Valentine’s Day? Give him or her the gift of enrichment. Enrichment is easy, inexpensive, and will make your dog happy.
Here are a few ideas:
- Take your dog on an extra-long walk where she gets to set the pace. Allow her to sniff whatever she wants for as long as she wants, and even let her decide which direction the walk will go. (When you come to an intersection or trail junction, stop and watch your dog—she might indicate with her nose or body which direction seems the most interesting.)
- Buy your dog a package of high-value doggy treats and hide them (maybe not the whole bag, though!) around the house and let your dog enjoy a scavenger hunt. You provide “hot and cold” clues with the intonation of your voice or use pointing gestures if your dog gets stuck.
- Play hide and seek with your dog around the house or in the yard. Ask your dog to sit/stay and then go find a hiding place—up high, down low, under a blanket on the couch. Call out the release cue and wait for her to find you. If it isn’t scary for your dog, you can jump out and say “boo.”
- Freeze peanut butter and blueberries into a Kong, or freeze a jar of sweet potato baby food and let your dog go to town.
- Buy your dog a food puzzle or, better yet, make one from scratch. Click here for a few homemade food puzzle ideas or do a quick google search for “dog food puzzles.”
The National Research Council defines enrichment as “a method to enhance animal well-being by providing animals with sensory and motor stimulation, through structures and resources that facilitate the expression of species-typical behaviours and promote psychological well-being through physical exercise, manipulative activities and cognitive challenges according to species-specific characteristics,” (from Bekoff and Pierce 2019). The goals of enrichment are to enhance physical and psychological well-being. That’s a fancy way of saying: make your dog happy by enlivening her senses and giving her something interesting to do, ideally with a tasty food reward as the cherry on top.
A few cautions about enrichment activities:
Every dog is different.
Some dogs will thrive on physical enrichments such as hikes or long walks, games of chase, or playing with other dogs at the park. Other dogs thrive on social enrichment. Their most favorite thing to do might be to cuddle up with you on the couch while you read a book, or maybe they enjoy being rubbed and scratched all over in a gentle doggy massage. And still, other dogs really enjoy things related to food and to their sense of taste.
Be on the lookout for signs of frustration.
Some puzzle toys and games can become frustrating if a dog has trouble figuring them out. Watch for frustration, and be on the lookout for problems such as a mismatch between your dog’s physical shape and the type of puzzle or toy you offer. If your dog is struggling with something and no longer having fun, offer an alternative.
Watch for signs of boredom.
Some dogs get bored easily. If you have family and friends with dogs, set up a food puzzle and toy exchange.
Make enrichment something you do not just for Valentine’s Day, but every day of the year.
For more enrichment ideas, check out Shay Kelly’s book Canine Enrichment: The Book Your Dog Needs You to Read or, if you are on Facebook, visit the Shay Kelly’s Canine Enrichment page. You can get hundreds of cool ideas and share your own. Canine Enrichment for the Real World, by Allie Bender and Emily Strong, is another excellent resource.
The internet is a fantastic resource for dog enrichment ideas.
(Cats need and like enrichment, too. Once again, you can simply google “cat enrichment” and find hundreds of links with ideas. Here’s one to get you and your cat started.)
Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce. Unleashing Your Dog: Giving Your Canine Companion The Best Life Possible. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2019.