How to Use Environmental Enrichment to Benefit Your Pet

September 8, 2014

enviro-enrich-kona-gallagherBy Linda Cole

The best way to create behavioral problems is to keep an animal caged up inside a home or at a zoo with nothing exciting to occupy their time. Environmental enrichment grew from a need to give zoo animals a more interesting and stimulating place to live that would improve their mental attitude as well as their physical wellbeing. It’s a concept that can easily be used to benefit bored dogs and cats.

A regular routine is important for pets. They like knowing “what’s next.” However, adding different things into the mix periodically gives them something new to look forward to. We take vacations, go to the movies, entertain guests, read, listen to music, and find other activities to break up our normal routine. While many dog owners include their pet on getaways where dogs are allowed, cats are usually left at home. Enriching your pet’s environment is not that difficult to do, and well worth the time and effort when your pet is stimulated by new discoveries. Even dogs and cats like to do something different once in awhile.

I ran across a video of a dog listening to his owner playing a guitar. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth and he was grinning as he listened. But he was also bobbing his head to the music. As soon as the music stopped, the dog closed his mouth, stopped moving his head, and gave a look that said, “Why did you stop?” As soon as his owner began strumming, the dog bobbed his head and grinned to show his appreciation. Most pets enjoy listening to music, as long as it isn’t too loud. Some dogs and cats like to listen to the radio, which can enrich their environment.

Environmental enrichment is about introducing something new to your pet’s enviro-enrich-liz-westsurroundings to stimulate his mind and break up a boring routine. Instead of giving your dog a bunch of toys he doesn’t play with, find the ones he enjoys the most and rotate them every couple of weeks. A toy that brings out their natural instinct to hunt, stalk and attack is more likely to get and keep his attention.

Move a table or add a shelf in front of a window and hang a bird feeder outside where your cat can see it to give her some sensory stimulation. Tie an appropriate sized toy for a cat or dog to a fishing pole, then give it a cast and reel it in, making sure to let your pet catch his prey now and then so he doesn’t become frustrated. Give your cat a brown paper sack to attack.

Dogs love to play with an empty soda bottle because it makes a crackling and crunching sound. Make sure the bottle is washed out, and remove the label, cap and ring before giving it to your dog. Pick the bottle up when you aren’t there to supervise your dog. Dogs that like to chew can easily ingest pieces of the plastic.

When walking your dog, change up the route you normally take so he has a chance to take in new sights, smells and sounds. Buy a harness and teach your cat how to walk on a leash, then take her for walks where she can poke around under bushes. A cat that doesn’t normally go outside can be scared at first, so introduce her slowly to the harness, leash and outside world, and be patient. If she’s stressing out, you aren’t enriching her environment.

Make mealtime more interesting by hiding food around the house so your dog or cat has to hunt for it. Just remember where you hid food in case your pet misses some. I like to take a handful of CANIDAE treats outside and toss them in the grasenviro-enrich-taros for the dogs to find when they’re sniffing around.

We provide our pets with the basics, like water, shelter, vet care and a quality food like CANIDAE. Enriching their environment helps stimulate the mind, which can improve their overall mental health and ward off boredom that can lead to bad behavior. Teaching your pet commands or tricks, or participating in dog sports or cat agility will also provide environmental enrichment for your pet. Increasing the amount of play time is another way.

If your dog or cat looks bored, he probably is. Spice up his life by giving him something new and interesting to do. Be creative, keep it simple and safe, and stimulate the senses. By giving your pet a chance to use the instincts he was born with, you’ll challenge his mind and his body.

Top photo by Kona Gallagher/Flickr
Middle photo by Liz West/Flickr
Bottom photo by Taro the Shiba Inu/Flickr

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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