Enrichment Adventures for Dogs: Reduce Stress and Improve Behavior
Every dog needs to keep in touch with the art of being a dog. Enrichment adventures help your dog to be calmer, more agreeable, and easier to train. In this article, find practical ideas for adventure outings both you and your dog can enjoy!
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We expect a lot from our dogs today. We often expect them to be balanced, without always making sure they have sufficient balance in their lives. Like us, dogs benefit from some kind of regular activity that allows them to destress. Sadly, during our busy lives, these kinds of spirit-renewing activities often get pushed to the back burner.
Why is Enrichment for Dogs Important?
Day to day life has stresses, and stresses build up over time. Undischarged tension can lead not only to negative health effects, but behavioral ones. Is your dog grumpy, testy, lacking self control? Sure, he likely needs some training, but he may also need to purge excess stress and tension from his body on a more regular basis.
Lapdog, suburban watchdog, high-flying competition dog, serious working dog – all dogs need regular, adequate time to kick back, cut loose and immerse themselves in the age-old art of being a dog.
And if you think that your pampered pet is too blissfully comfy to build up stress and tension, or that your star performance dog gets all the stimulation he needs from training, classes, and trialing – think again. Boredom and routine can lead to stress-related behaviors (ever had cabin fever?), and heavy training demands create the need for equally-intense, pressure-free burn-off time.
Benefits of Canine Enrichment Adventures
I’m a dog trainer who works with behavior problems. When designing behavior improvement plans, I frequently recommend the dog gets not only extra physical and mental exercise, but dedicated “be a dog” time, in addition to the usual training and behavior work.
Because while, on the surface, “be a dog” time looks a lot like simple exercise, it’s really more akin to spiritual enrichment, and as such, is in a class by itself. It’s not only a path for releasing stress, it’s a road inward – a way to remember, reach in and touch that inner dogness that can get neglected in modern life.
Call them what you like: enrichment adventures, sniff-and-explore outings, “just be a dog” days. Interspersing this kind of activity into your dog’s routine will enhance any behavior-improvement program, regardless of the type of problem. And if your dog’s behavior is A-OK? Then adventurous enrichment outings will help keep it that way!
Tailor Enrichment Adventures to Your Individual Dog
How often is often enough to reset your dog’s balance? It might be once or twice a week, or once or twice a month, depending on the dog and the intensity and novelty of the activity.
What kind of adventures will reset your dog’s stress level? Again, it depends – on your dog’s day-to-day lifestyle (is she a hard-training/working dog, or does she rule the house from the couch?), on where you live, on any physical limitations (yours and your dog’s), and on what’s available to you.
What qualifies as a balance-restoring enrichment activity? Don’t worry; this isn’t some new chore you’ll have to grit your teeth and gear up for! Enrichment adventures and activities are typically fun, easy (so easy they often get overlooked), and can be as unique as you and your dog. The key points are that they should allow your dog to experience joy, adventure, the thrill of just doing “dog things” – running, leaping, climbing, sniffing, investigating, giving over to her very dogness.
Enrichment Adventure Ideas for You and Your Dog
Here’s a sampling of ideas to get you started on your next enrichment adventure:
Go somewhere new. We humans are nothing if not creatures of habit! Do you take your dog on the same walk day after day? Spice up your dog’s walk by going somewhere different – a new-to-your-dog neighborhood, park, field, shopping center. My oldest dog loves when we break from routine and walk through our small town’s downtown shopping section. Why? Mostly because it’s different, I suspect. As the saying goes, “a change is as good as a rest”!
Turn any walk into an Adventure Walk. Encourage your dog to sniff that hole, check out that tunnel, jump that log (or curb), and climb that rock, concrete wall, or park bench! Let your imagination see the possibilities in everyday obstacles. Your dog will love it!
Get wet. There’s something ever so satisfying about playing in water. And you don’t have to live with a Labrador to enjoy it. If your dog swims and fetches, play water retrieves. Not a retriever? Then run with your dog through puddles (or teach him to run through himself!). Float toys or treats in a kiddie pool for your dog to fish out. Play “catch the water” with your garden hose. Be creative, and most of all, have fun!
Take your dog on a day trip. Live near a beach? The mountains? A nice state park? Take your dog along and let her run, sniff, dig, and explore to her heart’s content. If it’s not appropriate or safe for your dog to be completely off-leash there, buy or make a long line to let your dog drag while she explores. Be sure to take water along, and while this should not be treated as a training session, do carry some good treats to reinforce recalls!
Being a dog can be a great life. Making sure your dog stays in frequent touch with the joys of being a dog will help her stay more balanced, even-keeled, and ready for what life sends her way. And along the way, you may find these adventures help enrich and destress your life, as well!
Julie Cantrell BSc, CDBC (bio)
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