Dogs are not humans.
While this statement seems obvious, humans often expect their dogs to be more people-
like than dog-like. Often this creates frustration for the human and the dog. Typically, the needs and wants of the human owner and the dog can go out of balance, leaving the dog bored and frustrated without enough mental or physical stimulation or leaving the human frustrated and angry that their dog acts like a "wild animal," chewing up furniture, barking constantly, and disobedient.
When we bring a dog into our homes, we must understand that we are setting up a
relationship. Both dogs and humans have needs and wants, expectations, and different ways of communicating them.
A human's needs and wants for their dog are usually about safety, manners, being a
companion, responding to cues, being friendly, and protection. A dog's needs are to do with
things biological, emotional, social, and cognitive (mental). Dogs need some independence,
safety, stability, choice, sleep, food, exercise, and bonding. Some dog behaviors, even ones
humans generally don't like, are necessary and serve a function for the dog.
Enrichment can serve as a bridge between the dog's and the owner's needs and wants.
Also, consider that a dog whose needs and wants are being met is likelier to learn new things
The differences in what dogs and humans want and need can lead to what owners say
are "problem behaviors." By considering the needs and wants of the human and dog, we can
begin to see the problem behavior for what it is and recognize a goal behavior for training. By
addressing the need for enrichment, it is possible to increase the effectiveness of the training.
Training alone will often be largely unsuccessful in reaching a goal behavior without adequate
enrichment. Isolating the behavior of a dog becoming aroused when guests arrive at the front
door, for example, is more challenging to address by a trainer to develop a solution for that
specific occasion without also addressing the need for the dog's enrichment during the rest of
Commonly, dog trainers hear complaints from dog owners about their dog pulling on a leash, destroying the house, barking, not coming when called, or mouthing them. These complaints are generally normal dog behaviors that the dog might classify as needs. For example, when pulling on the leash, a dog needs to run, sniff, change direction, and choice. The dog's behavior is a result of self-enriching.
Living with humans causes conflict for dogs' natural desires to roam, scavenge, hunt,
protect resources (such as food dishes), play, and denning. A lack of opportunity for them to
practice these natural behaviors can lead to incessant barking, inappropriate chewing,
hyperactivity, licking, and more.
Researchers suggest that a pet dog's day should consist of 50 percent sleep, 30 percent
rest, and 20 percent activity. Considering the dog's needs, sleep, food, water, and exercise are biological needs. In addition, the dog's social and cognitive needs are met through bonding and play activities, and the emotional requirement is fulfilled by stability and consistency.
Once the dog's needs are addressed, we can also fulfill some of their wants. This allows
owners to redirect behaviors they may dislike at certain times to times when the behaviors are
A jumping and barking dog, for example, needs exercise. In addition, the dog wants
social interaction. Enrichment might include allowing more time off leash for running, barking, and sprinting. Owners might want to set up play dates with other dog owners. Enrichment is a strategy to manage the problem of jumping and barking. In some cases, management is enough to satisfy the dog and owner, but in the least, management can help set the dog up for success by training an alternate behavior. In this case, if the dog is getting opportunities to run and play, so their needs are being met, we will more likely be able to train the dog to sit politely or go to a mat when guests arrive.
An excellent option for dog enrichment is walking. Walking is good for humans, too.
Walks provide novelty, stimulation for the senses, exercise for the body, bonding, and social
opportunities, for both humans and dogs. Even if a dog has a fenced-in yard to run and explore in, this lack of novelty can leave the dog under-stimulated. For dogs that go on walks, following the same route may not be enough each time.
There are three different types of dog walks. The potty break walk is just that, to let
your dog relieve themselves without too much exploration. This would not be enough for daily
exercise. Next, there is the "sniff" walk or the dog-led walk, where the dog leads the human and gets to explore a multitude of acceptable places. Exploring can be fun and tiring for the dog but potentially dull for the human. Lastly, the human-led "exercise" walk or jog can stimulate the mind and body of both dogs and humans. A con here is that dogs can get bored with not being able to explore with their marvelous noses. Also, not all humans can keep pace with their dogs and vice versa. Rather than always choosing one type of walk, choosing different walks on different days is further enrichment.
Play offers another enrichment tool. Object play uses toys or puzzles, frequently
changed, to add novelty, unpredictability, and complexity and strengthen stimulation in the
dog. Play with other dogs can develop and enhance the use and recognition of social signals
among dogs. Play with humans is also essential to create or increase bonding. Proper play
offers much enrichment, and play can be as much of a reward as a treat for some dogs.
However, play with humans should be avoided where children are concerned because of the
risk of injury from grabbing, pulling, or misreading a dog's body signals. "Roughhousing" is also discouraged.
Even if your dog gets enough physical enrichment, mental enrichment is just as
significant. Often a lack of mental stimulation is where problems often develop between
humans and adolescent dogs. As mentioned earlier, puzzles are useful enrichment tools. The
mental stimulation is so significant that researchers have shown that dogs will often continue
working with puzzles even after finding the treat reward. In addition, a simple puzzle can be
stimulating, such as a snuffle mat, where food is hidden in something like a shag rug.
Many different types of dog puzzles are available to suit a dog's size, experience, and
the owner's needs. Searching the internet for "dog puzzle" will yield many options for buying
products or videos demonstrating how to turn standard household objects into puzzle games.
For example, on awesomedogacademy.com, you will find enrichment-related videos.
Games like hide n' seek with a toy, indoors or out, can be great fun. Also, if you have not
heard of it, DogTV is a channel of dedicated shows designed and built for dogs, right down to
the color balance used and the sound editing. It is available on cable in the Tupelo area. Do
note that DogTV, in my experience, is not for all dogs. Enrichment should not cause stress for
the dog, and some dogs may react to seeing other dogs running across the tv screen or barking. Try it but supervise it to understand if the channel is an option for you.
Digging is another natural dog behavior that often opposes human desires. For example,
we don't want our dogs to dig up the flower bed, but we can't get them to stop. Humans are
good at saying "no" but we are not always good at saying, "Do this instead." To help your dog
get its natural desire to dig under control, consider making a dig box, like a sandbox with buried toys for them to hunt. The flower beds may flourish if you regularly encourage the dog to dig here instead of there by rewarding them with toys and/or treats for their finds in the dig box.
Lastly, remember dogs want some variation in enrichment activities. The more novel the
activity, the more stimulating it can be. I recommend writing down an enrichment plan until
variability becomes a habit. Ideally, some simple, short enrichment may be best in the morning
for those who work during the day, and a more time-consuming activity would be better in the
evenings. Try to give dogs at least two enrichment activities during the day, with the most time-consuming activities saved for the weekends.
A weekly sample schedule of twice-daily activity may look like this.
Monday- Exploratory walk, fetch
Tuesday – Puzzle toy, hide n' seek
Wednesday – Exploratory walk, puzzle toy
Thursday – hide n' seek, fetch
Friday – Exploratory walk, puzzle toy
Saturday – Hike or exercise walk, stuffed Kong toy
Sunday – Dig time, DogTv