Dogs are intelligent, observant, and unique individuals. Part of the joy of sharing our lives with them is getting to know who they are, exploring their preferences, and offering them opportunities to enjoy activities that are tailored especially for them. With the goal of getting to know your dog better, explore some of the activities below to enrich your dog’s life and to learn more about what they love!
Exercise & Social Play: We all know the importance of exercising our dogs, but there is a wealth of options outside of our normal on-leash neighborhood walks! If your dog LOVES to sniff, dedicate time for exploration walks and “sniffaris”, rather than taking them for a regular walk around the block. During exploration walks, dress your dog in a secure back-clip harness and a longline, take them to an empty field, and let them direct the walk, sniffing to their heart’s content! You’ll be amazed at how tired your dog is after a good nose-guided walk. For dogs who love water and leap into every puddle, explore the indoor dog pools that are in your area and let them burn energy in clean water! For the dogs who pull like a freight train on their normal walks, look for local fully fenced rental spaces where you can take your dog to run off-leash safely. And finally, if your dog enjoys interacting with other dogs, you might explore coordinating playdates with friend and family dogs who are a good match for your pup. You can also explore enrolling your dog in Enrichment Day Care, where Enrichment Specialists who are trained in canine body language, behavior, and positive management techniques, can support safer social experiences.
Remember, there is a wide spectrum of sociability for dogs and not all dogs will enjoy playing with other dogs or new dogs in novel environments, and that’s OK! For the dogs who do enjoy social play, offering them outlets for that social interest is important (and a great way to tire them out). Try some new things to find what your dog loves, no two dogs’ exercise/social needs are exactly the same!
Food & Treats: Exploring your dog’s preferences for food and treats is a fun and enriching activity. Create a “Barkuterie” or doggy charcuterie board for your pup with small pieces of different dog treats, yummy dog spreads, canned dog food, and dog-safe foods (like blueberries and carrots) then watch them sniff through their selections. Does your dog immediately eat everything? Do they sniff each item carefully before trying them? Do they eat some items and leave others? It’s amazing to see their personalities shine as they discover their preferences. It also gives you the opportunity to discover their preferences outside of training sessions, so that you have a clear gauge of what they’ll be most motivated to work for. Make note of these items in order from favorite to least favorite, then use the best goodies in small quantities to reward your dog during training. You can also use this new information to make the next activity even more exciting!
Interactive Enrichment: Offering our dogs puzzles and treat toys is an excellent way to meet their mental and emotional needs. As distinct individuals, however, dogs will absolutely have preferences about the types of enrichment they enjoy the most. Does your dog enjoy sniffing and scavenging or ripping and tearing? By trying different types of enrichment, you can get a feel for what is functional for you and fun for your pup! Snuffle mats offer an opportunity to sniff and scavenge. Toppls and Kongs can be filled (and frozen) with any number of tasty items and are excellent for licking and nibbling. Under supervision, toilet paper tubes, cardboard boxes, paper bags or even a head of lettuce with treats inside can offer an opportunity for your dog to rip and shred objects in a safer, directed way. Providing a variety of enrichment items throughout the week helps to keep dogs mentally engaged and promotes relaxation, a win-win for all parties involved! Does your dog like to chase? Look for a “flirt pole” to play with. Does your dog like to dig? Consider getting them a sand box this summer! Offer your dog opportunities to express their natural behaviors and learn more about what they love!
Carla Dusel, CPDT-KA
Operations & Behavior Advisor
Barkley Ventures Franchising, LLC