Some of our dogs can comfortably run 25-35 miles per week. This often means that in our apartments, townhomes, and small houses without yards, even with daily walks our dogs may have a lot of pent up energy that you may not know how to handle. More land and more exercise can help, but our dogs need more.
Raising a Shepherd mix puppy in an apartment taught me the value of mental enrichment in dogs. I could walk my shepherd for three miles, and by the end he would be ready to do another three more and I would need a glass of wine. My puppy, however, wanted to keep going. Too much exercise can actually be more harmful than good on a young growing body, so how do we contest with the energy of a puppy?!
Finding Your Dog’s Enrichment
Different dogs like different things. An Australian Shepherd would likely love to herd whatever is available.
This can come out as unwanted behaviors. The Beagle bays at the door nonstop, or the Sheltie nips the children’s heels. These are natural instincts bred into our dogs over generations, and they don’t go away. You may have heard that dogs need jobs. But what does this even mean?
Some of us are providing mental enrichment without even realizing it. Nutritional enrichment is a form of enrichment that uses the dog’s natural instinct to forage for food. Kongs and Slow feeding bowls are both examples that you may already be using. Toys can also be great enrichment but maybe you’re not even sure what type of toy is best for your dog.
When incorporating enrichment in our dog’s lives, you may go through a number of ideas to find what works for your dogs. For Huskies and Terriers, small squeaky balls and stuffed toys with smaller squeaky toys inside may activate the prey drive and exhaust them. For herding breeds, Kong Wobblers or Jolly-Balls may provide a good item to bite and herd as much as they want. It’s best to try a multitude of mental enrichment toys and puzzles to find what your dog likes best. When in doubt, give it a shot and see if it’s up your dog’s alley!
Harder toys should be reserved for dogs who already understand mental enrichment puzzles or they may get frustrated to the point of not bothering with their toy.
Why Should I Provide Mental Enrichment?
Simply put, your dog requires it. Mental enrichment is a key element to a well-rounded animal, whether it be your dog at home, a tiger at the zoo, or a hamster running on a wheel. You may also find that an adequately enriched animal is able to more easily settle down, giving you and your family a reprieve from the endless energy. Mental enrichment is not the end, it is only the beginning. Training, enrichment, and love will help your dog reach their ultimate potential!