Enrichment for dogs is not just code for exhausting them until they're worn out. True enrichment doesn't just work their body, it works their brain as well and it is vital in order to have a happy, well balanced and engaged dog. All breeds can benefit from enrichment but it is particularly important for Australian Shepherds who are highly intelligent and need to regularly flex that "mental muscle" as much as they do the physical ones.
Dogs may be beloved family house pets now but their ancestors lived in the wild and needed to use all of their senses while hunting and scavenging in order to survive. Though we now provide the creature comforts for our pets, that natural instinct still exists and it needs to be acknowledged and addressed on a regular basis with the use of canine enrichment toys and activities. If your dog doesn't get enough enrichment he may become bored, frustrated, and even aggressive and that can lead to destructive behaviors.
Of course, all dogs are not created equal and so different breeds may require different kinds or amounts of enrichment. Fortunately there is a wide range of canine enrichment activities that you can use to engage your dog. Something as simple as going for a walk off-leash in a safe environment can go a long way toward making him feel stimulated as he can sniff, dig, and explore to his heart's content.
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If any breed benefits from and loves canine enrichment toys and activities—it's Aussies!
A particularly effective form of enrichment for dogs is creating a DIY obstacle course to challenge your dog. This is similar to agility training and can be especially effective for Aussie's, who love to learn new commands and conquer challenges. You can use everything from plastic safety cones to pop up tunnels to a pole stretched between stacks of books to provide obstacles for your dog to figure out.
Enrichment can involve everything from spending time around other people and dogs, to puzzles that encourage him to use his brain, to activities that stimulate his senses and involve physical exercise to puzzles or toys that revolve around feeding or distributing treats. Canine enrichment toys that require your dog to solve a puzzle in order to get a treat or get his food are a perfect way to provide mental stimulation with a built in reward that makes it fun.
One of the easiest canine enrichment activities is nose work or dog scent training, which encourages your dog to use his naturally enhanced sense of smell.
Dogs have a much keener sense of smell than we do and they use it to learn about their surroundings, so sniffing is extremely important for them. You can encourage the use of this vital sense by playing hide and seek and letting your dog sniff you out, hiding treats in toys or just giving him extra time to sniff during your daily walks.
For something more challenging you can either create or buy one of the more popular canine enrichment toys, a snuffle mat. Snuffle mats are simply plastic mats with strips of fabric, usually soft fleece, tied to them to mimic a patch of grass. The idea is to hide treats within the tufts of fabric and let your dog sniff them out. You can also provide a similar type of challenge by simply hiding some treats or food in a rolled up towel for the same type of sniff and hunt response.
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A Staffordshire Bull Terrier having fun chasing the rope lure at the end of a flirt pole.
For high energy breeds like the Australian Shepherd one of the best canine enrichment activities is the flirt pole. This is basically a giant version of the traditional string and stick cat toy. Again, you can purchase or make a flirt pole, which simply involves attaching a piece of rope to a long stick and adding a lure on the end of the rope. You then simply stand in one place and wave the pole causing the rope and lure to move around and encouraging your dog to catch it.
This is particularly appealing for owners who may have physical limitations that prevent them from running around after their dog as all of the activity is on the dog's part. You can also enhance this type of enrichment for dogs by including sit and wait commands, which will not only engage your dog mentally but also help to rein in his enthusiasm so that he doesn't end up jumping directly on you.
By far the most popular type of canine enrichment toys are those designed for stuffing, like Kongs or West Paw Tux toys. These are durable rubber toys with a hollow opening that you can stuff with your dog's favorite treat. You can even put your dog's Kong in the freezer to increase the challenge. Dogs love to work at these toys and depending on how much you fill them they can keep your dog occupied for 20 minutes or more.
Similar to Kongs, you can use puzzle toys or puzzle feeders as canine enrichment activities that can actually serve a dual purpose. Not only do these feeders stimulate your dog's natural hunting and scavenging instinct, but they can also work to deter eating too fast, which can cause health issues.
There is nothing worse than a dog that is unengaged and full of pent up energy. Enrichment for dogs is the perfect way to prevent this from happening while also strengthening the bond between you and your pet. As an Australian Shepherd lover, you'll find that regular enrichment is a necessity with this active, intelligent breed so make sure your Aussie gets all of the activity he needs to keep you both happy.
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