Happy December, everyone!
It is time for our final training challenge of this year!
This month, we challenge you to explore enrichment opportunities outside of the foraging category.
One of the questions we get asked often is, “What about non-food related enrichment?” And this month, we challenge you to dive in, look at some of the other categories of enrichment, and spend some time focusing on there.
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First, what else is there?
And the answer is, so much!
While foraging is a way that many creatures on this planet spend their time (finding and acquiring food to sustain oneself is pretty important to staying alive!), it isn’t the only thing that creatures need to survive. There is so much more when we are looking to help our pet thrive.
In Canine Enrichment for the Real World Allie and Emily outlined 14 categories of enrichment, and while foraging is one of them, it is only 1 of 14!
So, let’s take a gander at the other 13!
A few weeks back, Allie wrote a stellar blog article, Dog Enrichment Categories Explained where she dives into each of the categories, gives examples, and inspiration. If you’re looking for a more in-depth description of each of these categories, make sure you check that out.
For reference, here are the 14 categories:
- Health and Veterinary
- Physical Exercise
- Sensory Stimulation
- Species-Typical Behaviors
- Social Interaction
- Mental Exercise
And of course, we need to give a shout-out to agency as well!
Whoa! There are so many options! But what does my dog need?
Now that we’ve briefly listed the categories of enrichment, the next question people most often ask is, “What enrichment should I use with my dog?”
Which is a great question, but one that frankly, I can’t answer for you without asking you a litany of questions and some trial and eval.
There are so many factors that go into creating each individual’s enrichment plan. I have two dogs in my family, that have lived in 4 houses, in 3 states. With each move, they have different needs. With development, age, environment, location, and health their needs have changed.
Allie discusses a couple of practical ways to explore and find what your dog needs in this blog, so make sure that you check out that blog before continuing! She went into much more depth than I will go into here, and it also includes a link to our “Are Needs Being Met? Checklist” to help guide you throughout the process of identifying your dog’s needs!
Once you have an idea of where you want to focus, then you start crafting a plan!
Start with a goal, and then ask yourself, “How can I achieve this?”
It may be something like:
“How can I help my pet be more independent?”
“How can I help my pet better self-regulate and calm?”
“How can I help my pet get their extra energy out?”
And from there, you trial and eval.
Of course, we’ll use Griffey as an example.
Griffey has a bad back and has developed pretty intense allergies over the past couple of years. If you have heard me tell the story of Griffey, you know that we’ve tackled many challenges throughout his time with our family. We’ve worked on big responses to other dogs, discomfort around strange humans, being comfortable home alone, building lilypads of safety in the world, and generally trusting that the world isn’t full of scary monsters.
And while there are overarching things that living creatures need (see the 14 categories of enrichment), how we met those needs shifted and changed through each of those stages of our journey.
At this point, foraging is the smallest subset of Griffey’s plan. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine that doesn’t take much time, energy, or bandwidth from us. But we still utilize food in a lot of areas because it’s easy and effective. We are constantly teaching him new things, and for that, we may opt to utilize food rather than something else.
So, for now, our focus is on meeting his health and vet needs, both as they are now, and how we predict what they will be in the future.
Let’s look at some of the ways we’ve adjusted our plans in order to better meet his needs outside of foraging:
*Disclaimer: As mentioned above, each family and pet’s enrichment plan is unique to them and their situation. The details of Griffey’s enrichment plan shared below have been determined and developed with the help of Team Griffey, which includes many professionals with specialties (both medical and behavioral). None of the details below are intended as directions for your situation or may even be relevant to your pet. Work with the appropriate professional when developing a plan for health or behavior challenges to make sure that your plan is effective, sustainable, and helping you.*
Health and Vet
We’ve established with some INCREDIBLE vets to make sure that his health and veterinary needs are taken care of. This includes scheduling time with our vet so that she can become his friend before we need to do the icky things to him. We also have worked with our vet to develop a medication protocol for those visits that are just going to stink and an allergy medication regimen that takes his current skillset and self into account.
*Adding Agency* – Working on Care with Consent with the wonderful and amazing Sara McLoudrey, so that Griffey can communicate when he’s ready for things, and when he needs a break. Sara has a great Instagram here!
With the direction of the veterinarian, we developed a bath regime to help with his discomfort.
*Adding Agency* – We worked with Griffey to make sure he was driving the bus during bath time. We swung just a bit too far, and now, we can barely keep him out of the shower 😀
We switched from a kibble-based diet to a canned food diet to manage the storage mites (one of Griffey’s most extreme allergy triggers). This means we also had to find different shelf-stable treats to station around the house in our treat jars since kibble was no longer an option.
*Adding Agency* – Griffey and Laika’s stomachs are good when we rotate through different flavors of the same food, so they get to pick which of the blends they get for their meals.
We do a lot of tug in the house. Grasses are another one of his big triggers, so during certain times of year, we spend more time inside than out.
*Adding Agency* – He gets to tell me when he’s ready to continue playing, when he needs a break, and when he needs a quick game of tug RIGHT NOW.
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We have window film up in the front room, and keep sound masking on throughout the day. After this most recent move, it took us about 2 weeks to get everything set up, and ooohweeee did it make a difference in his ability to settle.
You can find many options for window film to meet your aesthetic.
*Adding Agency* – We also provide quiet locations throughout the house so that he doesn’t HAVE to listen to the sound masking if he doesn’t want to.
We moved into a location that has two homes in it, and the other tenant has a dog. With Griffey’s discomfort around other dogs, we put 3 layers of barriers in place and a communication system so that we can feel comfortable that the only time they will have visual access to each other, they will be supervised. We are laying down rugs/yoga mats/traction mats on all the slippery surfaces so we don’t need to worry about him slipping out.
We have safe spaces peppered throughout the house, and gave Griffey a refresher on The Flight Cue when we moved this latest time. The window film and sound masking also apply here.
*Adding Agency* – He has lots of safe spaces to choose from and ways to move away from his stressors. Both mom and dad are here to support him, so he gets to take his pick the majority of the time.
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Sniff walks, destruction, digging, and bed building are all common activities in our house.
*Adding Agency* – Through the “Do You Wanna…” game, I can let him pick what activity he wants to participate in.
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We have options for various puzzle toys, sniff activities, scatter feeding, destructibles, and more. The most common ones in our house these days are licking opportunities, like lick mats, toppls, and kongs to help channel some of his licking and grooming time toward something other than himself.
*Adding Agency* – He gets to pick the format that he gets his food in most days.
He gets the opportunity to have time with my partner, myself, and Laika throughout the day. My partner and I facilitate play sessions with the dogs, and we make sure we carve out time to just snuggle and be present with both dogs.
*Adding Agency* – Again, this is where the “Do you wanna…” game comes in super handy!
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Through puzzle toys, play with Laika, and our Care with Consent training, Griffey uses that noggin quite a bit! I also keep a small dish of treats available on the kitchen counter so that throughout the day, while I’m waiting for things to finish cooking or reheating, I can easily do a quick little training session with him.
*Adding Agency* – Griffey gets to opt in or opt out of every single one of our training sessions. If he opts out, then he gets to choose what activity he does want through the “Do you wanna…” game.
We worked hard on this one, and it’s a culmination of so many other things like security, calming, and more.
*Adding Agency* – He gets to choose how close or how far he is from us. Sometimes, he needs a little extra love and support, and that’s okay.
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This, like independence, is a culmination of lots of little changes in other categories. Under this, I also include our home cleaning routine to manage his allergies, which changed drastically over the last year.
We work on this all the time, and we have many routines in place to work on calming and self-regulation for him. This also includes many things from other categories coming together to create that restful environment for him. And, I’m proud to say, it was clear during this last move that he has the greatest skillset of anyone in the home at this 😀 Make sure to check out Episode 5 of Enrichment for the Real World for a deeper dive into the Calming category!
*Adding Agency* – He runs this show, we are just there to support him.
And keep in mind, this is always evolving. His plan 3 years ago looked VERY different than it does today, and it looks very different than it will 3 years from now.
- Review the 14 categories of enrichment and determine where you’d like to spend your focus. There are 13 categories aside from foraging to choose from!
- Although we’re talking about non-food enrichment ideas, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use food as a tool. There are many activities that I listed above that I initially trained Griffey to do using food. Determine if training with food will get you further faster in the category you chose and if so, go for it! Non-foraging enrichment doesn’t necessarily mean that food isn’t involved.
- It’s time for trial and eval. We only know if the activity or idea we chose is the right one after we implement it and observe the effects. Put your plan into action and observe how your pet responds. You can then tweak from there!