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I see a lot of people asking for more ideas for enrichment for their pets, especially on social media platforms. More variety. More ways to entertain their pets. And my question is always:
“Is your pet displaying behaviors that lead you to believe that they’re bored or their needs aren’t being met as well as they could be?”
And the answer is often, “no”.
My next question is, “Then why are you looking for more ideas if what you’re doing right now is what your pet needs?”
Silence. Quizzical brow. And, for some folks, finally the answer of, “Because I feel guilty not doing it. I think that I should be.”
Oh boy, I’ve been there before. The Enrichment Guilt.
A reminder about what enrichment is, and isn’t
In our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, Emily and I adopted the practitioner-friendly definition of enrichment (so that it’s easier to put into practice!), which is: enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s mental, physical, and behavioral needs to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways.
In short, enrichment is about meeting all of an animal’s needs.
Fun games and toys and activities can be a part of that enrichment strategy, but only if they’re actually meeting the needs of the individual. And only the individual can tell us if that’s true through their behavior. We don’t get to decide what does or does not meet their needs.
The enrichment guilt
Enrichment has become a hot topic in the last few years in the pet-owning world. And that’s fantastic! We love it! But with all of those Instagram-worthy pics comes guilt from others wondering if they’re doing enough for their pets. Wondering if their pets aren’t living their best lives because they don’t have a social media-ready enrichment strategy.
I’m here to tell you that you can be released from your enrichment guilt. You do not need an Instagram-worthy enrichment strategy (unless you want to). You do not need to have a ton of variety or new activities or toys for your pet (unless they say otherwise through their behavior). You do not need to search high and low for brand new, never-heard-of-before strategies if your pet’s behavior is saying that their needs are being met. Do what works for you and your individual pet without comparing yourself to everyone else.
But I still feel like I should do more…
I get it. Even with knowing all this I still look at Oso and feel like I should be doing more for him. Guilt doesn’t just dissipate that easily. If you’re struggling to get out of the enrichment guilt spiral, then focus on anticipating future needs.
Here’s what that can look like. Oso is getting older. He’s 9 this year and this is the first year we’ve noticed him starting to feel his age. He’s a big dog and mobility issues are a big deal for someone his size. Plus, he has to go down a few steps to get outside regardless of the door we use and everyone in the house likes him being up on the furniture for snuggles.
Instead of waiting for mobility issues to become a problem, we’re being proactive. We bought stairs and started to teach him how to use those to get up and off of the bed. We’ll be able to use those for the car, too. Next on the list is a sling, for the inevitable day that we have to help him up and down the stairs. After that will likely be cooperative care training for old-man procedures that the vet will help us pinpoint.
Because his current needs are met well on a day-to-day basis, we’re focusing on what he’ll need in the future and preparing for it now. And that assuages the enrichment guilt that I feel while making sure that I’m still being productive and working smarter, not harder.
- If you’re on the hunt for new activities for your pet, ask yourself if it’s because you’re actually seeing behavior that suggests your pet is bored or needs tweaks to their enrichment plan or if it’s for you.
- If it’s for you, dig deeper into why you’re looking for new activities. Is it because of enrichment guilt?
- If so, I release you from your enrichment guilt! Did it work? If yes, awesome. If not, then consider your pet’s future needs and start preparing for them.
- Professionals: if you’re ready to take your enrichment game with your clients to the next level, be sure to join our waitlist for our upcoming Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification MasterClass: https://petharmonytraining.com/enrichmentframework
2 thoughts on “Combatting That Enrichment Guilt”
In your book you mentioned teaching a reactive dog a flight cue. However, it is hard to find any other information on that idea. Can you direct me to a place where I can get more information on this. I think I have a pretty good idea what it means but would like some guidance.
Great question, Gwen! There are a lot of different techniques out there for teaching an animal to move away (e.g. Emergency U-Turns, Treat & Retreat), but our favorite is our own version that we’ve modified from our favorite parts of other protocols and we call “Flight Training” and we use a “flight cue”. We’re in the middle of a Flight Training Course for professionals that will be available for sale on our website after the course finishes or we’d be happy to set up sessions with you if you’re looking to work on this with your own pet!
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