January 2024 Enrichment Challenge: Creating Your Enrichment Plan

I know that the new year is often a time that people take a beat to focus on what matters to them, and for many of our readers, clients, and fellow professionals, that’s their pet! So, this year, if you’re finding that you maybe wore yourself out last year, or that you’re ready to streamline the things you and your pet are doing to make time for the things that fill your cups, let’s get going! 


1. Know Your Enrichment Versus Your Entertainment 

Both matter. Both are important, but for things to be streamlined, simple, and effective, we need to know which is which! There are times where we are trying to meet our pet’s needs. There are times where we are trying to empower them to perform species-typical behaviors in healthy, safe and appropriate ways. There are times when we have a whole lot invested in it working. I’m investing a whole lot of time, energy, effort and resources, both emotional and financial, in Griffey’s physical wellbeing right now. It better be making a difference! 

And then there is a time and a place for entertainment. It brings me complete glee and joy when I open the box of stashed toys we have, dump them on the floor, and let our dogs “go shopping”. It’s entertaining for me, my partner, my dogs, and hopefully for our social media audience 😀 (Check it out here!) But I also know that that isn’t an activity that is going to help my dogs tomorrow or next week. It is just fun for us at the moment. 


2. Does Everything Have to be Strategic?

Of course not! I mean, when our clients come to us, they are most often tired, exhausted, fed up, overworked, stressed beyond belief and they need some relief, so we take an extremely strategic approach. Because the moment when you’re trigger stacked to the heavens isn’t the time to chase the shinies, it is the time to find one or two things that make a big, big difference and leverage everything you can out of them. 

But if you and your pet are looking to have some fun, to explore options and activities together, then play to your heart’s desire! 

And then there are the times where I really just need them occupied, quiet, and out of the way. Griffey has decided that he is much better at “applying” and “smearing” plaster on the wall than we are–and while I wish he could help with some home renos, we can’t be having him licking plaster. So instead, he can hang out in the other room, happy, healthy, and licking on a frozen lick mat. I don’t have any expectations that this is going to teach him not to lick plaster. I don’t need to teach him that. I simply want him to be occupied while I am occupied. 


3. So, What Enrichment Can I Give My Dog? 

Ah, ha! I’m gonna be honest, that’s kind of a trick question. Because, here comes everyone’s favorite answer, “It depends.” It depends on your goals, your environment, your resources…and most of all, it depends on your dog. 

From one standpoint, what you can safely provide your dog with the opportunity to do is going to be personalized. Griffey can’t touch grass without a whole cascade of issues, so the things I normally recommend for most dogs are out of the question for him. Laika can’t have hard chews due to her dental condition. Laika needs a low fat diet, and Griffey needs good traction on surfaces for his various health concerns. So, to answer this question, I’d need to know what is safe for your dog. But, if you’re open to exploring options, and adjusting them for your dog, we have tons of ideas and demonstrations on our instagram and throughout this blog, like this one about indoor fun, or this one about new foraging options, or this one about low-cost enrichment ideas

The other way we can look at this question is, what will my dog find enriching? Which, again, it depends! We gotta ask your dog. And sure, you can go into the other room and actually ask your dog, and perhaps they communicate so well that they will be able to indicate to you what they want, but for most dogs, we’re going to need to “ask” them through trial and eval.

We can always start with an educated guess at what our pet needs and that can help us be more strategic and focused on our goals. I know Griffey needs some physical rehab work, so we’re focused on that. I know Laika is aging and I want to maintain her mobility and her skills, so we’re working on that. Remember, enrichment is meeting all of your pet’s needs, and preparation for future life stages is part of that! And the entirety of Canine Enrichment for the Real World and the Enrichment for the Real World podcast is here to help you find what your specific dog needs. 


4. I’m Overwhelmed

Hey, friend. It’s okay. I often feel that way too. That’s why, even though I help families and their pets develop these plans and skills, I have people on my dog’s team. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have someone guide you through the process, or look at things from a fresh perspective. If you’re looking for more structure, then we’ve got you covered.

While our team specializes in helping families and pets with pretty scary behavior challenges, whether you’re scared, disheartened, overwhelmed, anxious you’re not doing the right thing, or just fed up with the shenanigans (the family-friendly not 4 letter-4 letter word in my house), we’ve got you. We’re here if you’d like more structure and guidance moving into the new year. 


Now What? 


Happy training,