Enrichment buckets

20151002_171056Early this year, I presented “Lives of Streeties” – a study on street dogs that looks at the activity pattern of dogs. The study had some interesting take-aways.

While the primary intent was to figure out how much physical exercise to free ranging dogs really need, there was an observation that caught my attention – the amount of mental stimulation street dogs get. They work for their food, they have plenty of doggies and people to socialize with.

They have so many different urban scents and trails to follow. Continued exposure to new things is known to grow the brain. Of course, sometimes it gets just too much for them, because they are exposed to more than just mental stimulation.

They are exposed to possible abuse and trauma as well. But that’s another story. Our dogs, by comparison are well protected, seem to get similar if not more exercise than street dogs, but seem to be severely lacking in mental stimulation. Their friends are few. They don’t have to scavenge for their food, in fact it’s forced down on them most times.

Whatever few odours we bring into the house, we literally kill it with disinfectant. So what is really occupying our dogs’ minds? Minds that are clearly capable of so much more, if the street dogs are any indication. When I work with clients, I work on increasing mental stimulation. Of course, they get two walks a day. But it’s quite evident that the walks by themselves will not cut it. Our apartments are too sterile and boring to fill in the rest. We need to make it interesting.

If we lived in a less busy city, I would have recommended tossing your dog in the car and driving around to find new places for your dog to explore. But we live in Bangalore and anything that involves driving is not really a great idea. So bring the outdoors home.

At least try. Apart from a toy basket for your dog, try creating an enrichment bucket for your dog. While a toy basket contains dog toys bought from pet shops, the enrichment bucket needs to contain day-to-day objects.

Things you will be happy to replace with newer objects, without worrying about the impact on your pocket. Just about anything can go in there from empty boxes, old clothes, phone books, old mobile cases, old shoes, twigs, green coconuts, ropes…just about anything.

The aim is not to have many objects, but new objects. Each evening, when your dog gets into the mood to engage his mind, lay out all the objects in the enrichment bucket. Each time, aim to have at least one new object in there. Scatter a bunch of treats among the objects. Put a few treats in the boxes. Roll up a few treats in the old clothes.

You have created an activity space for your dog now. Sit back and watch him explore it. It’s important not talk to him when he is exploring. After he’s done, you can put all the objects back in the bucket, toss in something new into the bucket and store it away for the next day.

The toy basket on the other hand, will remain accessible to the dog at all times. As you do more of this, you will gain confidence in the objects you put into it. The amount of destruction your dog involves in will come down. However, the aim of the treats in the boxes, is to get him to destroy it. So make sure your does this under supervision. Enjoy great evenings together!

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