Enriching Your Dog’s Life
A version of this blog appeared on Your Pit Bull & You, a nonprofit I ran from 2013-2018.
We are all about enrichment around here right now. Hazel, as always, makes a ready and willing test subject for whatever new gadget I am trying out. I do this in part because it’s fun for her, but also because I like to have good resources to suggest to clients. So for me, it’s really a win-win. My dog gets to have some fun and I have more to offer clients, many of whom are struggling with their dog’s behavior and don’t know the sort of things that exist to help expend some energy and use some brain power.
First up is the Foobler. This toy was a Kickstarter project, so I’m not really sure when there will be a wide release, but I hope it gets out there and does well. It works on a timer, which you can set at 15-90 minute intervals (fancier models have a Bluetooth option, which allows for more custom timing- we got the “basic” model) and then your dog can go to town. Hazel finished the food that was in the first compartment in about 10 minutes, but man did she have fun! I really like the way it rolls around and it’s size makes it less likely to get stuck under furniture. I would imagine that for dogs that have mild separation anxiety, this could be helpful, though waiting around for the next round of food to be available could be stressful, which is where the Bluetooth model could come in handy. At any rate, I gotta tell ya, I love watching a dog knocking a toy around and figuring out how to get the good stuff to happen. Personal disclaimer: given that Hazel is a serious chewer, I never leave her unsupervised for longer than about 5-10 minutes with any work-to-eat toy. I don’t breathe down her neck, but I check in often.
In the “On The Cheap” department, I stuck some kibble in an egg carton. Having never done this before, I just stuck the kibble inside and let ‘er rip. It didn’t last very long, but I later thought I had a few options: I could tape it shut, and put tape over the holes on the top, leaving openings only big enough for the kibble to fall out as she knocked it around or I could just consider it a one and done and let her shred it. I went for option #2.
Some other inexpensive options include: nestling treats inside a cereal box, tucking treats inside toilet paper rolls, egg cartons tied closed with bits of fabric, and carry out drink holders with food hidden under tennis balls wedged in the cup openings. You could also tuck a toilet paper roll stuffed with treats inside a sock to up the level of difficulty. This is something I would never try with Hazel, given her penchant for eating fabric. Case in point, this Fugly had ears and limbs that were toast after less than 5 minutes with Hazel:
Hazel usually does not get Fugly Friends, which were Rocco’s favorite toy and Savannah quite enjoys, because they will be missing limbs within minutes. For dogs who are not so serious about fabric destruction, these are super cute and fun to tug with and toss around. I regularly recommend them to friends and clients, most of whom have found them to be a great toy. They’re stronger than the average plush toy, some squeak, some crinkle, all are cute.
Another thing I have been working on with Hazel is target training. To me, training is the ultimate enrichment. It’s physical, it’s mental and it’s a fabulous bonding activity. We’ve been working on “Sit Pretty” for a while, but have had some difficulty in creating distance and duration. I bought a Clik Stik in the hopes that by extending the pointer, I would be able to step a little further away from her, and it’s worked out really well. Plus, it has a super perky “click”, which I think makes a difference.
Here’s some targeting for “spin”. She’s already got this behavior on board, so this is more to practice getting used to the targeting. It’s been really fun!
I recently purchased a Ruffhide for a client dog who I consider to be very “busy”- he’s always looking for something to do and left to his own devices, can easily end up looking for trouble. He’s a fan of Himalayan chews, so I bought the kind that holds one of those. It’s proven a winner, the chew is nestled inside hard rubber and he’s got to do some work to get to it. It bounces a bit, so there’s some chasing down of the toy involved at times, adding to the level of fun. For this particular dog, this toy makes the difference between playing with something appropriately vs. looking high and low for something to steal.
We are still doing work-to-eat for all meals and I’ve been encouraging more clients to do this for their dogs. Those that have are reporting it to be super helpful in terms of keeping their dogs occupied and out of trouble. Savannah now gets most of her meals out of a Goughnuts K9 cup, rather than a bone, as she has an easier time with these, being an old lady and all.