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Letting Your Dog do Doggie Things

Not only is allowing your dog to perform species-specific behaviors crucial for meeting her needs, but it can also prevent or reduce other, non-ideal behaviors. Many of these enrichment forms have overlapping benefits, so sometimes you can give your dog the chance to do several dog behaviors with one activity.

I list sniffing first on my enrichment plans because it is so central to how dogs understand the world. You can add this enrichment simply by giving your dog more time to explore the environment with his nose on walks. In fact, you can even devote entire walks to sniffing (sniffaris!). Other ways to encourage this important behavior include K9 Nosework classes and games of Find It outside and around your house. Sniffing works your dog's brain and lowers his heart rate, which can help him feel calmer and allow him to settle faster.

Foraging for food is another key dog behavior. For the simplest foraging opportunity, toss kibble or treats into the backyard for your dog to find. Puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and K9 Nosework classes also encourage foraging. As you can see, this enrichment overlaps with sniffing, so it also works your dog's mind while relieving some stress.

Anyone who has raised a puppy knows all too well that chewing is inevitable. Chewing helps puppies cope with teething, and for older dogs it can alleviate boredom or regulate stress. Appropriate chew toys can save you from having to buy a new remote control or new furniture. Check with your vet about the best chew toys for your dog’s teeth.

You may notice that your dog not only chews her toys, but she also shreds them. She does that because shredding is another instinctive dog behavior. If she doesn’t eat the stuffing, small pieces of toy, or squeakers, then letting her destroy her toys can be a great way to give her this form of enrichment as long as you supervise her while she does it. Cardboard boxes and empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls (especially if you’ve turned them into puzzle toys) can be great alternative shredding material. Giving your dog the chance to shred something safely and with supervision can mean you're less likely to find disemboweled throw pillows in your living room.

When my dog Ralphie was younger, he loved to run after balls, frisbees, squirrels, and other dogs. He’d still chase a frisbee if we gave him the chance, but he’s an old man with a recurring shoulder injury, so we find other forms of enrichment for him. Some dogs tend to chase more than others, but for all dogs it is part of their heritage. You can exercise your dog’s desire to chase with games of fetch, frisbee, or with a flirt pole. Chasing not only gives your dog exercise, but it also satisfies an instinctual need.

Finally, a dog’s canine urge to dig causes many gardeners endless agitation. To prevent your dog from wrecking your garden or leaving little holes around your yard, you can create a digging pit for her with a baby pool filled with a mixture of dirt and sand. To encourage her to dig in her new spot, bury treats and toys for her to find there. With well-placed barriers you can limit her access to other parts of your yard. And if you'd prefer to avoid mud all over your house, you can make her a ball pit with a baby pool and some balls. Then hide treats and toys at the bottom for her to find.

Some of these enrichment opportunities are easier to implement—putting your dog’s breakfast in a snuffle mat takes only a little more time than pouring it into a bowl—while others like creating a dig spot take more time and effort. But giving your dog the chance to perform her natural behaviors goes a long way toward meeting her needs.

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