During this time of isolation one advantage to many pets particularly dogs is the “Pack” is at home. Plenty of walks. However, couple of things to keep in mind, one does not over exercise your dog especially if not used to it or elderly. Second once this period of staying at home is over your pet that has had all that lavished attention will be home alone again. However, for our Emergency front line workers who have to leave their pets at home to help us can use these principals to keep their animals safe and active whilst they are at work.
The concept of making an animal’s environment more interesting began in zoos because people didn’t like seeing captive animals pacing back and forth constantly and keepers knew the animals in their care were bored. During my time at various Zoos across the world I developed a number of behavioural enrichment principals to animals ranging from Elephants to Small clawed Asian Otters. The mental well-being is considered as important as physical well-being.
So, what can we do?
The placement of an apple in a bucket of water provide both food and amusement source for a dog. Small portions can be bitten off at a time prior to the apple sinking.
A variant of this is a large ice block. Freeze the apple in a bucket of water. You can of course substitute the apple for meat and add blood to the water.
Large beef bones (raw) are the most suitable bones for canids. A raw bone will not splitter unlike a cooked bone. Having said that do not leave the bone out in sunlight all day to cook and harden. The vitamins, minerals and marrow provide healthy qualities, the bone cleans and sharpens the teeth. Give the bone on a starve day. Yes, not feeding the dog on occasions is a natural condition, as in the wild a wolfs hunting success may vary. The bone lets the dog feel its eating and provides occupational therapy.
Raw hide is ideal for occupying the dog and strengthening the jaw. Hang raw hide in a tree or attach to a low fence to promote a tug of war game, prior to chewing.
Spices can be used to lay different scent around the yard. This promotes the use of a canids most important sense. Spread such spices in rocks, pinecones, logs, etc. It has been proved in the captive zoo environment that spices induce behaviour from simple inquisitiveness to sexual stimulation.
A tug of war is timeless, a simple hose pipe or knotted rope can be a great game with you, between two canids or even alone if tied to a fence via an innertube will cause a play reaction. I added a small treat up inside the hose to get the dog to start playing with it.
Wrapped food is similar to an enrichment ball, meat is placed in several layers of paper or in a couple of carboard boxes. Th principal is to make it challenging and time consuming to get to the food reward.
Audio tape on a timer can be used to stimulate hearing scene. Natural sounds of wildlife or even another dog barking will interest the dog. Likewise, music may indicate to the dog that you are home. This same principal can be used with lights if your working at night and leaving the dog at home.
Most of us tell our dogs off for digging up the garden, a natural behaviour. Consider providing a bury/dig pit. This is simple. Try a kid’s pool, fill it with sand. You can hide food or toys and let him dig them up.
Kids bubbles will have your dog jumping up and bursting them. Operated by you – but if away there are automatic bubble machines. (you can even buy bacon-flavoured bubbles for dogs).
Plant herbs and spices in the garden. Mint and cinnamon are not toxic and can be also added to pet toys to encourage sniffing. Also consider planting native trees and bushes to attract birds, a visual encounter for the dog. Banksia, grevilleas, bottlebrush and hakeas are top bird-attracting plants. Also, many Zoos plant butterfly attracting vegetation (ironweed, yellow coneflowers, goldenrod, and brightly-hued asters are nectar-filled favourites). – again, the aim is to stimulate the dog’s inquisitiveness.
An enrichment ball has been on the market for some time, they are used to hide food in. Like a puzzle it is cognitive enrichment which makes the dog think. As the ball is pushed around bits of food fall out. Apart from a plastic purchased item consider making your own. Hollow a melon, fill it with items. The dog will either role it around or destroy the melon. no worries if it eats that too. Remember food item do not have to be solely meat, in the wild wolves for example eat a variety of bones, cereals and vegetation which are all found in the stomach contents of the herbivores they eat. If in any doubt, ask your veterinarian.
A hanging container- similar to an enrichment ball such as a milk carton filled with food can be suspended from a washing line or fence on an elastic cord. It should be at a height that causes the dog to jump, pull and tear. Giving him exercise and a natural hunt instinct for many breeds.
This one might sound odd but borrow another dogs blanket or similar smelly item from another dog owner. This intruder to his yard will need investigating!
Believe it or not I used to exchange urine when at one Zoo with another Zoos rhino. The different introduced scent would stimulate the animals searching for the intruder or mate.
Wind chines can be fun toys that offer both visual and sounds stimulation.
In Zoos I used other animals as a visual distraction for canids. I mentioned attracting native birds into your garden as a plus, likewise a pond with fish or frogs (ensure canid cannot physically harm them) works well.
Physical enrichment enhances the dogs living space by changing or adding complexity to the environment. Sensory enrichment will help stimulate the five senses.
One of the greatest ways especially in this time – make a friend of your neighbour. You can ask them if your away from home to spend a bit of time talking to your dog over the fence. Even toss it the odd ball. My neighbour would throw over a couple of balloons for him to chase as the blow around. Some even had the odd treat inside.
One important statement- do not over feed your dog with all these treats. Any food used is taken off that evening’s dinner plate. Second if you use all of these
Remember whatever you do, be it one thing or several of these ideas, it must be better for your dog than being alone at home bored.