Why You Should be Doing Environmental Enrichment With Your Cats and Dogs

Why You Should be Doing Environmental Enrichment With Your Cats and Dogs - Photo 1 - Doghaus Blog
Some smiling faces after some playtime at the Montreal SPCA!

Until fairly recently, the mental welfare of dogs and cats, and even animals in places like zoos, was not something that many people kept in mind. In a natural environment, animals are constantly responding to changing social, physical, and environmental needs. But the habitat of most modern pets is often a human one—an apartment, a house, a backyard—which offers few opportunities for environmental stimulation, and often only in predictable ways.

We often hear that dogs and cats thrive on routine, but does that mean that everything in their life from where they are walked, what toys they are given, what they are learning, and even how they are fed needs to stay the same?

Maybe not!

The more we learn about our dogs and cats, the more we learn about how they really benefit from a range of different interactions, stimulations, and opportunities to make their own choices and exhibit instinctive, species- and breed-specific behaviours. After all, we can all agree that “a tired dog is a happy dog,” and the more we can provide them with, the happier and healthier they will be.

Why You Should be Doing Environmental Enrichment With Your Cats and Dogs - Photo 2 - Doghaus Blog
Jasper napping after an intense puzzle game. It’s hard work!

What is Environmental Enrichment?

According to Dr. Karen Becker, environmental enrichment means: 

“Enhancing an animal’s surroundings and lifestyle so that he is presented with novelty in his environment, opportunities to learn, and encouragement to engage in instinctive, species-specific behaviours.”

In other words, routinely providing new experiences, objects, places, and sensations in order to prevent them from getting bored. When a dog or cat gets bored and is under-stimulated, they will find ways to entertain themselves. And that’s when they get into trouble!

But environmental enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated. It can easily be done by balancing a number of different activities:

exercise (walking, hiking, running, sports, etc.)
mental stimulation (positive training, puzzle games, etc.)
social enrichment (dog-to-dog, cat-to-cat, or any pet-centred activity)
sensory stimulation (engaging sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste)
species-specific behaviours (lure coursing for sighthounds, stalking for cats: letting them be in their element!)
food-based enrichment (using food-dispensing toys)

Why You Should be Doing Environmental Enrichment With Your Cats and Dogs - Photo 3 - Doghaus Blog
Enjoying a new experience: kayaking!

Why should I do it?

Many vets, trainers, and anyone who has incorporated enrichment into their dog’s or cat’s life will tell you of the many benefits it provides, even for pets who are already happy and healthy. Aside from counteracting behavioural problems that have developed or may be developing, environmental enrichment helps provide a higher quality of mental, physical, and even emotional wellbeing for cats and dogs. It can also offset sickness behaviours present in cats and dogs, such as decreased interest in food, excessive licking, and other behaviours that have developed as a result of boredom or pent-up energy.

It’s so effective in helping animals that the Montreal SPCA has even been incorporating environmental enrichment into the routines of the cats and dogs under their care since February 2014. As part of their Enrichment Program, they provide mental, physical, and sensory stimulation through walks, training, nosework, massages, and even aromatherapy.

Why You Should be Doing Environmental Enrichment With Your Cats and Dogs - Photo 4 - Doghaus Blog
Sensory stimulation, food enrichment, and play - all in one!

All of this is made possible by a team of dedicated volunteers and donations made to the Montreal SPCA by people like us. For their Enrichment Program, they are always looking for items that offer stimulating experiences, including:

durable 6ft leashes
high value treats
durable toys, including interactive ones
durable food dispensing toys
canned food
small towels (used for nosework)

Environmental enrichment is about providing environmental variability, no matter the species, breed, personality, or even age. Any animal can benefit from it, so long as you’re moving at a pace that is comfortable for them. What matters most is that you’re making your animal happier and healthier, and in so doing making yourself happier, too!

Keep up to date with our Facebook page this week for ideas on how to incorporate environmental enrichment into your dog’s or cat’s life!

Why You Should be Doing Environmental Enrichment With Your Cats and Dogs - Photo 5 - Doghaus Blog
Don’t be shy about finding new and creative ways to challenge your pet, even on the go!
Rufferal Program

For every three (3) friends that you refer to our grooming service, your dog will receive one (1) free grooming session! 

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