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All Things PUPPY ENRICHMENT: How To Start, Which Games Are Best When Starting Out, and More!

So, you've just brought home your first puppy. They immediately wiggle their way into your heart, as well as into your laundry bin, the garbage can, and practically anything that they can get their little paws (and teeth!) into. They may be cute as heck, but boy do they ever keep you on your toes!


You may find yourself scratching your head on ways to keep up with them at times, and that's totally okay (and normal).


If you're looking for beneficial ways to provide your puppies with outlets to exert their energy (and according to studies, make them live happier and healthier lives) then providing enrichment is a great way to do so. Let's talk about it.


FAQ: Is Enrichment Beneficial for Pups?


YES! Enrichment offers species-appropriate play outlets, and the right types of enrichment can expose your puppy to new sights, sounds, and experiences in a safe and controlled way. Since the main goal of enrichment is to maintain physical and psychological health, enrichment is something to begin thinking about when preparing to bring a puppy into your home.


In fact, in a study by Robert Hubrecht on Enrichment and Puppyhood, puppies were found to engage 64% of their time in enrichment toys and games if given the chance. That's 64% less time chewing shoes and getting into trouble! Not to mention significantly increased opportunities for brain games, interaction, learning, and fun.


Additionally, Majecka et al found that enriching a puppy's environment helps, "Mitigate the risk of behavioral problems in adult dogs." (Majecka et al 2019). As a result, it's great to think of enrichment activities as a great tool in your dog-guardian toolbelt. Remember: You'll see the most benefit to an enrichment routine when it's partnered with the appropriate living conditions (both physically and cognitively). This goes for dogs of any age, breed, and temperament.


How Do I Start?

Let's break it down with the P-U-P-P-Y acronym...


PLACEMENT. Ensure that the enrichment item or game is placed properly to set your pup up for success. For example, try placing a clunky feeder toy on a mat or carpet if your puppy is a bit weary of tile or wood floors. Always ensure games and activities are placed within reach, on even ground.


UNDERSTANDING. As their guardian, work to understand your puppy's body language. Understanding their body language will help you avoid a frustrated, overstimulated puppy. We must always remember that dogs communicate with us in many ways, and understanding what they're telling us with their bodies is an important piece of the puzzle.


PICK simple games to start, and work your way up once your pup gains confidence. While something might seem extremely simple, that doesn't mean that it isn't enjoyable or beneficial for your pup.


POSITIVE associations with games and play keep your puppy engaged and excited. See your pup offering positive play with a game or puzzle? Toss a couple of extra treats! I call this making it rain.


YOU can help. As their guardian, you can always offer help and modify games and activities if needed. Not only that, but interactive play with your puppy can help strengthen your bond, which is a great added benefit for your relationship. Never hesitate to join in the fun!


Easy Starters


*Remember that puppies will need much shorter walks than adult dogs. Too much exercise of the wrong kind can affect their growth plates, so it's best to keep the first walks very short and sweet. Also, always ensure that you're bringing your puppy to spaces that are safe for them, given their vaccination history.




The Value of Downtime

While doing new things with your new puppy can be exciting for both puppy and owner, it's important to realize the importance of proper downtime between enrichment and training.


Remember: Depending on the age of your new puppy, they can sleep upwards of 18-20 hours PER DAY! This downtime is essential for their rapidly growing brains and bodies, and as a result, it's incredibly important for puppies to get the proper downtime needed for their mental and physical development.


A common misconception is that puppies need to be constantly stimulated, which is false. Downtime is so important, don't skip out!


FAQ: "Help! My puppy doesn't seem interested in most enrichment. What do I do?"

Something we see often in puppies when it comes to enrichment is the appearance that they're disinterested in a certain game or activity. This can happen for many reasons, but one of the most prominent reasons is that everything around them is new and exciting. Think about it this way: Say you give your puppy a stuffed Kong at home in their crate, and they love it. You might think, "This will be perfect for when I bring my puppy to his grandma's house this week!". However, when you bring the stuffed Kong on your outing to Grandma's, suddenly puppy is completely disinterested and you can't figure out why. Usually, it's because the new environment is of higher value to the puppy than the contents of the stuffed enrichment toy. When everything is fresh and exciting, certain enrichment activities can go down a rung on the ladder, so to speak.


As your puppy learns and grows, you can pinpoint what forms of enrichment resonate with them on an individual level. Other ways to troubleshoot why your dog might not look interested in enrichment can be found, here.


 

Looking to have a happier, healthier dog? I've put together some of our favourite resources for you in one place - my first book!


Filled with canine enrichment activities and tips and tricks, I hope you love reading it just as much as I loved writing it.







 

SOURCES

Enrichment in puppyhood and its effects on later behavior of dogs (Hubrecht 1995)

Behavioural outcomes of housing for domestic dog puppies (Canis lupus familiaris), (Majecka et al 2019)

Environmental Enrichment as a Positive Behavioral Intervention Across the Lifespan (Sampedro-Piquero et al 2017)

Impact of Exercise on Puppy Growth Plates (Farricelli 2017)

How Much Sleep do Puppies Need? (AKC 2019)

Puppy Development From 8 to 12 Weeks (Stregowski 2020)

Puppy Exercise and Growth Plates (Bentley 2018)

 

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