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"But My Dog Doesn't Like Enrichment!": A Common Myth, and How To Help

Updated: 4 days ago

"I've tried XYZ, and my dog isn't interested. They just... don't like enrichment!"

Believe it or not, this is a common misunderstanding that I've heard many times throughout the years. I get where this comes from, and I understand how people get to this viewpoint. However, there's not one dog in the world that doesn't enjoy enrichment. Technically speaking, canine enrichment is the enjoyment our dogs experience while doing most "dog things". As a result, saying that a dog doesn't enjoy enrichment is like saying that a dog doesn't like moments of joy & engagement (which we all know is not the case). I believe this viewpoint happens because many examples of enrichment often go right under people's noses - Let's talk about it!


An example of this: A person came to me and said that they don't need enrichment for their dogs because they live on a farm and are completely free-range. In their eyes, their dogs don't engage "or need" games and activities. Immediately, I thought of course - because they're enriched already! In this scenario, the dogs have the free will to explore a full property with a range of different enriching elements (they're able to forage, dig, sniff, and play at will). These dogs may not prefer Kongs, puzzle toys, or leashed decompression walks, but this doesn't mean that they don't enjoy (or need) enrichment in their lives. These dogs simply experience it in other ways throughout their everyday life on the property.

That being said, many people today don't have the luxury of having a large property for their dogs to enjoy as they please, and that's okay. That's where things like enrichment games, activities, and DIYs come into play.


If you're feeling like your dog still doesn't enjoy enrichment after getting this far, here are some ways to assess and adapt your enrichment routines for your pup. We hope it helps!


Understand that enrichment is a vast umbrella that covers many things

A common misconception is that enrichment is simply food-inspired games or food in general. This couldn't be farther from the truth (check out one of our lists for non-food related enrichment here). Enrichment can be as intricate as snuffle games and agility courses, or as simple as enjoying the smells out of the window during a car ride. Having a basic understanding of different enrichment categories can help "awaken your senses" to what your dog is truly enjoying around you.


Assess what’s been provided

Contrary to popular belief, what works for one dog doesn't necessarily work for all. Like us, dogs are individual in their preferences.


While some dogs love snuffle mats and foraging games, other dogs may prefer a flirt pole, interactive play, or get-togethers with their canine friends. Another dog may enjoy a lazy day in the yard, where they can make their own choices on what they sniff, where they walk, and what spot they get to lounge in. Experimenting with different categories of enrichment helps us nail down which activities our dogs enjoy best.


Think: What does my dog seem to enjoy as an individual? How can I build that into their routine?


Is your dog new to the household, or their current environment?

When your dog is new to the household, enrichment may not seem interesting because everything around them is new and exciting. In these situations, we often see "feigned indifference". This is when the dog in front of you acts like they don't care about a toy or a game due to their current surroundings. Example: Your dog might go crazy for a certain ball or plush, but might act indifferent when there are visitors around, or when you're visiting a different house. In these scenarios, the surroundings might be too interesting for your dog to ignore (making the surroundings higher value than the toy).


In these scenarios, allow them some time to decompress in their new space, and try again when they're a bit more settled. I know that it can be so exciting to have a new dog in the home, and many people want to do "all of the things" right away. Don't get discouraged and give your new companion some time to adjust.


TIP: This feigned indifference is extremely common with new puppies!



Is it a true lack of interest, or a lack of understanding?

While some dogs display their lack of understanding very plainly (i.e. barking at a toy or pacing around an activity in confusion) some dogs may completely disassociate with the activity instead. This can look exactly like the feigned indifference discussed above, where it seems like our dogs are completely disinterested in a toy or a game. To avoid this, ensure that you're setting your dog up for success by helping them navigate any new toys & games, and guiding them in how things work.


Think: Does my dog truly understand how to do this activity? If not, how can I help my dog understand?


Is it worth their time?

Part of enrichment's magic is the variety and novelty that it provides for our pets. If something isn’t “exciting enough” or “worth it” in our dog's eyes (i.e. too hard, not high value enough), sometimes they simply won't engage with what's been given to them.


This isn't to say that your dog doesn't enjoy the activity and won't benefit from it, but in their eyes, it might not hold enough value for them to give it a go.


Think: You don't work for free. Why would your dog want to? How can you increase the game or make it more exciting?


TIP: This doesn't necessarily have to include food! For example, your dog might not enjoy a toy as much on their own, but if YOU start playing with them and the new toy, they might think it's the best thing ever. This is because you've increased the value by adding your time and engagement to the activity.



Don't fret!

Simply put, some dogs are indifferent to certain forms of enrichment. Not only that, but some dogs show their enjoyment differently than others. Don’t stress! With time, trial and error, and patience - you'll find the right fit.


Think: Not all dogs will enjoy all forms of enrichment. If there's a game or activity that doesn't work for my dog, that's okay!



 

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.









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