Debunking Enrichment Myths: 5 Common Misconceptions, Busted!

When it comes to enrichment, there are quite a few misconceptions that I run into on a daily basis. Let's go through why many of these ideas need to be thoughts of the past.


MYTH #1: Enrichment games NEED to be difficult to be effective.


False. As the admins say regularly in the Canine Enrichment group on Facebook: Things don't need to be difficult, they need to be fun! Owners sometimes get so caught up in increasing the difficulty that they miss their dog's physical cues that a game is not actually making their dogs happier. These can be cues like frustrated body language or cues that their dog is negatively struggling with a harder sequence.


When it comes to enrichment, some of the most simple games are some of the most enjoyable for dogs. Let's not focus on the clock; instead, focus on your dog's overall joy with the game or toy.


MYTH #2: Dogs need to be constantly stimulated.


While mental stimulation is an amazing way to keep your dog happy and healthy, it's important that we also teach our dogs the importance of calm. Proper, legitimate down time is just as important for dogs as mental stimulation, and too much stimulation can have the opposite effect than what most owners set out to do with enrichment.


Certified behavior consultant Adrienne Farricelli explains the signs of overstimulation as:

  • Being in a constant state of alert

  • Barking frequently at noises

  • Hard time calming down after exposure

  • Constant licking

  • Pacing

  • Panting

  • Inability to sleep well

  • Reduced REM sleep

  • Hyperactivity

  • Compulsive behaviors

If your dog is showing signs of overstimulation, it's important to start integrating enough down time inbetween activities and training. Rest and relaxation are key factors in maintaining mental and physical health, so always ensure proper downtime is incorporated into your dog's routine.


MYTH #3: Offering help is not beneficial and will make your dog dependent on help.


Quite the opposite: Offering help is beneficial and can help build your dog's confidence! Never be afraid to lend a hand or help your dog through an activity when needed (in fact, I often encourage you to help as much as needed). Especially with nervous or fearful dogs, lending a hand is extremely important with early integrations of enrichment.


Tip: If it's the first time your dog is encountering a game or puzzle, introduce it at the most basic level to set your dog up for success. Then, build your way up once they show signs that they understand how the activity works.


MYTH #4: Enrichment games will make your dog destroy things.


This is one of the most common misconceptions with enrichment. I've talked about Shay Kelly's article, "Will enrichment turn him into a destruction monster?" so many times when it comes to this topic because it hits the nail on the head.


Enrichment - rather than encouraging destruction - actually provides proper outlets for your dog's innate K9 behaviors. As a result, your dog gets to disperse this energy on supervised games.


A study on Social and Environmental Enrichment showed that dogs with enrichment introduced spent 80% less time chewing items of furniture during their study. The study found that appropriate enrichment can:

Change the expression of your dogs behaviour and help to prevent undesirable behaviours (Hubrecht Et.al)

Essentially, since your dog's needs are fulfilled, they no longer need to take their energy out on the couch, your shoes, or your favorite bras!


Tip: If your dog begins destroying things, take a look at what cues you're giving them as the owner. How you're integrating these games into routines? Are you removing the puzzle once the objective is finished? Is the game too hard? Sometimes, the most simple steps make the biggest difference (i.e. removing a game or puzzle once the goal has been achieved).


MYTH #5: Enrichment activities and games are very expensive, and need to be elaborate to be effective.


Contrary to popular belief, enrichment can be one of the cheapest things that you assemble for your dog - you just need to know where to look! Things like old towels, boxes, egg cartons, etc., all work wonders for enrichment and can cost little to nothing (check out our list here of inexpensive items at home that you can repurpose for enrichment). As per the elaborate factor - while big, elaborate puzzles and games can be fun and exciting, so can a simple snuffle mat or classic stuffed KONG at dinner time. Just because your enrichment may not be as fancy as someone else's, doesn't mean that it's ineffective!


SOURCES & FURTHER READING

Mental & Physical Stimulation: Is Your Dog Getting What They Need?

Is Sensory Overstimulation Stressing Your Dog?

Why Downtime Is As Important As Training For Your Dog

Will Enrichment turn him into a Destruction Monster?

A comparison of social and environmental enrichment methods for laboratory housed dogs

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