Enrichment for Mobility Impaired Pets
When it comes to enrichment, there's always something possible for every dog.
Every breed, every age, and every mindset.
"Even for my dog with disabilities?" I've been asked a few times during some of our Q&A's.
The answer is: Yes. Always, yes!
I've teamed up with the amazing volunteers at Wild Hearts to showcase enrichment for dogs that are mobility impaired this week. Wild Hearts is a non-profit that provides continuous, comprehensive care to animals with mobility issues and the people that love them.
Through the hard work of volunteers and contributors, Wild Hearts has been able to provide over $200,000 worth of support in both care and supplies for dogs with mobility issues. Now THAT is something to get excited about!
This Article Will Cover:
FAQ's On Enrichment For Dogs with Disabilities
How to Tailor Enrichment For Your Dog
Products & DIY Options that we love
Now, let's cover some FAQ's.
1.) Will My Disabled Dog Really Enjoy Enrichment?
When it comes to dogs with disabilities, their disability doesn't mean that they can't or won't benefit from enrichment. In fact, studies show quite the opposite. The science behind enrichment has found that integrating enrichment into a dog's routine improves their quality of life. While data on disabled pets is relatively low, there's one thing that we do know, and that's that dogs with disabilities deserve the happiest, healthiest lives possible. Enrichment is a fantastic way to provide dogs with disabilities with different outlets and brain games tailored to their unique needs.
2.) How Do I Start?
Start slow and always offer help when needed. Whether it be a simple snuffle activity or a lick mat, find what your dog loves and tailor accordingly.
3.) How can I set my impaired dog up for success?
The key to success: Patience and an open mind. When thinking about enrichment, it doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, sometimes the most simple forms of enrichment can be the most enjoyable for our pets.
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are"- Teddy Roosevelt
Tailoring Enrichment For The Dog In Front of You
The secret sauce with mobility impairment is finding out what works for your dog, and rolling with it (sometimes, quite literally!). Be patient, and know that there's always an alteration to be made on your dog's behalf to achieve optimal enjoyment.
For example, a rear end cart may help a dog with hind leg paralysis gain some freedom and confidence. If a rear end cart isn't in the cards right now, try using a padded wagon to get your dog some much needed fresh air in the neighborhood.
"A kong can be difficult sometimes for a tri-pod with a front limb missing, but a lickimat is a great alternative!" Says Katie Turrentine, Community Outreach Coordinator For Wild Hearts.
While mobility may be something your dog struggles with, their other senses are acute and amazing. Don't let those senses be forgotten!
Examples of Enrichment for the Senses...
Sight: DogTV, letting your dog experience new things via wagon, cart, or carrier, bubbles in a bubble blower.
Sound: Calming music, water sounds, nature sounds.
Touch: Letting your dog roll around in the grass, a soft bed to come home to, assisted swims in the pool or local body of water.
Taste: Enrichment through treats and meals. Check out our enrichment stuffing guide to get started!
Scent: Nosework courses, snuffle mats, adventure towels (scroll down to learn more!), etc.
Examples of Tailoring Enrichment for Your Pet:
When Off Roading isn't always an option:
While carts and prosthetics are great ways to get some dogs on the move, sometimes they aren't always optimal for every type of terrain - and that's okay! In certain cases, opt to bring a sniffari to your dog through the use of an Adventure Towel.
How: Place an old towel or blanket in your car. The next time you're out somewhere with different smells - bring this with you. Bonus points if you're headed to a farm, or somewhere with unique smells that your dog wouldn't normally encounter. Bring this home to your dog, and watch their nose go wild!
In The Words of Lil John, Get Low - but not too low:
For our canine pals that use carts, bringing the activities up to their level helps them stay upright. Sometimes laying something on the floor can cause carted dogs to tip forward, which we want to avoid. Here are some enrichment products we'd recommend...
Try: PetDreamHouse Paw 2 -In-1 Slow Paw from Homes Alive Pets
Why We Like It: This slow feeder is not only large enough to fit some decent meal portions, but the lick-mat portion is removable and comes with suction cups on the back. These suction cups work great to stick the lick mat up on walls or hard surfaces, making it easier for carted dogs to engage in eye-level treats.
Try: The Anti-Bite Snuffle Mat from PawznDogz
Why We Like It: This snuffle mat has removable suction cups, and can once again be stuck to surfaces at face height for carted pups. These mats work great for dogs outside of their carts as well, since the suction cups keep the mat in place.
Try: A vertical, sniffy garden. Here's a how-to on how we created ours.
Why We Like It: This vertical garden is great for dogs of all kinds! A vertical sniffy wall helps keep carted dogs upright, and scents at or above face height. Bonus: Having the pots lifted and away from the ground can help carted dogs navigate easier around the terrain of the yard.
Try: The Diggs Pet Groov
Why We Like It: For dogs who may not be able to use their front paws to hold a Kong or Toppl, the Groov fits perfectly inside of standard crate slats at any height you see fit.
Try: Treat Piñatas!
Why We Like It: Whether you grab your piñata from Walmart or DIY your own, Piñatas filled with dog treats are a great form of enrichment for shredding and foraging. The other great thing about Piñatas? You can adjust the height of the piñata and the length of the rope. As a result, you can control it in a way for your carted dog to partake, without it swinging too far/encouraging jumping. That, or you can skip the rope all together and bring the piñata down to your dog's level. Just remember to always monitor any form of shredding enrichment accordingly to avoid ingestion of the pieces.
Be Patient, and Remember The Goal: Letting Dogs Be Dogs
Enrichment is all about offering outlets that let dogs be dogs through their natural impulses and instincts. Whether it be an outlet to sniff, forage, lick, play, chase, or chew - there are endless possibilities for our mobility impaired friends.
SPECIAL THANK YOU...
A huge thank you to Wild Hearts for sending so many wonderful videos and images of some of the dogs they've helped support!
To follow along with these amazing dogs, check them out on Instagram at:
Sources & Further Readings
About Wild Hearts — Wild Hearts (gowildhearts.org)
Disabled animals and leisure: casting light on those left behind in the shadows: Leisure Studies: Vol 0, No 0 (tandfonline.com)
The Sensory Yard Series: Creating a K9 Sensory Sniffy Wall For Our Dogs (bindisbucketlist.com)
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