The Sensory Yard: Making Our Backyard into A Sensory Heaven for Our Dogs

When we moved into our home this past September, we knew we wanted to renovate our yard into a sensory paradise for our two dogs, Bindi and Rosie.


Our yard isn't huge, so we planned to use of every square inch and make the most out of what we had into sensory garden.


Here's how I planned what elements to add into our Sensory Yard, and I hope it inspires others on how they can do the same!


PART 1: THE SENSES


The senses. 5 unique, ever-present groupings that completely affect how we interpret the world around us.


Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Scent.


I knew immediately that I wanted to touch on each aspect of the senses, so I began grouping our yard based on this.


Bath Cats & Dogs Created a "Sensory Paddock" in 2013. Look at all the different sights!

Sight

Incorporating different sights into a sensory yard can be as simple or as intricate as you'd like. Whether you focus on a wide variety of plant life, maybe adding a bird feeder, or even adding a small windmill or yard decorations of choice - the possibilities are endless. New sensory experience can add variety into your dogs routine and make your yard exciting.


Examples of sight enrichment in a sensory yard:

  • Wind Spinners

  • Different plants & foliage

  • Yard decorations & play equipment

  • Using bird feeders/hummingbird feeders to bring in the sight of wildlife


Sound

Auditory enrichment is perhaps one of the most overlooked categories when it comes to canine enrichment, and it shouldn't be! In fact, the ASPCA has an entire section on sound/auditory enrichment on their website. Their message states that when it comes to dogs, "Sound has a profound effect on health and behaviour. Sounds can have a calming effect and promote relaxation for dogs in our care."


Additionally, different types of music can be associated with more relaxed behaviours. In a study done by Amaya et al., researchers found that auditory enrichment such as music may be a useful type of enrichment to relieve both the stress and boredom (especially in sheltered environments).


Looking to see how a dog's hearing measures up to a human's? Read about it more, here.


Examples of auditory enrichment in a Sensory Yard:

  • Water features/ Water sounds

  • Plants that rustle in the breeze (i.e. Boston ferns, tall grass)

  • Gentle chimes

  • Music (classic rock, classical, and reggae music are all top favorites for canines, according to research!)


Touch

Think about the sensation you get when your feet touch grass for the first time after a long winter, or when your feet hit warm sand, or even when your hands grip a smooth rock. These are all very different sensations, and you can probably picture them in your mind's eye right away. Touch is a very important sense for dogs, too!


Besides touch through their paws, dogs also experience touch with their bodies, mouths, and even through touch-sensitive hairs called vibrissae (whiskers) on their nose, chin, and above their eyes.


Examples of touch enrichment in a Sensory Yard:

  • Cool sand in a dig pit

  • Running tunnels and/or raised standing areas

  • River rock

  • Water features

  • Mulch (for dogs that don't try and eat it into oblivion!)

  • Grass

  • Long dog-safe Ornamental Grass to run through or chew

  • Dirt

  • Pavers and/or patio stones

Taste

When it comes to taste, it's one of the senses that's less refined in a dog than advertisements for food and treats may have you believe. According to the American Kennel club, dogs have about 1,700 taste buds where we humans have roughly 9,000. However, the lack of taste buds in comparison to humans doesn't mean that taste isn't important to our furry friends.


Dogs have the four taste categories that humans have, meaning that they can decipher sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes. Dogs also have a special taste buds geared specifically towards water that humans don't have. This genetic trait is believed to cause dogs a stronger desire to drink water so that our dogs drink enough to maintain a healthy body function.

While a dog's sense of taste may be less-so than that of humans, it's important to highlight that scent plays a large role in K9 tastes as well. It's all interconnected, and effects how dogs perceive the world around them.


Examples of taste enrichment in a Sensory Yard:

  • Dog safe flowers

  • Dog safe vegetables and fruits

  • i.e. planting green beans, strawberries, cucumber.

  • Dog safe herbs

  • i.e. basil, mint, parsley, dill, and more.

Scent

A dog's nose is a key element in how they "see" and interact with the world around them. Each little sniff may look ordinary, but with each twitch of the nose, your dog is decoding their environment. According to studies, a dog's sense of smell is a whopping 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than that of human!


There have been many studies on scent (otherwise labelled olfactory) enrichment in dogs done by Binks et al, Graham et al, Murtagh et al, and more. Conclusions suggested that scent enrichment can help lower stress in dogs, as well as promote calmness. According to the results of Murtagh et al's study, "Provision of scent also significantly reduced stress related behaviours and increased exploration" (Murtagh et al 20219).


Examples of scent enrichment in a Sensory Yard:

  • Dog safe flowers

  • i.e. Snap dragons, Lilac, Columbine, Sunflowers, Marigolds

  • Dog safe herbs

  • i.e. Basil, Mint, Parsley, Dill, and more.

  • Wet/dry areas (i.e. ponds, swimming pools, etc)

  • Dirt, sand, grass

  • Animals/wildlife (i.e. using a birdfeeder or squirrel feeder to welcome the scent of animals into your yard).


PART TWO: KNOWING THE DOG IN FRONT OF YOU


Now that you know how and why we add these elements into a sensory yard, let's talk about implementing the best elements for your pup.


The best part about creating a sensory yard is tailoring it to your individual dogs needs!


Here are some examples:


Have a hound that loves to sniff? Try...

Adding "natures snuffle mat" through planting dog safe grasses and florals. A good example would be using Tufted Hair Grass, Red Switch Grass, and more. Below they're very large, but you can buy them much smaller. They're great perennials, meaning they'll come back each spring.


Have a dog who loves to dig? Try...

Creating your dog their own dig pit! We talk about why they're great in our Non-Food Related Enrichment article, here.


Elder dog who loves to lounge? Try...

Low, easy to access lounge spaces with soft grass, moss, or a comfy outdoor bed in a shady spot. Amp it up by surrounding their favourite spot with some dog friendly herbs and plants, so that they can enjoy some new scents in their space.


Have a dog who loves water and gets hot super easily? Try...

Adding a kiddie pool, or if you've got the space, a dog friendly pond! Not only can a water feature be super fun for dogs who enjoy water, but it can be a great cool down spot on super hot days.


Have a rambunctious puppy that loves to run and explore? Try...

Adding some fun play elements to your sensory yard that involve climbing and exploration. Check out this amazing Sensory Garden that the Scottish SPCA put together, below!


Look at all of these sensory elements at the Scottish SPCA!

Don't forget to subscribe to our blog to be notified when our next blog post goes live, which will feature how we created our Sensory Yard's Sniffy Station (below!)


You can also follow along for Sensory Yard Updates on our Instagram (I've saved all progress into our "Sensory Yard" highlight, just for you!)




SOURCES & FURTHER READING

Naturalistic quantification of canine olfactory sensitivity - ScienceDirect

‘The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs’ - ScienceDirect

Effects of Olfactory and Auditory Enrichment on Heart Rate Variability in Shelter Dogs

How Does Dogs' Hearing Compare To Humans'?

Bath Cats and Dogs Home - Sensory & Enrichment Garden for dogs

Hearing/Auditory - Ontario SPCA and Humane Society

Understanding Your Dog’s (Amazing!) Five Senses

Can Dogs Taste?

Do Dogs Have Taste Buds? – Petozy

Ever Wonder How Dogs Smell So Well? - Science World

The behavioural effects of olfactory stimulation on dogs at a rescue shelter

The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of dogs housed in a rescue shelter

The scent of enrichment: Exploring the effect of odour and biological salience on behaviour during enrichment of kennelled dogs

New sensory garden for dogs opens at Scottish SPCA rescue centre | SSPCA


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