As humans, we lead stressful lives. We all know that de-stressing is a process. One hour of relaxing won’t keep you calm, cool, and collected for the rest of your life. You need consistent breaks and things to occupy your time and your mind.
Dogs are the same way. A dog needs more than a 15 minute stand alone enrichment activity. Enrichment is a process that creates a more positive and productive shelter experience for the dogs in your care.
Enrichment reduces stress, boredom, and undesired behaviors by supporting a dog’s sensory and social needs. It also adds value to your shelter dogs’ lives by teaching them basic manners and giving them the confidence to make a good impression on potential adopters.
Unhappy, frustrated, or bored dogs will not show well in their kennels and that will put off potential adopters. Enrichment helps to counter kennel-induced behaviors by making the dogs’ environments more stimulating and challenging. Toys, puzzles, sensory games, playgroups, and other novel experiences are perfect for this.
How Do Enrichment Programs Work?
Have a Plan
Because shelters are hectic places, it’s important to have an enrichment game plan in place before your dogs’ needs become critical.
Here’s how to build a great plan:
- Train your staff to recognize the early signs of stress.
- Recruit and train volunteers to work with and support your dogs.
- Network with other shelters and rescues, as well as breed clubs, trainers, and other
- Solicit donation of enrichment items from the community.
- Build a network of trained foster homes.
What Do You Do Once You Have a Plan?
The Old Standbys
- Use old ice cube trays or Dixie cups to create small, yummy ice treats. Put a few pieces of kibble, yogurt, peanut butter or treats in the bottom, fill with broth and freeze.
- Smear Kongs or Nylabones with peanut butter or cream cheese. Hand it over to one of your most stressed dogs for a quick, satisfying treat.
- Short 5-minute basic obedience training sessions are perfect. You can do these outside of kennels. Don’t forget to end on a positive note.
Already Do Those? Here’s More Creative and Incredibly Simple Stuff
- Bring a dog into your office for a little while. Kennels are noisy. A dog will appreciate a quiet place to nap or getting some attention from a new friend.
- Move dogs to different kennels to give them a change of scenery.
- Take a dog for a car ride when you go on a coffee run. Adopters love to know how dogs behave in the car.
- Play audiobooks, which research says can reduce stress in shelter dogs.
- Bring a radio into the kennels and tune into a classical music channel.
- Add an essential oil, such as lavender, to a spray bottle filled with water. Walk through the kennels and mist the air with a new scent.
- Give small dogs a chance to sit on something new by adding a chair to their kennel.
- Hang a wind chime near the kennels and let the sounds soothe your dogs.
- Blow bubbles in the kennels for visual stimulation – and great photo ops.
How Do You Find Time and Money?
We’ve already established that enrichment tools are often things you have lying around your shelter. But here are some other thoughts:
- Hold an enrichment supply drive and collect anything from Kongs and Nylabones to PVC pipes, peanut butter, milk jugs, plastic bottles, blankets, and towels.
- Set up an Amazon.com wish list so donors know your shelters needs.
- Sign up for the Kong Cares program and receive discounted rates on Kong toys.
- Get volunteers to create some of these enrichment toys and treats.
- Have volunteers and staff do dog social walks. In addition to exercise, dogs get to spend time getting to know their roommates.
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