How Can Enrichment Calm My Puppy Down?
“Doesn’t matter how long I play with my puppy, he is never worn out!”
“My Puppy is still full of beans after a long walk!”
“He has so much energy and rarely settles”.
"I wish he'd just calm down."
Have you said the same thing about your puppy? Do you ever feel that there’s just no wearing them out? It is no secret that raising a puppy is a tiring ordeal. While its exciting and full of moments of joy, it is also exhausting. When a puppy is full of beans, it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to introduce more intensive activities, such as very long walks or hours of ball chasing. I am sorry to say that you aren’t wearing your dog out, instead you are building their endurance and essentially training them for a marathon they are never going to run.
Whilst physical exercise is an essential part of your puppy’s health, learning and development, mental exercise is just as important. So, what is enrichment? There are several forms of enrichment. These include sensory enrichment, social enrichment, physical enrichment and cognitive enrichment, all of which involve creating opportunities to participate in activities and experiences that are stimulating for your puppy’s mind.
Enrichment activities provide opportunities for dogs to use their senses, to exhibit natural canine behaviours and to problem solve. The great thing about enrichment, is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything other than quality time with your pup and some tasty treats! So, let’s consider some examples of enrichment and why they will benefit your puppy.
Sensory enrichment has become very popular in the last two years. When I used to mention puzzle feeders or snuffle mats to dog guardians, they would just look at me confused, but now everyone tends to have these things in the house. Snuffle mats are excellent for providing stimulation and yet I am often told by clients that their puppy won’t eat the treats or will get bored of it.
When we first introduced snuffle mats to Mando, we started with a very small one and let him watch us fill it and then pointed to where the treats were hidden. We did this until he understood what to do and then we purchased him a puzzle mat and did the same thing. Mando loves his puzzle mat, and we now use it to teach impulse control, such as asking him to wait, while I hide all the treats.
If your dog is bored, its likely they are bored of the treats you are using, so try using a brand-new treat each time. I always use a mixture of treats in both enrichment and training, to keep it interesting for Mando. As well as snuffle mats, there are puzzle feeders, Kongs, licky mats and enrichment toys. It's best to get a selection and then use a different one each day to keep activities interesting for your puppy.
Mando’s favourite enrichment activity has to be his ball pit. When we first introduced Mando to it, we kept the pit empty and placed treats in, until he was confident jumping in and out of it. We then added the balls gradually and continued throwing treats in. Now, it is full of balls and we regularly throw treats in for him to find. The balls encourage digging and foraging behaviour, which provides a healthy outlet for him.
This is a great enrichment option if you have a puppy that loves to dig and you want to save your flower beds and sofas. Sand pits are also a great option for this in the summer months.
You can also provide sensory enrichment by making your garden more interesting. You can create a sensory garden by having different textures, such as sand, water (paddling pool) gravel, grass and bark and you can also plant lots of herbs and strong-smelling plants. You also have the option of creating treasure hunts in your garden by hiding lots of smelly treats and letting your dog go find them. With sensory enrichment, your options are endless so provide your puppy with a variety.
- Reduces your puppy’s heart rate.
- Calms them down.
- Helps them to decompress.
- Prevents boredom and reduces destructive behaviours.
- Teaches them to settle.
- Encourages independent play.
- Increases confidence and optimism.
So many people will say “I don’t have time to train my puppy” but at the end of the day it is our responsibility to teach them and its really not realistic to expect puppies to entertain themselves. (Let’s face it, if they do, you usually have to say goodbye to something valuable) When our puppies cry and bark for our attention or they start creating chaos despite being walked, it is usually due to that fact that they are understimulated.
Rather than a 1 hours walk, why not do 45 minutes and spend the remaining 15 minutes doing some training? You can simply do some life skills such as, wait, stay, sit and down or you could have fun and learn some new tricks. Your puppy will thrive on the interaction and will enjoy the mental stimulation.
Me and Mando are working through a dog trick book. He loves training and has fun learning new tricks. So far, he has learnt paws up, pray, play dead, spin, turn around, middle, sit pretty and target training and we have so many more to do. We keep sessions short and fun but have a couple of sessions each day. Training doesn’t need to be long, and it certainly shouldn’t be boring for you or your puppy. Rather, it should be an opportunity to teach and bond with them.
Puzzle feeders are also excellent for problem solving and really engage a puppy’s developing mind. You will have to start with simple ones first, until your puppy understands how to get the treat and then you can start making each puzzle a little more challenging for them. These are especially great for rainy days or when you want to settle and watch a movie. (Something that is rarely possible with a puppy).
Providing cognitive enrichment is mentally tiring for your puppy because it motivates them to think and problem solve. Remember the brain is also a muscle that requires exercise. Like many, you likely have some kind of hobby that can be mentally tiring but satisfying at the same time. For me this is reading, writing and drawing, for you it may be something else entirely, but the difference is we can provide our own mental stimulation, whereas puppies depend on us to provide it for them.
We tend to make time for the things we enjoy, such as tv or social media and then claim we haven’t got time to train. However, if you truly love your puppy and want them to have a good life, you will make time.
- Opportunities to problem solve.
- Teaches life skills while having fun.
- Tires them out mentally.
- Strengthens your bond with your puppy.
- Supports learning and improves memory.
- Builds confidence and optimism.
Physical and Social Enrichment
Although your puppy does need mental stimulation, walks can still provide great opportunities for your dog to engage in enriching activities. Many claim that no matter how long they have walked their puppy, they still have lots of energy. This is usually down to the quality of the walk, as many are fixated on covering a certain distance and become impatient with their pup’s endless sniffing.
Preventing dogs from sniffing on their walks is the equivalent to someone placing a blind fold on you at the cinema. In the same way that we rely on our vision to enjoy the movie, dogs rely on scent to enjoy their walks. For many dogs, going for a walk is the only stimulation they have and even then, the enrichment enjoyed, may only be a short sniff of a lamppost before being pulled away impatiently.
So, if you want your dog walks to be more enjoyable and tiring for your puppy, let them sniff for as long as they want and don’t worry about the distance you have walked. Sometimes me and Mando barely walk anywhere but he has a good 30 minutes of sniffing whatever he wants to, and he’s satisfied with that.
Mando still can’t walk very far and since he’s a shih-tzu, he doesn’t require intense exercise, however, this means I focus on the quality of his walk rather than the distance travelled. Mando has recently made it clear he wants to choose which direction to walk. (as he is demonstrating in the photo below)
Many would become frustrated at this and while I don’t always want to go in the direction he chooses, I remember that the walk is for him and not me. So, I follow him and remember that giving him choice is empowering and makes his walks more enriching.
You can also introduce some social enrichment on your walks by walking with other people or other dog walkers. (if your dog is comfortable with other dogs and people) Socialisation is very much fixated on puppy play, when in reality it encompasses so much more. While puppy play has its place, it’s also an important part of socialisation to teach your puppy to walk calmly with other dogs and people of varying ages. They need to learn that not every interaction with dogs equals rough play, as this prevents reactivity and frustration developing in the future.
Simply walking with another dog and exploring the environment together can be very calming and mentally tiring. We have bumped into complete strangers on our walks and ended up walking with them, so the dogs can walk together, which Mando loves.
I also make walks more enriching by hiding treats in trees and letting Mando find them. This is a great option if you haven’t got very long to walk them. Rather, than stopping them from sniffing and dragging them quickly around the block, you can simply take some treats out and do some treat scattering in the grass and leaves or hide treats in trees and this will tire them out both physically and mentally.
- Makes walks more enriching.
- Helps them develop calm social skills.
- Provides opportunities to exhibit normal behaviours.
- Prevents boredom on walks.
- Develops engagement with you on walks.
- Provides opportunities for interaction.
So, as you can see there are plenty of ways in which we can enrich a puppy’s life. Behaviours that we often find annoying or inconvenient are often normal dog behaviours or an indication that the puppy is bored and understimulated. However, if we provide enriching activities that encourage natural behaviours, stimulate their mind and engage their senses, I promise you will have a much calmer puppy! They definitely enrich our lives, so we should enrich theirs in return.
Puppy Training- This is the Way!