One of the reasons why we love dogs and cats so much, is because they have an incredible ability to connect with us. And, we have a lot in common with them! Dogs in particular are highly social species, they thrive on interactions with humans as well as animals of their own kind. Play is an incredibly important aspect of development for animals, both mentally and physically, and without the opportunity to play, explore and think, dogs and cats can suffer from boredom, frustration and even anxiety.
Sometimes, when we think of enrichment toys, we think high cost and low durability. But in truth, enrichment toys can be cheap, easy and fun to make on your own. The more a pet has to think about, the less destructive they are. Destructive behaviour is usually a symptom of stress and anxiety, so if your pet is able to focus on something purposeful, the way their brain functions changes; and they become less anxious. In short, positive play results in a positive mind and good behaviour.
So, what sorts of enrichment toys can you make that that work well? There really is no right or wrong here. Using a little creativity with safe products, and under supervision, you can use a range of materials combined with food that keep your pet happy and busy all day!
When I am home with my dogs, here are some fun and basic activities I create for my pets:
Simply hide their food in another room or in the yard. Allowing your dog to use their nose to locate their food is incredibly important for their brains.
Get some buckets and a broom and place the buckets facing down. Balance the broom across the two buckets and use it as a jump. You can get creative with this and even make an obstacle course at your home.
Hammer ten wooden stakes 1 m apart in your yard and teach your dog to weave in between them
Make a papier-mâché piñata filled with treats. This can be a great activity with children during lockdown. Make sure you use safe products and supervise your pet during the fun destructive period of the play.
Practise some obedience skills and trick training with your cat or dog. A 5-minute game of target training, stationing on a mat or simply learning how to shake hands.
Whatever you decide to do to get your pet’s brain working, don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun.
Remember that learning and thinking should always be fun and on your pet’s terms. If they are not interested in the play activity, mix it up and find ways to engage them better. Make you sessions short and never onerous. Ensure you have great motivators including yummy high value treats and toys if they love to play with toys.
Be mindful of the materials you are using, making sure they are safe, even if they get destroyed. Through creating engaging and diverse activities for your pets, you actually get to bond with them more. You learn about how they think, what drives them and how you communicate with each other. It is interesting to think that taking the time to provide purposeful experiences for your pet not only improves their wellbeing, but it does the same for you too. Life with purpose is always richer and happier. What sorts of activities have you invented for your pet?