Liz Mahony is an experienced Dog Trainer and Holistic Therapist for all animals. In her monthly column, Liz aims to promote mutual respect between carer and dog. Contact Liz at
The dictionary definition of enrichment means improving the quality or value of something. Each of us has our own interpretation for enhancement in our lives. Whatever it is, it sends us home feeling good about ourselves and life in general.
So how about our canine companions? They need enrichment in their lives too. Each breed has certain characteristics that makes them inclined to favour certain games, and so on. And within each breed, individual dogs will have a particular preference.
Sniffing on a walk: Did you know that when your dog gets a chance to sniff the scents left by other dogs, it’s highly stimulating and satisfying. If they could talk, they could tell you as they stop at a particular scent, the breed of dog, his size, sex, whether a newcomer or regular, and even in which direction he’s going!
Despite being a Boxer and brachycephalic, Saffron has an amazing nose. She adores being off lead and takes her time sniffing at length all the various interesting messages that have been left by other dogs. I guess it’s a bit like us getting onto Facebook or reading the newspaper!
Allowing choices: When I take Saffron out for her morning walk, I go out of my gate, ask her to sit while I remove her lead and then let her choose to go right or left. Most of the time, she chooses to go left but these last couple of mornings, she’s decided to go right. And she seems to appreciate that choice.
In the evenings I suggest that we’ll go in the opposite direction from the morning walk just to keep a bit of variety.
Games: While the daily walk is really important for exercise and olfactory pleasures, games are just as necessary in a dog’s life.
Some breeds are more inclined to play than others. Find what ‘makes your dog’s tail wag’ and spend time giving him that personal attention.
In Saffron’s case it’s playing footie. I’ve invested in two Boomer balls, one very large and a smaller one. Made of hard plastic, they cannot be punctured in the excitement of the game! She’s so active racing around, heading it, using her paws, spinning and turning, that after about five minutes she’s run ragged and in need of copious amounts of water. She then flops down on the cool floor with a smile on her face!
During those games, I can practise some basic obedience training too. I ask her to sit and stay before we start the game or if I want to throw the ball. As I’m giving her what she wants, she rewards me with obedience and, therefore, her response to the commands becomes automatic in other situations.
She also loves me to pretend to stalk her on her walk or in the garden. She may be trotting in front of me and then she’ll flop down in the Sphinx mode and fix me with a challenging stare. I immediately crouch down and pretend to stalk her as I creep closer! She never lets me get too close before she whirls away and drops down again for me to repeat the performance. I love it because she initiated this game herself and I’ve only had one other Boxer who did this.
Spontaneity: Dogs certainly love routine but there’s no harm in giving them a change of scene when it comes to walks.
Some dogs just love to run with the wind flapping their ears whether on a beach or in a field. They can release all their pent up energy and enjoy the freedom that comes with it.
At present, Saffron’s preference is for woods or forestry. There’s one particular woodland walk that she adores. Apart from indulging her desire to sniff and receive messages from other dogs, she loves to leap up and down off the banks in it. She winds herself up with excitement. Once back in the car, she flops and snores all the way home!
Human and canine interaction: If you have a shy or confrontational dog, then any sort of interaction is difficult and it’s certainly not a good idea to force your dog into stressful situations. You would be better off taking advice from a trainer and making any interactions gradual, gentle, and at the dog’s pace.
However, if your dog is a socialite, then human and canine interaction makes his tail wag like a helicopter’s rotor blades!
Teach your dog how to interact politely with people and other canines so that they aren’t too boisterous. But, also it’s important to teach those who approach you and your dog how to behave properly, otherwise no-one enjoys the encounter and your own dog only learns that ‘meeting and greeting’ is stressful.
These are but a few ways to add the X-Factor to your dog’s life!