I’m guessing you have pets because they are fun, cuddly, and make you smile. Yep, me too. If you got a pet to increase drudgery in your life, you might as well stop reading right now.
Do I still have your attention? It’s likely because you’re as crazy about your pets as I am about mine. So maybe you can appreciate this too: I do not understand why people tell pet owners not to “spoil their pets.” At my house, “spoiling the pets” is a major pastime — in fact, it’s perhaps the best part of living with them.
What does this even mean? “Spoiled.” My own favorite “spoiling” involves toys, chewies, training games, and outdoor adventures. But sometimes, I just need something to entertain my pups while I work on the computer. They are dogs. They do not understand the drudgery of writing medical records, paying bills, or working overtime. They need something to do! (Preferably before they remodel the sofa cushions.) And in animal lingo, “something to do” = Enrichment.
:to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient the experience will enrich your life: such as
a : to add beauty to : adorn
b : to enhance the taste of butter will enrich the sauce
c : to make (a soil) more fertile
d : to improve the nutritive value of (a food) by adding nutrients (such as vitamins or amino acids) and especially by restoring part of the nutrients lost in processing enriched flour
e : to process so as to add or increase the proportion of a desirable ingredient enriched uranium enriched natural gas
-- enricher noun
-- enrichment \in-ˈrich-mənt, en-\ noun
Personally, my favorite definition on there is “d.” But instead of nutrients for their bodies, the kind of enrichment I’m discussing deals with added nutrition for our pups’ mental diets. By adding enrichment activities to their daily lives, we stimulate their brains. These activities are the doggie equivalents of crossword puzzles, mazes, connect the dots, coloring books, puzzles, even Rubix cubes! This is so important.
I prefer to think of enrichment as a necessary part of my pet’s daily lives. Not optional.
And yet, we are modern humans with ridiculously overscheduled lives and waaay too much to do, so we don’t always have much time to actively participate in our dogs’ enrichment. With that in mind, my go-to choices are typically work-to-eat toys.
It takes three seconds for a dog to scarf down an entire bowl of food. In contrast, animals in the wild spend entire days hunting and scavenging for grub — doing so doesn’t just fuel their bodies, it engages their minds as well. So that’s where the idea of these work-to-eat toys comes from. And wonderfully, the toys are time consuming and complicated for the dogs, but super easy for us time-starved humans to prepare. Attached is a handout on some of my favorites. Feel free to print it out and go shopping.
Watch your dogs to see what their personal preferences are. Which types of toys do they like best? Spy on them as they learn to manipulate these food toys. The ingenuity is hilarious. Don’t be surprised when toys come flying down the stairs repeatedly, followed by a very happy pet calmly consuming whatever food bits managed to fly out.
I encourage you to go ahead and spoil your pet with tons of enrichment. In fact, as a veterinarian, it’s my prescription for you! Have fun — both of you.