Megan’s Musings: Engage. Enrich. Empower.

engage enrich empower small

It’s Valentine’s this month, so it’s a good time to celebrate the love for our dogs! Sure, they may challenge us at times, but overall we are so lucky to have them in our lives. They are always happy to see us, don’t talk back (well, in ways that we understand 😉) and demonstrate the true definition of unconditional love! We provide food, shelter and care for our dogs and most of them have wonderful lives because of the love we have for them. But, what if I told you that we could do better? As much as we do provide for our dogs, their lives can still be limited and their needs can easily be put aside due to our busy schedules. It happens to all of us at times! So, I wanted to share some easy ways that we can go that extra mile to show our dog some love and ensure their emotional, physical and behavioural health needs are being met. These are simple and fun ways to help your dog, regardless of your schedule or budget!

What does it mean to engage with your dog? I’m not talking about when we just go about the motions and feed them, take them out for a walk or play a game with them. I’m talking about absolute engagement. The definition of engage is to participate or become involved in or establish a meaningful contact or connection with someone.

Too often, I see people out walking their dogs while on their cell phones are visiting with the people they are with. Dog walks have become more of a march as well. Don’t sniff that, walk over here, look at me, stay at my side, don’t say hi to that person, ignore that dog and so on. Many do not allow their dogs to be dogs and they aren’t enjoying the walk together. Start by going on one-on-one walks with your dogs. Let them sniff and take in their surroundings. Explore with them. Take them new places. Talk to them and interact. Enjoy nature together.

At times, I also see people playing fetch with their dog while engaged with something else. They just stand there throwing the ball for the dog while their attention is elsewhere. The flip side of this is over-arousal with our engagement. We let the dogs become hyper-focused and find it amusing to see them ball-obsessed or toy obsessed. This is unhealthy engagement and is all too common. Toys can be a great outlet for our dogs, but we need to understand what healthy engagement looks like for our dogs.

I feel like many dogs have a limited life. They are in the same house for hours most days, get to explore the same backyard, and although they may get regular walks, they tend to go to the same places. The definition of enrich is to improve or enhance the quality or value of. Although getting our dogs out provides some level of this, taking them to same place and/or doing more of a march like I mentioned above, is not enriching their lives.

Some easy ways to enrich their lives is by taking them new places and introducing them to new experiences. If you are pressed for time, doing a short outing is better than not doing one at all. Or, hire a dog walker or send your dog to dayschool. And attend training with your dog! Yes, you may have experience with training classes before, but your dog does not. This is an excellent way to provide some mental and physical exercise and let your dog meet new people and dogs. Play and social relationships are incredibly important for a dog’s overall well-being.

If you are busy, there are so many ways to provide enrichment to your dog. You can read my post on enrichment ideas during cold weather here. These exercises cannot just replace getting your dog out in the world. They provide some excellent outlets, but they do not replace letting your dog explore new places.

To empower means to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. I love this definition and feel it is very important to provide this for our dogs. Now I am not saying that we do not provide guidance and structure, but it does mean we need to get out of the habit of controlling everything in our dogs’ lives. This is where dominance theory and pack leader approaches have done the most damage to our dogs. Not only do some believe the nonsense that dogs are trying to assert dominance over us, but it has taught people that most normal dog behaviour is dangerous. This has caused us to not allow dogs to just be dogs anymore and many are living very sad lives as a result of this.

Empowerment is easy to do and is such a wonderful thing to allow a dog. Let them make their own choices when it is safe and appropriate for them to do so. For example, on a walk, let them lead the way. Follow them as they follow a scent, let them choose the route and explore the world around them.

I see the greatest impact with this when working with fearful dogs. Let’s say a dog is unsure of me. I stay low to the ground and avoid eye contact. I start by tossing food at the dog and reward them for moving closer to me. All of this is done at the dog’s pace. It is their choice to approach and they always have the option to move away. This is what builds their confidence and develops a positive relationship between us. I practice this theory with all of my dogs. We do things at their pace and I listen to them if they are uncomfortable with something. If they are unsure, I help them feel better about it, and in turn this enhances our relationship. It is truly a magical thing.

What are some ways you can further engage, enrich or empower your dog? Are you interested in learning more about what you can do? Join us March 24 and 25 for Dog Days of dogma! A unique and fun-filled weekend with the focus on how to engage, enrich and empower your dog. Find out full details at!


Megan’s Musings: Cold Weather Enrichment

duke cold weather 2Duke and Mya dressed for it and  loving the snow

Enrichment can be defined as the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something. For our dogs, this means improving their quality of life through various activities and/or experiences that improve their physical and/or psychological health. This is important for our dogs year-round, but in places where winter weather happens for a good portion of the year, it is critical that we address enrichment needs for our pets when they cannot get outside as often or for as long.

During the colder months when we are getting out less, we can begin to see frustration and arousal increase in our dogs. It is important for us to remember that our dogs are still needing adequate exercise and mental stimulation. Without this, our dogs may find ways to entertain themselves and drain their energy and we have no one to blame but ourselves. I’ve put together a list of ideas to keep your dog busy all while improving your relationship, increasing their training and having fun together! For our reactive dogs, the world becomes quieter for them which is great, but we do not want to slow down the progress we’ve made in training, so some of these ideas will keep them moving forward.

Playing games with your dogs not only helps enhance your relationship, but they can be an excellent physical outlet and provide mental stimulation. Not to mention, they are a lot of fun for both of you!

This is one of my personal favourites that you can play anywhere with your dog. Have them hold a stay, run and hide and then call them to come find you. Keep it simple when you are first introducing the game and start in a smaller space. If your dog is struggling to find you, help them by making noises. Once they understand this game, they become pros! So much fun for both of you and will get your dogs running and thinking!

Stair Races:
If your dog is in need of a good energy drain, this is a simple way to provide some physical exercise. Cue your dog to run up and down the stairs. Monitor them to ensure they are not pushing too hard or they do not go so fast that they trip up and fall, especially for young dogs who are still growing or seniors. This can be great exercise for older dogs, as long as you keep it slow and do not overdo it. For an added mental stimulation challenge, vary the speed and have them practice skills at the top/bottom.

Obstacle Courses:
These can be done anywhere in the house and can always be changing. Have them crawl under tables or chairs, jump over various items, weave around furniture, walk on different surfaces and anything else you can think of! Vary their speed and really get them focused and thinking about the items they are interacting with. Or set it up like agility and see how fast they can complete the course!

Board Games:
There are a range of board games you can find on Amazon that you can play with your dog such as “Do You Mind?”, “My Dog Can Do That” or “Funagle.” These are fun for the whole family and have a wide range of activities, training skills and more that you can do with your dog.

I’m Gonna Getcha!
This is basically tag with my dogs. When we just need to drain some pent up energy and have fun together, I hold my hands up like I’m going to grab them and say “I’m gonna getcha!’. It can be great for training impulse control as well because the game stops if their teeth hit my skin or they jump on me. We also take settle breaks and then jump up and chase each other around again only when I say “I’m gonna getcha!”.

The benefits to nosework activities are endless. These games provide physical and mental stimulation, but also builds confidence and decreases arousal. I love to play find it and treasure hunt games with my dogs. I start off simple with find it with a treat in one of my hands, to simple find it exercises in a small space and then build it up to a larger area. You can do this with their meals or have them find a stuffed kong. The possibilities are endless. A quick google search for indoor nosework games, will provide you with a large variety of fun nosework activities you can play with your dog.

kate-56791Keep those brains working in the cold weather

Interactive Toys:
It is wonderful how many interactive toys for dogs there are nowadays. These are excellent enrichment tools as they provide great mental stimulation outlets and can keep your dog focused and entertained for hours. In an ideal world, we would feed all of our dogs’ meals from interactive toys and this is especially important during the colder months. Interactive toys are also ideal for times when you need to keep your dog busy, during activities such as Halloween or opening gifts at Christmas. This is just a small list of some of my favourites, but test a range of them to see what you and your dog like best! Keep your dog supervised for any that can easily be chewed.

A classic that is versatile and durable. Stuff these with your dog’s meals, favourite treats or google Kong recipes for a range of ideas to keep these new and interesting for your dogs. My favourite option is to stuff them and freeze them to make them last that much longer. Turn this into a game by playing find it with your dog’s stuffed kongs. There are a wide range of interactive toys on the market including some of my favourites: the Busy Buddy line, the must-have Kong Wobbler and Hide-a-Squirrel!

There are more and more puzzles for dogs coming onto market every day. Support your favourite pet supply store or check out online options like Amazon to find puzzles for your dog. My favourites are the Nina Ottoson puzzles. They range in difficulty, are durable and can be used a variety of ways. There are also a variety of food bowls that make eating more interactive and can work like a puzzle. Check out the range of options we have in store!

Snuffle Mat:
These are currently taking the world by storm! Easy to make and can keep your dog busy for a good length of time. These are mats with pieces of fleece bits where food is scattered and the dog must work to find it. The dog must use their nose and some food can be difficult for them to get out, so does require problem solving as well. You can find these in stores or online, or do a quick google search and make your own at home! While you are at it, check out the other great ideas you can find online for homemade interactive toys for your dogs using simple things such as muffin tins!

New Items:
You can continue to socialize your dog indoors by introducing them to new items. Provide extra enrichment by changing the environment and letting your dog interact with new items. These can be cleaning equipment, large empty water bottles, moving items, things that make noise and anything else you can find that is safe and new to your dog.

The cold weather does not mean that training stops. We can increase our indoor training through the ideas I’ve listed below to ensure our dog is still receiving additional mental/physical stimulation, continuing to progress through their skills and still getting the needed work as part of their behaviour modification plan.

Work on Skills:
You can still do distraction training indoors through sounds, people, other pets and moving items. Practice in new places, with you in different positions and even out of sight! Add distractions, duration and find ways to challenge your dog and proof up their training. Introduce new skills such as drop on recall, finish or skills at a distance/out of sight. Keep up with your training and provide additional mental stimulation by practicing and proofing your dog’s skills throughout the day.

Tricks are so much fun for both you and your dog and are a great way to provide additional physical and mental stimulation. Take a tricks class, order a book or look up videos online for a never-ending list of tricks that you can work on with your dog!

Real World Training:
You may not be out in the real world as much, but that does not mean training needs to stop! Work on overall manners, handling and socialization. Practice doorbell and table manners, work on jumping, and continue impulse control exercises such as leave it with high value items. Do not forget to continue working on handling and socialization exercises. Continue practicing grooming exercises, putting items on and off your dog, and introduce them to new sounds (on tv or your computer) and items. Have people over and get them involved as long as your dog is comfortable.

Do not succumb to the winter blues. Continue to focus on creative ways to keep your dog(s) exercised and provide enrichment. In turn, your dog will be more settled and focused and you can enjoy cuddling up over the colder days together more. The winter months are also a great time to get your dog into classes. Continue your urbanK9 training or participate in our wide range of clinics to ensure your dog is continuing to progress on their training. Have fun and stay warm!

Do you have other ways you provide your dog enrichment? Or do you have some fun games that you play? Please share in the comments below!