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Ultimate Guide To Enriching the Life Of Your Pets

canine enrichment ideas, dog enrichment, dog enrichment games, games for dogs, brain games for dogs

Pawsitive Thinking has helped thousands of people with enrichment ideas for dogs, cats, chickens and other animals. For those new to enrichment or seasoned pros, this guide offers information and inspiration for animal enrichment.

What Is Enrichment?

In essence, enrichment means improving and enhancing quality of life.  In practice, enrichment encompasses activities or management methods that allow animals to demonstrate natural behaviour and give them opportunities to exercise control or choice. Enrichment can be anything that promotes positive mental and physical activity. 

Enrichment is for all animals and it can be provided at home, in the garden and away from home in different environments.  The aim is for enrichment to be about income for the animal and not outcome- promoting health and positive emotions through action, interest and mental stimulation.

Why Bother With Enrichment?

It is widely recognised that good animal welfare extends well beyond just the provision of food and water. Enabling and offering enrichment hugely enhances well being and it is considered just as important to good welfare as appropriate nutrition and veterinary care. 

Animals that lead enriched lives are often happier and healthier. The consequent benefits to humans are improved safety, less unwanted behaviour, easier management and reduced financial outlay. Enrichment supports natural behaviour and lowers stress, which promotes positive emotions in both animals and people. 

How Can We Provide Enrichment?

Enrichment can be incorporated into an animal's lifestyle and management, as well as being provided through specific additional activities. There are numerous ways we can provide enrichment for our pets, which can be categorised into 5 main sections-

  • Cognitive
  • Social
  • Sensory
  • Food
  • Habitat

Enrichment doesn't have to cost money. With imagination and creativity, enrichment can be offered to your pet in even the smallest of spaces. 

Enrichment Ideas For Pets

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Cognitive Enrichment

Brain games are a great way to provide cognitive enrichment to dogs. In fact many enrichment ideas for dogs can be adapted for other pets too. For all animals, mental stimulation can be provided by teaching a new skill with positive reinforcement, or training an existing skill in a new environment. 

Novelty is a fantastic way of offering cognitive enrichment. Think about how you can add new things, move items or change them to introduce novelty into your animal's lives. Even the arrival of the wheelbarrow to muck out our chicken enclosure causes interest and that's enrichment! Something new to perch on, look at and scratch in creates easy enrichment opportunities.

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Social Enrichment

Many pets benefit from companionship in some way. Whilst species-specific friendships are vital for animals such as horses, we can also enhance quality of life by providing choice and variation too.

Positive opportunities for social interaction are important. It's obviously not enriching if an animal is scared, anxious or stressed by social interaction but if carried out appropriately, then social enrichment can be incredibly beneficial.

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Sensory Enrichment

We can enrich our pet's lives through touch, taste, smell, sound and sight. ACE Freework is just one way to provide sensory enrichment and it can be carried out with lots of different animals, not just dogs. In summary, the animal is unclothed and free to explore a variety of 'stations' without human intervention. Different materials, objects and surfaces are used with food and/or scent for the animal to explore. Valuable information can also be gained by us humans about how the animal moves, makes choices and interacts.

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Food Enrichment

As well as changing up the type of food on offer, enrichment can be provided by presenting and delivering food in different ways. For canine inspiration, read our blog about Ditching The Bowl. As with many animals, chickens and cats can also benefit from ditching the bowl too.

Getting creative with food is great fun and whilst we offer many tools to help, you can also create enrichment activities at little or no cost using your pet's daily food allowance.

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Habitat Enrichment

A great deal of enrichment can be provided within an animal's habitat by offering choice. For example, a choice of sleeping areas, a choice of eating stations and a choice of physical environment. A simple log pile can provide enrichment to many different animals- they can sniff, perch on, climb, move around, chew or jump it! Or a pile of wood chip enables scratching, digging, searching, foraging and rolling. 

Free Enrichment Map

If you would like a free downloadable pdf of the enrichment map shown in the pictures above, head to the Pawsitive Thinking Facebook group and join us. Members can access a printable version in the files section of the group, alongside other free resources.

Once you get into the enrichment mindset, you'll find ideas will start to flow. Inspiration will come from everywhere and creating activities can easily become part of everyday care. Enrichment isn't always complicated and sometimes even the most simplest of ideas can bring great joy to both you and your animals.

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Thank you for reading.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of enrichment ideas for dogs, cats and chickens as well as products to help you with their training and care-  SHOP HERE 

More blogs available to read here-

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Welcome To The Pawsitive Thinking Blog

Pawsitive Thinking, canine enrichment, dog enrichment, dog enrichment ideas, ethical dog treats, long lasting dog chews, dog chews not rawhide, dog dental chews

Hello!

Thank you for popping by. This is the place to discover information, ideas and inspiration for you to help your pets lead their best lives. 

I love happy animals and happy people! Throughout my whole career I have strived to positively enhance welfare and promote mutually beneficial relationships between people and their pets. Please scroll down to find interesting and useful editorial on enrichment, training and care.

I originally started writing for newspapers and magazines, something which I continue to do 25 years later. Now with Pawsitive Thinking, a new home has been found for my writing. Informative guides, news, articles and thoughts will be added here, to share with you.

 Happy Reading!

Natalie

February 2, 2022

What is enrichment and how can we provide it? In our guide to animal enrichment, we present enrichment ideas for dogs, cats, chickens and other animals. With access to a FREE downloadable resource.

January 31, 2022

This fun and tasty West Paw Toppl recipe is sure to get tails wagging! Show your dog some extra love this Valentine’s day.

January 25, 2022

Many dog owners are familiar with Kongs, the stuffable dog toy. West Paw Toppls are a different version of this canine enrichment classic. Toppls have many benefits over Kongs and have rightly gained a huge fan base. So what’s the buzz all about? Here are the top 5 reasons why people prefer West Paw Toppls over the Kong.

October 6, 2021

Ditching the bowl can be fantastic enrichment and really useful for training success. Done badly it can create negative emotions, frustration and stress. Natalie highlights the importance of ethical consideration when ditching the bowl.

September 21, 2021

The complete lowdown on natural dog chews! Chewing time, key benefits, typical nutritional analysis, age guide and safety tips.
A whole host of ideas for training and enrichment.

September 13, 2021

Pawsitive Thinking is pleased to be working with Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) to help improve and extend the lives of dogs suffering with arthritis.

November 26, 2020

When is a natural chew not natural? Natalie identifies why some chews commonly sold as natural, could actually be detrimental to your dog. The hideous chemical processing of dog chews is revealed.

June 17, 2020

Unwanted behaviour in dogs is a major cause of rehoming and even euthanasia. An American vet specialising in animal behaviour, stress evaluation and canine aggression has reported some interesting findings.

June 12, 2020

Chickens don’t have any teeth, you’ve probably heard of the expression ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’. Without teeth, they have a different way of grinding food and that’s where grit comes in.
Here’s the information you need to understand all things grit!

May 24, 2020

Dogs are making choices all the time, so we need to train our dogs to make the right choices. This is where reinforcement comes in. If you add the right reinforcer at the right time, it will encourage more of the behaviour you want.

May 19, 2020

What does ditching the bowl mean? Why bother? How often? What about Raw?

Your questions on ditching the bowl answered plus ideas to get you started.

May 16, 2020

Mighty middle is a really useful game that you can play with your dog to help with recall, proximity to you, confidence and focus in distracting environments.

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No More Following The Bum In Front!

Teaching children to ride

A Modern Approach To Teaching Children To Ride

By Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc (Equine Science)

Ethical tuition for mutual enjoyment

Children’s ponies have a very tough job, they are often required to be as consistent as possible regardless of influences such as the weather, environment or rider. When teaching children to ride, clumsy, unskilled communication is often taught in order for children to achieve a milestone. Kick to go, pull to stop and hands to your pockets to steer are commonplace instructions. Mistakes are naturally made during the learning process, so alongside the crudeness, the communication can sometimes be inconsistent and contradictory too. Being a pony on the receiving end of all this is not easy and it must be remembered that they haven’t even chosen their job!

It should therefore be the job of instructors to give ponies protection and manage the learning and achievement of the rider without it being at the expense of the pony. The idea that riding is a journey, not a destination should be encouraged and expectations of both the children and their parents need to be managed proactively. We need to build good foundations that enable refined, appropriate and consistent communication and we need to do this in a way that is safe and enjoyable for the children.

“The principle goal of education should be to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

Jean Piaget

Over 25 years experience of teaching up to 75 children a week has enabled me to recognise many pitfalls with traditional tuition and the desperate need to disseminate kinder, safer and more harmonious riding rather than perpetuating outdated methods. Times have changed, we now know far more about equine emotions and learning and thankfully there is also a greater drive for positive animal welfare. New techniques are therefore needed for the next generation of horse people and modern tuition needs to incorporate more empathy and understanding of the horse.

Children And Whips

Children aren’t born wanting to hit ponies, quite the opposite, many have a natural love and affection towards them. It is not acceptable for children to hit a dog or each other with a stick, yet it is not unusual for children to be instructed to hit ponies, particularly in riding schools and at Pony Club. This method of teaching children how to get their own way often has the lack of an accompanying explanation as to why these methods work. This is most likely because the teachers themselves were also taught this way and they are just passing this on. It is far more common to hear ‘Give your pony a tap’ than ‘Hit your pony with a stick so it hurts’ but they are both the same thing, people are very good at rephrasing things to make themselves feel better. Language remodelling is quite common in the equestrian community in order to reduce the emotional feelings of discomfort in humans.

It is now time that teaching children to whip ponies (and other such uncouth tuition) becomes extinct.

Children love ponies. Mutual happiness.

So how do we bring on the next generation?

How can we help children learn and achieve ethically, without inadvertently punishing the ponies?

My top 3 guidelines for instructors AND parents are-

1) Be patient and don’t use short cuts for lack of skill or knowledge. Slow down and enjoy the journey, looking at the bigger picture. If a child can’t canter without the pony being lunged in side reins, don’t canter. If a child can’t go off the lead rein without the pony wearing a more aversive bit, don’t let them go yet.

2)  Reinvent the milestones. Make lessons about empathy, harmony and partnerships rather than faster, higher, ‘more’. Break from tradition and teach the premise that riding is not just about what the rider wants, that the pony’s needs are important too.

3)  Be realistic. To learn anything new takes a huge amount of repetition. Reading, playing an instrument or driving a car doesn’t happen over night, yet when learning these we often practise every day. When children learn to ride, some are only riding an hour a week, or even less.

Modern horse riding tuition. Teaching children to ride.

The Key To Modern, Enjoyable Teaching

To keep lessons interesting and children engaged whilst they carry out the huge repetition required to learn, I prefer the active learning approach whenever possible. This ‘teaching without talking’ style of education is a big hit in schools, where it has been proven to increase achievement, as well as improving understanding, focus and effort. And it’s enjoyable! Going around in circles following the bum in front whilst being shouted at is no fun for anyone and this style of one-size-fits-all tuition leads to bad riding, reduced safety and fed up ponies. Active learning empowers children to learn by doing, involving them in the whole process rather than just receiving information from the teacher. So instead of just telling a rider what to do over and over again, I think outside the box and think of ways that I can involve the children in their own learning and include exercises that will teach a specific thing without me getting into the realms of nagging.

Engage- Don’t Dictate

Here is an example of how active learning differs to traditional instruction-

Traditional Teaching– the instructor chooses which order a group of children will ride in, puts out some poles then tells them to start on the right rein riding over the blue pole first, then the red one then change the rein and ride over the yellow pole and halt at a certain point. The instructor then tells the riders what was good and what needs improvement. The exercise is then repeated.

Active Learning Approach– the instructor asks the riders where they want the poles to be placed. The group then discusses between them which order they will ride in and why, where they will start, what order the poles are ridden over and where the finish is. The riders themselves then discuss what they liked, didn’t like, what was harder or easier and what they could do to improve. The riders then choose to repeat the exercise or change it according to their findings from the first time. The instructor facilitates the discussion and gives their input but doesn’t dictate. Riders can learn from their own choices and the instructor is still there to step in should these choices cause a safety issue or inadvertently upset the ponies.

Charity Shops Are Your Friend!

A lot can be achieved with some inexpensive props and a few homemade resources, charity shops can be a great source of cheap teaching aids. So rather than asking a child to do a walk-halt transition 10 times, I would distribute some items around the riding area for the child to collect and take to a specific point. Depending on the age and experience level, the items could be small cuddly toys, grooming kit, old bits of bridle or pictures of super heroes, the only limit is your imagination! The child gets to choose direction and which item to collect next, they are practising several things repeatedly without realising it and the instructor can add value by, for example, choosing speed and correcting posture.

Children's riding lessons. Modern riding lessons.

Active Learning From The Very Beginning

Good horsemanship begins even with very young children- what a fantastic opportunity we have with toddlers, who are a blank canvas, to set them off on the right path. I think it’s important for first introductions to ponies to be child led, even a Shetland pony can be big and scary to a little person. This is why I set up Pony Playgroup, so young children can combine learning about ponies with things they are more familiar with, which leads to positive associations and greater confidence. The children have the choice to go back and forth between being with a pony and playing in the sand tray, they can throw (clean!) shavings around in a spare stable with the sit on mini diggers and toddler sized wheelbarrows and tools and they can help look after the ponies by making feeds (popular and messy!).

Insisting a small child stays up close to a pony for long periods just doesn’t work, it can overload fragile confidence and make being with ponies tedious rather than enjoyable.

How To Turn Boring But Necessary Into Fun and Successful

We sometimes decorate a pony with stickers and ribbons, which again enables young children to spend time with a pony in a way that is more relevant to them. This is done with utmost respect for the pony, they are not treated like toys, rather we use it as an opportunity to actually discuss what individual ponies like and don’t like and how we must conduct ourselves when around them. Only ponies that are happy to be handled are included and the environment is set up for success, such as hay being freely available and the children being encouraged to remain calm with soft voices. The stickers help us make what can be a dull subject full of rules into an enjoyable lesson and they encourage even the most nervous of children to actually touch the pony rather than hiding behind mum’s legs. Children, like ponies, should never be forced or subjected to flooding, training both of them actually has quite a lot of similarities! Reward based methods work well, in short sessions and always setting things up for success.

Let The Ponies Play Too

I hate the thought of shut down, robotic ponies which are created to make it easier for the children. I prefer to allow my ponies to express their opinion and I also listen to it, I also like them to play- there has to be something in this relationship for them too. If the ponies want to pick up the toys we let them, Sunny in particular loves picking up and waving a hula hoop around- the kids love it and why shouldn’t he play too?

I further manage the physical and mental well being of the ponies in lessons by restricting both workload and activities within a lesson. For example, when a child is learning to do rising trot, we keep trots very short to begin with and as soon as the rider’s position starts to deteriorate we walk, correcting the position before going back into trot if required. As the rider progresses, the length of trot gets longer. This both protects the ponies and ensures that the rider is learning to trot well. Keeping going in a faster pace if the rider is all over the place just means that they are learning to ride badly and the poor pony gets bumped about on in the process. This is pointless and unethical! Riding should be just that- riding, not holding on and hoping for the best.

Throughout all lessons, with any age child, I incorporate information about looking after the pony. Whether that’s explaining to a 3 year old that looking where they are going helps the pony to understand, describing to a 6 year old why they mustn’t kick the pony when they get on or encouraging a ten year old not to slump like they’re watching TV.

This may be the start of a lifelong journey, so good habits need to be instilled from the start.

My Ethos For Teaching

Overall, my principles of teaching are to make lessons safe and enjoyable for both the children and the ponies. Ensuring that riding is pain and confusion free for the ponies makes it far less likely that they will demonstrate potentially dangerous behaviour. Involving children in their own learning ensures that they can use their brains and make decisions rather than just repeating a script. This also enhances safety, particularly in those possibly rare but inevitable emergencies. Nurturing the future generation of thinking, feeling horse people is so much more rewarding than producing a line of leg flapping robots. Seeing the smile on a rider’s face when they have achieved a turn from the subtlest of cues or successfully halted from their breath is priceless and creating the beauty of harmonious partnerships is an achievement better than any rosette.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 

You can read an article on the subtle art of ridden communication HERE.

Teaching children to ride. Mutual happiness.

The Wonderful World Of Young Children

●  We don’t ride 12 metre or 20 metre circles, we ride cookies and pizzas. The children design the flavours and choose where they start. I mention that the cookie has turned into a sausage or someone has taken a bite out of the pizza so we can try again. The weirdest flavour pizza we’ve ever ridden was cucumber and jelly bean but at least the circle was spot on.

●  For encouraging good hand position, the children carry (hypothetical) mugs of their favourite drink and they have to try not to spill it on the pony. I ask ‘What’s in your mugs today?’ and I once received the reply from a 5 year old- ‘Gin’, which I have to own up was my daughter!

●  For nervous children, we chat about their favourite hobby as they ride around, I ask them to name a football team for each of the arena letters or do an A-Z of animals. Rather than focusing on the nerves and what they think they can’t do, we create positive thoughts, distract them from the fear and focus on what they can do. I once got to S with one young rider, which was apparently for Shitland Pony, it can be tough to keep a straight face sometimes.