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Ultimate Guide To Enriching the Life Of Your Pets

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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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Loveable Valentine’s Toppl Recipe for Dogs

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Canine Enrichment can be fulfilling for people too! West Paw Toppls let me get creative and have some fun making different recipes for our dogs. They love the variety and enjoy the different tastes, textures and aromas that I come up with and I love watching them tuck in. Win- win!

Ingredients

  • Home made bone broth
  • Left over meat from the bone broth
  • Their usual raw mince
  • Any available fruit and veg from the fridge- this time green beans, pepper and melon
  • Anco Pate

Method

I love layering for the added enrichment it offers.

First off, our dogs love bone broth meat, so that went in the bottom of the Toppl as a favourite taste to finish with. The main filling was part of their usual dinner, raw mince from Paleo Ridge. The top layer was some of the bone broth jelly- tasty and enjoyable to get going. I then topped it all off with a selection of pate, fruit and vegetable hearts, cut with a pastry cutter.

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What’s the Point?

In short, fun! No, the dogs couldn’t care less about what the end product looks like and yes, the hearts are unnecessary! The overall aim should be to offer a positive experience to your dog, be that through the different eating experience or the varied food on offer. However, why not get creative? I enjoyed making it, my daughter enjoyed helping and we had as much fun as the dogs. That’s also the point, we gain enrichment too.

Variation

You might be thinking you don’t have the time or energy to make bone broth or cut out shapes. No problem! There are no hard and fast rules, you can literally make a Toppl with anything you like.

  • You only have one type of food? That’s ok!
  • You don’t feed raw? No problem, soak some kibble instead.
  • You don’t have a pastry cutter? Just use a knife and cut out squares.
  • You don’t have an ounce of creativity in your body? Your dog doesn’t mind!

Just have fun with what you’ve got and if you want to go all out with edible crafting, then embrace it.

Enjoy!

Thank you for reading.

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 dogs, cats and chickens. SHOP HERE 

More blogs available to read here-

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West Paw Toppl Or Kong?- Battle Of The Titans!

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Many dog owners are familiar with Kongs, the stuffable dog toy. West Paw Toppls are a different version of this canine enrichment classic. Although they cost more to purchase, Toppls have many benefits over Kongs and have rightly gained a huge fan base. Their popularity even created a worldwide shortage during 2021! So what's the buzz all about? Here are the top 5 reasons why people prefer West Paw Toppls over the Kong-

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1. Easier To Clean

One of the favourite features of the Toppl is the ease of cleaning. Many people can relate to the repeated eye squinting, looking down a telescope act of checking inside a Kong to see if it's clean. Then having to shove a finger in the hole, twisting and wiggling it around in an effort to remove those last few stubborn bits of stuck food. No such bother with Toppls! Due to the open top, cleaning is a breeze and they can even go in the top rack of a dishwasher if needed. Toppls are consequently famed for their better hygiene and quicker, easier cleaning.

2. Extended Eating Time

You could be forgiven for thinking that with the open top, food can be eaten more quickly. However most people find this isn't the case and the Toppl actually extends eating time, longer than both bowls and Kongs. This is because Toppls have a clever internal feature- a number of soft, rounded 'teeth' inside the cavity. The inner teeth help to hold food in place and encourage dogs to lick, rather than grab at the food. 

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3. Easier To Fill And Layer

No need for piping bags or trying to scoop food in to a small hole, Toppls are so much easier to stuff with food than Kongs. For added enrichment, they can also be layered with different food and if you want to, you can really get quite creative with it. Here's an idea for layering-

  • Bottom layer- high value food that your dog absolutely loves
  • Middle layer- lower value filling
  • Top layer- something that your dog really likes, to encourage them to engage
  • Topping- a treat or two to grab, to gain attention, create interest and provide enrichment through varied textures

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4. Enhanced Engagement

Dogs of all ages, shapes and sizes love the unique design of the West Paw Toppl. For those with flat, short or wider noses, the Toppl is much easier to use compared to a Kong. The wider opening encourages greater engagement, whilst minimising the frustration that can often be seen with a Kong. One of our dogs will throw a Kong around in an effort to remove the contents, yet with the Toppl he will lay down and quietly lick.  For more experienced or determined dogs, Toppls can also be frozen to extend eating time.

5. Greater Versatility

Toppls offer much more flexibility compared to Kongs, enabling more variation in their use. They come in two sizes, which have the added bonus that they can be linked together. You can use one on their own as standard, or for a different, more challenging activity, use both sizes together as a puzzle feeder. Toppls are best used with wet food or raw but they are versatile enough to use with dry food and treats too. The West Paw Toppl can also be used as a toy in its own right, without food. It even floats!

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For our Collie who loves to exercise those working genes, he prefers to eat out of a Toppl rather than a bowl. For our lurcher who enjoys stealing shoes, the Toppl is a fantastic way of keeping him occupied more appropriately. For both dogs, they gain great enjoyment from a different eating experience, which can be varied each time too. So whether it's for mental stimulation, positive engagement, an enrichment activity or useful redirection and training, the West Paw Toppl can help. 

You can find out more about the West Paw Toppl and purchase it HERE. Or for recipe ideas, take a look at this blog.

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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 products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved dogs, cats and chickens. SHOP HERE 

More blogs available to read here-

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The Ethics Of Ditching The Bowl

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Ditching the bowl is a fantastic way to enrich the lives of dogs and cats. It can offer mental stimulation, engagement, calm occupation and training success. Feeding pets by alternative methods other than a bowl can also help build positive relationships with their human family. The benefits of ditching the bowl are being increasingly recognised by modern trainers. However, there are fewer people who acknowledge the ethics of ditching the bowl. Doing it badly can result in-

  • Negative emotions
  • Emotional conflict and stress
  • Damage to the relationship
  • Unwanted behaviour
  • Training failure

For good welfare and mental health it is important to try and avoid the problems listed above. So let’s discuss the ethics of ditching the bowl…

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The Creation Of Emotional Conflict

Ditching the bowl should be a positive experience for both the animal and owner. It shouldn’t be a way for humans to manipulate behaviour purely for their own advantage. You may have heard trainers suggest that you use all of the daily food allowance for training. This can be beneficial, however it can also be unethical in certain circumstances. 

For example, if a dog is hungry and can only access food through human interaction, this may create emotional conflict. If a dog can only acquire food by fulfilling human requests, this too could create negative emotions. It is vital that fair choices are offered. 

DON'T put your pet in a situation where they have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

DO facilitate good choices through fair opportunities and positive rewards.

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A practical example of creating emotional conflict would be crate training. If a dog is unsure of entering the crate, or being shut inside, then this shouldn't be the only way they can access food. Whilst food could be used to build value inside the crate, the opportunity to eat shouldn't be dependant on compliance with going in.

If a dog can only access their daily food allowance by being somewhere they are concerned about, this could easily cause emotional distress. It is an unfair choice- do something you don't like or you don't eat. A hungry dog may well choose to go inside the crate but this doesn't mean they are are happy, they have just chosen what they are most comfortable with. Being most comfortable with something doesn't equate to acceptance, learning or contentment.

So to avoid emotional conflict when ditching the bowl, it is important to assess whether your requests are fair and that the animal is not fulfilling them just because they are hungry. 

Working For Food- Contrafreeloading

Our collie Milo loves working for food, he will choose a puzzle feeder over free roast meat sat right next to it. He prefers to eat out of a Toppl rather than a bowl, even if they both contain exactly the same food. So for him, working for food is great enrichment. It provides mental stimulation and positively engages his working genes. Our other dog Murphy is quite different! Whilst he enjoys a low level challenge, he gives up more easily and would take the free food first before having to work for it. So for him, some methods of ditching the bowl could create negative emotions, frustration or stress. If Murphy was expected to only gain food from lots of effort, this would not be as successful and could be detrimental to his welfare.

We therefore treat each dog as an individual and ditch the bowl accordingly, it's not one size fits all. We have also gradually expanded Murphy's desire to work for food, he's learning it can be fun and worthwhile. By progressively ditching the bowl and teaching him to try, this has created more calm behaviour as it occupies his brain. But neither dog are forced to ditch the bowl, they have the choice to participate or not.

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The Ethics Of Ditching The Bowl For Training

Both our dogs are rescue dogs, Murphy came to us with severe travel anxiety and a fear of cars, as well as being scared of other things such as thunder. Using food has been invaluable as part of the training process, to create positive emotions around situations he's usually scared in. There is however a BIG FAT BUT!

The training process has been broken down into tiny, tiny steps and he has only ever been set up for success. At all times I have aimed to work with him in a positive mindset, keeping him below his stress threshold and gradually expanding his positivity. Food is used as positive reinforcement but not a bribe. Ditching the bowl has been to help him, not to make him do something. Tux has been used in the car to make it a positive place to be, not to try and distract him from his surroundings. His daily food has been used to help change his mindset from negative to positive, not to reach a goal.

With Ditching The Bowl, Focus Should Be On Income For the Animal, NOT Outcome

Ditching the bowl shouldn't be a replacement for the required training and time it takes to achieve success positively. For example, ditching the bowl unethically would be me keeping him hungry, then using food to bribe him to get in the car. Once there he could be given a lickimat as a distraction, whilst I shut the doors, forcing him to stay inside. Instead, to be more ethical, he has been given choice to participate at every stage. He has been allowed to leave at all times and he has been given access to free food both inside and outside the car. Once he has been happy to jump in, we've done ACE Freework inside the car or he's had a stuffed food toy. These are activities we also do outside of the car in neutral situations, they are not just for working on something that worries him.

It is important to be mindful of coercion and extortion. Ditching the bowl should be about enrichment, building positive emotions and enjoyment for the individual animal. It shouldn't be solely about human gain, achieving goals or creating training 'success' via giving unreasonable choices.

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For Ethical Success With Ditching The Bowl....

  • Choose the timing, method and frequency for the individual animal in the individual situation
  • Make challenges progressive
  • Set your pet up for success
  • Offer trustworthy and honourable choices within the animal's capabilities at that moment
  • Focus on income for the animal, not outcome

Ensure it's fun, fair and frustration free!

If you're interested in learning more about contrafreeloading and the ethical considerations too, this is a great podcast with Hannah Brannigan and Chirag Patel.

Thank you for reading.

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 dogs, cats and chickens. SHOP HERE 

More blogs available to read here-