Enrichment and Your Pet

by Danielle Cookish

The lifestyle of many cats or dogs can be fairly sedentary during the winter.  Dogs are walked or let outside to a fenced-in yard to eliminate a few times a day, then it’s back into the house. Cats, especially indoor cats, get even less stimulation, and that can create boredom.

These pets carry the DNA of their forebearers; wild packs of dogs who roamed freely, or colonies of feral cats whose cunning and hunting ability determined their odds of survival.  There are many ways you can tap into their instincts and urges through playtime by introducing enrichment toys or games that help them develop new skills or unleash their desire to explore or forage.  The end results?  Happier pets and a tighter pet/person bond to treasure.

How dogs can be helped through enrichment:

  • Puzzles, snuffle mats, and other interactive dog toys provide mental stimulation and are fun!  A new toy can lift their spirits considerably
  • Dogs won’t be so dependent on you for “good times.”  With toys, they can stay entertained when you have to leave home.  For example, putting some of their treats into a Kong toy and giving it to them just before you depart can keep them occupied for quite a while
  • Some toys can correct problem behaviors like excessive barking and inappropriate chewing

Enrichment tips for cats:

  • Wand toys awaken the predator inside cats. These toys may have feathers, toy mice or other dangling items.  Bonus points for making the toy move in a way that a creature would move so your cat feels that she’s really on the hunt
  • Catnip and catnip-filled toys make cats feel playful
  • Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy defines “Catification” as “bringing the outdoors in.” Among his recommendations:
    • Give cats and kittens climbing spots and vantage points, which can mean cat furniture with perches at different levels
    • Be sure to place the cat furniture by your windows so they can be stimulated by watching the world go by (especially birds). You can also take advantage of different streaming options tailored to cats. For example, Amazon Prime has “Cat TV” to keep your feline entertained in your absence
    • Puzzle toys help keep their minds engaged and keep their weight down as well.  Interactive cat feeding toys are usually ball-shaped, and can be filled with their dry kibble. Cats learn that batting it around shakes out some treats, so their eating pace is slowed and they take in less food

Dakin’s staff and volunteers became very immersed in cat enrichment techniques five years ago when we were asked to participate in Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Pawsitive Program.  The program’s purpose is to increase the well-being and adoptability of cats in shelters, particularly shy/fearful cats.  We learned how to engage them, keep them physically active, and even train them to give a “high five” using positive reinforcement methods.  

Make time for your pets, and through playing, you’ll unlock their potential to learn, grow, and love you even more!

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