If you’ve been here a while then you’ve probably heard us discuss enrichment. Enrichment is the idea that we can provide our dogs with things that stimulate their senses in a way that enriches their life. When we're working with dogs and their parents we always discuss making sure that we're taking the time to both understand and meet the dog's needs. Part of that includes discussing physical exercise and mental stimulation. Running a dog for 5 miles a day may not be enough for all dogs. Sure it may physically exhaust their bodies but what does it do for their minds? All dogs are individuals, and some dogs may really feel like a 5 mile run fills their cup. Today I'm going to challenge you to think outside of the box, or rather, outside of the towel. Most people when they hear enrichment they're thinking of the fun, interactive toys you purchase online (and if that’s more your jam check out our list here) I want you to think outside of what you can purchase online and think how you can really get creative and clever in ways that truly enrich your dog's senses. Let's take a deeper look.
A bath towel is something most homes have more than one of. You probably even have a few that are dedicated just to your dog. Below I'm going to outline several ways a simple towel can provide your dog with enriching opportunities. All you'll need is a bath towel and some of your dog's food or treats depending on their own individual interests.
The Simple Roll.
For this one all you're going to do is lay the towel out flat on the ground and sprinkle treats on the top of it. Then you roll the towel almost like you would a yoga mat. This tucks the treats inside of the towel, and gives your dog an easy way to unroll and access the treats. As with any of the options I outline here your dog may need a little support figuring this out in the beginning. So start by making it easy and maybe even help them unroll it.
The Snuffle Towel.
Try not to overthink this, it is as easy as it gets. All you're going to do is pick the towel up the long way, hang it over the ground and drop it. you'll notice that the towel falls to the floor in a pile of peaks and valleys. Taking a few pieces of food you'll tuck treats into the valleys and maybe even underneath the peaks between the towel and the floor. This creates a snuffle mat effect for your dog to search through.
The Cinnamon Bun.
You're going to lay your towel out on the ground again. Next you will fold the towel accordion style lengthwise. Doing this creates many folds and places to tuck food. Next you'll roll your accordion fold towel up as if you would a cinnamon bun. If you want you can stand the towel up in a large bowl or box so that it doesn't tip over. To make it easier in the beginning though, just set it right up on the ground and tuck treats in the folds of the towel. Let your dog figure this one out and solve it how they best see fit. Some dogs are going to gently poke their nose and extract the treats one at a time while others may rip the towel right out and toss it or shake it to get the treats loose. Both ways are fine and any way your dog chooses to solve this is perfect. Remember that this is enriching because of what your dog enjoys.
This one is for more advanced and dedicated sniffers and a strong towel that you won’t be too upset if it gets a few holes in it. Start out like we did in number 1 but this time, roll it lengthwise. Then tie the length of the towel into an overhand knot keeping it relatively loose in the beginning. As your dog’s skill advances, try tightening it. You can tuck treats into the center of the knot as well to help indicate to your dog where they should begin their work. This one is more difficult so be sure to supervise and step in if your dog needs a paw.
Take any of the above towel toys and hide them! Start out with your dog out of sight like behind a baby gate or in a crate in another room. Go ahead and make their towel toy but place it in a different room than usual or, a different spot. Then release your dog to go find it! You can get more advanced by placing their towel toys in more and more difficult locations to find such as under a table or behind a piece of furniture etc. Once your dog finds it, it’s game on for the sniffing and snacking to begin.
Here is my challenge to you! Try each of these over the next few days with your dog. Each one will take you maybe 5 minutes at the most to put together. Can you carve that time out for me? Your dog will thank you for it! Their whole lives are spent being our companions and sometimes that means sitting on the couch (as Manzo is doing as I write this) and sleeping most of the day away. Most dogs need much more than that and while most families have the time and energy to take their dogs on an adventure once or twice a week, why not bring the adventure to them on their slow days. Let’s stimulate their brains, show them what they are capable of, and improve the quality of their lives with us in a simple and very fun way!