What is the best enrichment for Labradors?
We expect a lot from our dogs. From taking them hiking or to the cafe or pub with friends. Wherever we are, we want to take them with us.
Rightfully so, we brought them into our lives to be companions. But what many of us forget to consider is if our dogs actually want to come with us. Certain outings can be stressful for our dogs which is why it’s important to ensure that we’re always meeting our dogs needs first so that we set them up for success. That’s where enrichment comes in. When their needs are met, they have a better capacity to help meet our needs too. It’s a win win for both you and your pooch.
What is enrichment?
Enrichment is a way to stimulate your dog’s mental and physical abilities in order to improve their well-being and happiness. According to the Canine Anti-Cruelty Society, enrichment can be broken down into four different categories: social, physical, sensory and food.
Studies suggest that “dogs may experience positive affective states in response to their own achievements”. That means that they love to problem solve and it gives them more purpose in their lives. It can reduce boredom and their quality of life as well as reducing problematic behaviours like separation anxiety.
As mentioned earlier, enrichment won’t be the same for every dog. Considering the history of your dog, and its breed is a great way to understand what your own dog’s enrichment needs may be. Since Labs were first used to retrieve fish that had fallen out of nets, and later for retrieving birds for game hunters, that gives you an idea of the types of enrichment labradors might like. Let’s expand further.
There’s no denying the fact that Labradors are basically living vacuum cleaners, ready to hoover up any food they see in front of them. They LOVE food in all forms which is why food enrichment is so good for our labs.
Kong is a brand that’s leading the enrichment of all dogs. These rubber chew toys are hollow in the middle so they can be stuffed with treats. They come in different sizes for different breeds of dogs. You can fill them with all sorts of things like rehydrated kibble or even a tasty bit of peanut butter. Freeze the Kong so that it can keep your pup entertained for even longer.
Snuffle mats are an interactive feeding mat where the dogs must sniff out their favourite treats hidden between pieces of fabric. It helps keep your dog entertained and can even build their confidence while they use their brains to dig out tasty morsels. Each discovery is a big dopamine hit and keeps them going back for more.
These silicone mats are great for filling with rehydrated kibble, peanut butter, yoghurt or anything soft textured. Chuck them in the freezer for a nice cold treat on a hot day.
This can be done indoors or outside on a walk where you essentially scatter food around for your dog to sniff out and discover. You can start in a small area while your dog learns the game before expanding to larger areas when they are more confident in their sniffing abilities. This can be done both inside and outside.
Since labradors were bred as working dogs used for jumping in and out of boats or retrieving birds on a hunt, they are very agile and thrive with a bit of physical exercise. While they are rarely used for these activities now, their genetics are screaming out for this type of work.
A daily walk
Taking your dog on a daily walk will help them release some energy stored while lazing about at home. It’s a chance to get them to stretch their legs while taking in the signs and sounds of their neighbourhood. What’s more, going potty out on a walk is a means of communication for dogs. They can smell who has been there before, and leave a mark to let other dogs know they were at this spot too. If one one hour walk is too much, split it up into a shorter morning walk and then an evening walk too.
Labradors were literally born to swim. They even have webbed feet! Swimming is also one of the best exercises for Labs because it burns a lot of energy quickly. According to a Veterinary Surgeon and Canine Physiology Dr Arleigh Reynolds, just one minute of swimming is equivalent to about four minutes of running, according to Dr Arleigh Reynolds, a Veterinary Surgeon and Canine Physiologist. It’s also low impact which means that it takes strain off your pooches joints and tendons while strengthening and toning their muscles at the same time. For Ellie, we seek out local parks with ponds or take her to the local dog beach for a swim around and she loves it! If you can’t get to a pond, river, lake or beach, most cities have canine hydrotherapy centres you can explore.
Agility and dog sports
With a combination of eagerness to please and being food driven, Labradors make great candidates for agility and dog sports. You can take them to a course to learn the ropes or build your own agility course in the backyard. Include things like weaving, tunnels, or hoops to jump through.
Scientists estimate that a dog’s nose is between 1000 and 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s nose. Where people have just six million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity, dogs have more than 100 million! Getting their senses working is a great way to get your Lab to use its brain.
Scent work and nose games
According to Scent Work Australia, scent or nose work is a training activity that helps build your dogs natural ability to pick out smells through fun games. Labs love performing tasks and that makes it a great activity for them. Scentwork programs are developed from working dog detection groups like Border Force. Their job is to find hidden odours and alert their handler. It’s fun for both dog and owner!
Quality, strong chew toys help occupy a dog’s brain and release happy and relaxing endorphins. Dogs have been known to hold stress in their jaws so chewing is a great release. Things like antlers and goat horns make great long-lasting chews.
So long as your dog is happy to socialise with other dogs, getting out and having a good old playdate with other dogs can be a source of enrichment too. Dogs are social animals and they can learn so much from their peers.
How do you like to enrich your own dog’s life?