Creating an Enrichment Routine for Your Pets
By Suzanne Denk, Animal Enrichment Specialist, Dip.FBST
One of the perks of being home during this difficult time is spending more time with our pets. This time can be enhanced by providing enrichment games, but it is important for our pets that we keep routines as normal as possible. Maintaining a routine will help them with stress and help them adapt when the household returns to activities outside the home and they’re alone again. Creating an enrichment routine can help with transitions, ease stress, create a bond and provide fun. Choose a morning activity and an evening activity, and always supervise your pet with any new activity.
Here’s an easy activity to start with that only takes a few minutes to prep. A rolled towel can become a foraging puzzle for your cat, dog or rabbit. Roll treats up in a cloth or towel and leave a little fabric with a visible trail of treats to the rolled cloth. The weight of the fabric can determine the difficulty level. Place the roll in front of your pet so that the towel will begin to unroll when they touch it. When they can unroll the toy with ease, try offering it rolled up completely and with the roll turned away, bunched or bent. You can try boxes, crumpled paper, egg cartons, sniffing mats or store-bought puzzles.
Remember that all pets are individuals and not everyone enjoys every activity. Keep activity sessions short and set your pet up for success. Enrichment is not a test to complete and should be enjoyable for them so that they will want to do it again. Give your pet a chance to understand a new activity and try more than once before giving up!
If your pet will not engage with an activity, try focusing on the food or treat instead of the item. Break the activity into small parts, make a trail of treats to the puzzle or show them what to do. Make it easy! If your pet is not food motivated, try using hidden toys in the towel or puzzle. Don’t forget that social interaction and walks or exploring outside (yes, even cats and rabbits can be acclimated to a leash or harness!) are also great enrichment to include in the routine. You can find more ideas to get started with your enrichment routine at ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org/Enrichment.