Creative Canine Enrichment

Creative Canine Enrichment

By Susan Spisak 

It’s tough keeping dogs busy during this wintery weather. While it’s great to bundle up and go for a walk with your canine gal pal, there are other ways to keep her physically and mentally enriched, so she doesn’t become what I call “sour,” meaning lethargic, sad, and out of sorts. 

Sara Sokol, owner of Mr. Dog Training, passed on to Downeast Dog News that there’s a Canine Enrichment Facebook page initiated by Shay Kelly, author of Canine Enrichment - The Book Your Dog Needs You To Read. Group members post and share info on their dogs actively engaged in positive activities. 

One picture/post that made me laugh out loud was a dog playing with a soft tree stump filled with squeaky squirrels. We have that tree stump (among Teddy’s 159 squeaky toys) and yes, it keeps him happily squeaking away - in my ear (that’s done purposely). Unfortunately, he digs the squirrels out at 8pm while we’re watching TV. The remote stays handy and the volume keeps going up. For more enrichment tips and info on Shay’s book, read or join canineenrichment/. 

Speaking of Sara, she acknowledged that Maine winters agitate “Bored Dog Syndrome” or BDS which creates a whole plethora of bad behaviors. While she offers traditional training, she has a variety of activities and drop-in classes such as Boredom Busters, Circus Dog, Noseworks, Tricks, and Intro to Agility to tame that BDS. 

Sara shared, “As a dog trainer, I help people every single day whose dogs are lacking enrichment. This lack of daily enrichment for our 4-legged friends leads to a frustrated human who has to deal with the behavior fallout, such as excessive barking, chewing, whining, stealing objects, etc., that comes when a dog is not getting its enrichment needs met. Enrichment is, plain and simple, the most essential thing that you can do to help your dog live the best life he/ she can.” Visit index.html for class schedules and pricing. 

If you work or volunteer during the day and your budget and canine’s personality allows for it, consider doggie daycare a few days a week. Tour and then choose a well-rated facility with large areas for romping, allowing your girl a chance to smooze with like-sized new chums and burn off energy. On days that she’s home, she can relax and doze with thoughts of playtime dancing through her dreams. 

Aquatics is a terrific whole-body physical and mental exercise for your water loving pet – or a good way to introduce her to the sport. 

Happy Waves! serves the Greater Portland area with a 13’ x 25’ indoor, heated pool for 20 minute “Fun Swims” that are guided and supervised by trained staff members. Initial consults are $50 which includes staffers evaluating your dog’s water and physical abilities. Swims after that are $35 per session or can be added in conjunction with their doggie daycare program. 

Happy Waves! has year-round hydrotherapy and rehab options for injured or geriatric dogs that’s led by Dr. Christine Fraser. “It’s a huge thing for older dogs who aren’t able to do things in the snow,” she said. Swimming is a preventative measure as well, “It builds strength. I get a lot of dogs who tend to lose ground over the winter, even healthy dogs.” 

Another premier swim facility is Water Bark Wellness at 4 Commercial Street in Rockport. Kate Griffin owns, operates, and oversees the dog’s private swim time at her business with the motto, “Fun. Fitness. Health.” Kate knows there are many benefits of the warm water exercise, including increased circulation, helping improve range of motion and weight loss (along with a proper diet), and is a fabulous, fun, full-body workout. She added, “I do feel swimming brings joy to most of my clients.... and that in and of itself brings me much joy.” 

Kate just moved to this new location and hopes to open the facility in early February. She added, “The pool will be substantially bigger at 13 x 21 x 4. Toys, treats, and towels are provided.” First-time consult

including swim session is $50 and subsequent sessions are $50. For more info and to schedule an appointment, 

If your dog’s a gentle soul with a soft spot for people, visit folks confined to nursing homes. Many facilities don’t require a pet therapy certification, but she’ll need to be up-to-date on shots. Call one in your neighborhood to see if you can come in. My dogs and I have done it in the past and the residents loved it...and so did they. They received plenty of attention and a car ride to boot. 

If classes and visits won’t fit into your day planner, pop your dog into your car and go to a welcoming pet or big-box home improvement store to give her legs a good stretch. 

People may stop and chat, and that adds a layer of stimulation. Whenever I’m in the aisles of that local home store, and I see a dog coming my way, I always stop to say hello. 

Christine Calder, DVM, DACVB and esteemed animal behaviorist at Maine Veterinary Medical Center spoke on canine enrichment in our January feature, but it’s worth repeating. For mental stimulation, utilize your dog’s highest daily reward – meal and treat time.

“We do this through the use of food dispensing and puzzle toys along with various other enrichment opportunities.” Kongs and Snuffle Mats will encourage your dog to explore her environment - especially important if she’s shy or fearful. They also reduce stress levels, manage chewing and/or nipping, and most importantly, exercise the brain. She added an important point, “Enrichment also benefits older animals and potentially slows down cognitive decline.” 

Consider adding one or more of these enrichment tools to your dog’s life this winter, so you can keep her not only happier but physically and mentally healthier. 

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