For 1000’s of years, the thing that’s made dogs and cats such great companions is that they are social creatures. They crave attention and connection much like we do, albeit some more than others. When taking that desire for attention into account, it’s easy to see why social enrichment is an important outlet for those natural behaviours.
Social enrichment refers to just that, being social! This is being in different places, seeing all sorts of people and animals. Pet parents often give their dog social enrichment without even realizing it! They may just think of their daily walk as exercise. While it is that, during the walk, your pet also experiences all the life and movement around them!
Social enrichment, like any other enrichment needs to be controlled and calculated. With dogs particularly, I am not saying they need to go meet every person and dog they see, quite the contrary actually. Your dog should be able to maintain calmness and manners no matter who is approaching, and only then do they get to greet whomever has come to see them. But that is a totally different training topic for another day.
Some practical and easy ways to add social enrichment would be, taking your pet to an animal friendly park where other people and dogs may be, going shopping at a local pet store, meeting up with a trusted friend at the dog park, hire a pet sitter to check on your pets while you are at work, joining a training class, or enrolling your pet in daycare once a week where they can play in a safe and controlled environment. While most of these are more common for dogs, teaching your cat to walk on a leash will open a lot of doors to opportunities for social enrichment.
An important thing to remember is that enrichment is all about allowing our pets to channel their natural behaviors in a constructive way. The key words here being ‘our pets.’ You may have a cat that doesn’t like dogs, but enjoys humans. You may have a dog that doesn’t like big dogs, only small ones. That’s okay! No one’s saying you have to do every activity on this list. You need to take into account what your pet enjoys and finds stimulating, rather than forcing them into situations they find uncomfortable for the sake of ‘enrichment variety.’ Always take time and be strategic and thoughtful about how you will approach any situation so it is fun and stimulating, not stressful and dangerous.
Stay alert for next week when we talk about Cognitive Enrichment