What is environmental enrichment?
Environmental enrichment involves adding items to your puppies’ den, play areas, and living environment to help passively expose them to different stimuli. Environmental enrichment is valuable as it helps socialize your puppies to different surfaces, sounds, novel objects, motion items and other items puppies should be familiarized with (such as crates) while they are in the safety of a known area and supported by their mother and/or littermates. It also allows you to expose your puppies to a greater variety of items than you may otherwise be able to include during more active handling sessions.
Types of Environmental Enrichment
Surfaces: Working dogs need to be comfortable walking over different types of surfaces such as grates and uneven pavements. Adding different types of surfaces in our whelping rooms gives our puppies passive exposure to many surfaces they will encounter in their journey to becoming future superheroes. Puppies learn quickly that walking over bumpy and open surfaces is completely normal.
It is important to have a variety of surfaces for the puppies to walk on so they do not grow accustomed to only walking over one particular surface. When selecting surfaces for environmental enrichment, think of having different textures and materials.
Sounds: With so many different noises in the world, it is critical that our puppies are exposed to age-appropriate sounds and noises to prepare them to be confident and to quickly recover from sudden and loud noises. Different sounds such as people talking, environmental sounds, and soft music allows puppies to hear different pitches that aren’t easily replicated in the whelping room such as different pitched voices, busy traffic noise, and orchestral concerts.
Examples of sound Environmental Enrichment include:
- Talk radio
- Environmental Sound CDs
- Children’s toys with sounds
Crate training is a very important aspect of early puppy education. It is very important to begin crate training with passive exposure to crates. This allows puppies to go in and out of crates on their own. Once puppies are comfortable with spending time in crates, we can begin to close the doors of the crates for very short timeframes.
Motion (Whelping and Neonatal Area Only): Occasionally, working dogs come across surfaces that move such as a loose floorboards or riding an escalator. With passive exposure to simple things that move such as scooters, puppies become comfortable with sudden movements. Be careful when including motion items in the puppies’ environment: make sure the item is safe for the age of puppy and does not move too much. For example, adding padding to a wobble board to make the board more secure could be a good introductory step.
Novel Objects are objects that puppies have never seen before and are new to them. Working dogs often come across unusual looking objects and need to be able to be comfortable working around new objects.
Adventure Boxes: An adventure box is a multisensory enrichment item that allows passive exposure to hanging objects such as metal chains, mirrors, pvc pipe. When puppies walk through these hanging objects, they get used to items touching their body, which helps with body sensitivity. Working dogs need to be comfortable walking through narrow walkways and also having items against their body.
Overhead Items: Guide dogs need to be aware of potential objects that could block the path of their handler. Overhead items attached to kennels allow puppies to get accustomed to looking at objects above them.
Smells: Working dogs encounter many novel or unusual smells each day. Passive smells allow puppies to grow accustomed to new and unusual smells.
Friendly Fido: Socialization to older dogs, especially of a different breed is very important for puppies as they progress into their socialization period. Following your organization’s biosecurity protocols, the older dog can be brought outside of the litter’s kennel for the puppies are able to smell and see the older dog in a controlled setting.