How to Make Your Dog Happy and Not Depressed

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The title of this article might sound a little exaggerated. But really, how to make your dog happy and avoid depression is something that deserves the attention of all canine guardians.

If we get down to brass tacks, the truth is, our dogs are animals living in captivity. For many dogs, it’s a life of absolute luxury, but it’s still captivity.

I know this fact might peeve some people off. And no, I’m not some nutty PETA person looking to abolish pet guardianship – what a dull and awful world that would be!

Stick with me, and you’ll see how this all ties together with your dog’s happiness.

Sure our canine friends are domesticated, and of all the animal-human relationships we have made, the canine-human one is the most unique.

And it is for this very reason that we should (as far as possible) be paying particular attention to meeting the needs and wants of our dogs.

And considering the extraordinary relationship we share with dogs and how much joy they bring us – we owe them as much.

How to Make Your Dog Happy and Not Depressed

What Does Dog Enrichment Mean?

It is our responsibility as canine guardians to allow our dogs to enrich their lives.

But what does dog enrichment mean?

In a word, enrichment is the broad term that covers the needs and wants of our dogs.

Enrichment for dogs means they can seek stimulation that has an objective and triggers results.

Essentially this is fixed in their innate behavior. And facilitating these actions provides our dogs with the opportunity to meet their needs and wants through enrichment.

To understand what dog enrichment means in real terms, let’s think for a moment about how free-roaming dogs live.

Free-roaming dogs roam, hunt, scavenge, play, mate, chew, and bark to their heart’s content.

Albeit their lives are far from the luxury of their home-dwelling cousins, they spend their days meeting their wants and needs as they arise.

I’m not suggesting we allow our companion canines to roam the streets by day while we’re at work.

But it’s important to understand that living in a human world; canines are limited in how, when, and where they are free to enrich themselves.

In terms of our dogs, enrichment should be practical. Meaning it should be productive, interesting (even challenging), and always positive.

As mentioned earlier, enrichment should also be effective, having a purpose, and offering tangible results for the dog.

Why Enrichment is Important for Dogs

Now that we know that enrichment covers dogs’ needs and wants let’s dig deeper to see why enrichment is essential for dogs.

Their reward system drives the behaviors that drive our dogs to fulfill their natural desires.

This system is a collection of neural structures in the brain, and the overarching neurotransmitter or hormone steering the “ship” is dopamine.

And if we dive a little deeper, we find that a further three systems control this process.

These are:

  • Reward
  • Seeking
  • Consummatory

All living organisms want to maintain balance or homeostasis. And it’s no different for our dogs.

To maintain this balance, our dogs naturally follow this process. The graphic below does an excellent job of describing this visually in terms of appetite as an example.

The Reward System - Why Enrichment is Important for Dogs

Enrichment not only activates the reward system, but it also helps the dog balance internal systems.

7 Benefits of Canine Enrichment

Now we have a good understanding of the what and why of enrichment. Let’s take a peek at some benefits and how it relates to making your dog happy and not depressed.

#1 Enrichment Stimulates Normal Canine Behavior.

Dogs want social connection, cooperative play with their humans and other animals. They also need off-leash exploration, sniffing, chewing, and downtime.

#2 Enrichment Helps Prevent Unwanted Behaviors

When we pay attention to enriching our dogs’ lives, we can prevent unwanted behaviors that spring from boredom before they crop up.

#3 Enrichment Can Help Change Canine Behavior

Enrichment along with a careful training plan can also help us change behaviors in our dogs that we would prefer them not to practice.

#4 Enrichment Gives Our Dogs Choices

When we make enrichment opportunities available, we give our dog’s choices. Animals that have choices (humans included), are overall happier.

We can do this by offering activities that stimulate a range of their needs and wants, such as exercise, play, social engagement, and rest.

#5 Enrichment Stimulates the Five Senses

Enrichment activities like exercise, bonding, and social opportunities offer novelty and stimulate all the senses.

#6 Enrichment Activities are Self-Rewarding

Some enrichment activities, such as playing and social engagement, are self-rewarding. Meaning the consummatory system does not need to be engaged through the use of food.

How to Make Your Dog Happy and Not Depressed?

How to Use Activities to enrich Your Dogs Life

Enrichment activities fall into various categories such as mental, physical, social, and calming activities.

So, with all of this fabulous information you have about enrichment and how it impacts your dog’s life, how do you go about making your dog happy and not depressed?

To answer this question, it’s essential to consider the following…

Firstly, how does your dog naturally “plan” their day?

And secondly, what kind of enrichment activities and categories will stimulate your dog’s needs and wants?

How Your Dog “Plans” Their Day

The answer: Roughly 50% of your dog’s day is devoted to sleeping. While 30% is for resting and the remaining 20% is all about activity.

What Enrichment Activities will Stimulate Your Dog’s Needs and Wants?

Physical Enrichment

  • Fetch
  • Jogging
  • Agility
  • Off-leash Running

Social Engagement + Play Enrichment

  • Tug
  • Dog-on-dog Play
  • Hide + Seek with a Person
  • Meeting New People
  • Flirt Pole Play

Mental Enrichment

  • Training
  • Hide + Seek with an Object
  • Dog-led Exploratory Walk
  • Food Puzzle

Calming Enrichment

  • Doggy Music
  • Doggy TV
  • Canine Massage
  • DAP – Pheromone Exposure
  • Den Time

Keeping this in mind, let’s create an enrichment schedule in the next section.

How to Create a Dog Enrichment Schedule

Use enrichment Activities to Make Your Dog Happy

Use enrichment activities your dog loves to create a schedule you’ll both love sticking to.

The idea of an enrichment schedule is to provide one stimulating activity twice a day.

Here are five tips to help you use the template below to create an enrichment plan for your dog.

  1. Usually, this will be one activity in the morning and one in the evening.
  2. Create a plan that fits in with your own schedule because this will ensure that you can stick to it.
  3. Choose a handful of activities only and repeat them throughout the week.
  4. Change up your enrichment plan every few weeks or monthly with new activities.
  5. Try and keep activities that require more time for days when you are not pressed for time.
SunOff-leash RunningCanine Massage
MonTrainingFlirt Pole Play
TuesFood PuzzleDoggy Music
WedOff-leash RunningDoggy Massage
ThursTrainingFlirt Pole Play
FriFood PuzzleDoggy Music
SatDog-led Exploratory WalkHide + Seek
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About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with the Victoria Stilwell Academy. She has a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

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