Safe Space Enrichment for Fearful Dogs (Halloween Edition!)Oct 31, 2022
You've got your fearful dog home and settled in their safe space, but they don't seem interested in any of the toys you've provided. How can you get them to start engaging in fun, enriching activities when they're so easily scared?
This week I give 3 tips for choosing enrichment items for fearful dogs- all with a Halloween twist!
Three Tips For Selecting Enrichment Items For Fearful Dogs
Many fearful dogs are spooked by noises or sudden movements, and might have little experience with food toys or other enrichment activities you provide. Here are some pointers when deciding where to start with your dog's safe space enrichment:
- Choose quiet items. I tend to avoid hard plastic toys, squeaky toys, or anything that is likely to make noise when a dog touches it or it collides with something in the pen. Many dogs LOVE these noise-making toys, but fearful dogs are often terrified if they accidentally step on a squeaker.
Stick with soft rubber or plush toys, and/or use blankets, towels, or cardboard in your enrichment games- as long as your dog shows no signs of trying to eat them. For safety, monitor your fearful dog when you give them new enrichment items. Once your dog has the hang of it and is readily engaging in enrichment activities, you can talk with your trainer about slowly introducing more challenging items.
- Choose items that won't roll or tip over. Many food puzzle toys roll or tip when a dog pushes them. These kind of toys can be great fun for dogs, but I don't usually start a fearful dog out with them right away. I've seen many dogs startle when a toy they've touched moves away from (or worse, toward) them. Flat toys like lickimats and snufflemats will stay put, and are good easy introductory puzzles for fearful dogs. I give a few other examples in the video below.
- Create easy wins! If your dog is brave enough to interact with enrichment items you've placed in their safe space, make sure they get something for their trouble right away! That means no difficult food puzzles that require extensive manipulation in order for the dog to get treats. Again, lickimats and snufflemats are good easy games that produce quick reinforcement for dogs. I also like more open fillable food toys like the West Paw Toppl , although note that this toy will roll or tip if the dog pushes it.
Are you working on getting your fearful dog to play enrichment games? Shoot us a message or email ([email protected]). We'd love to hear what is working for you, or how we can help.