Enrichment and Training

Normally I keep Rumi in training year round, with excemption of our family holidays where we do more “fun-training”. Having a dog on a high exercise & training level can push the stress-hormone levels up. So in our normal schedule we have balancing days with short walks where sniffing is priority. Now we expect her to be with puppies we already turned the regular gun dog training down to a third. Now the time has come to shift to other activities where she is not tempted to exercise more and faster than her body would like to. My aim is to change the fast running and high arousal activities like gun dog training and bicycling to a more balanced way of exercising, where Rumi is not being aroused to run fast or pushing limits. At the same time we do not want to create frustration and drop in dopamine due to disappointment. So I have to be creative..

Good alternatives for Rumi at this point include activities where mental stimulation is provided in a dosed manner, inviting her to use the cognitive part of her brain by choice. This involves a lot of sniffing but also other sensory activity. So today we went to an enrichment garden. She loves to come here and have the freedom to explore, sniff, watch, climb and it is lovely to see her face all the different experiences. Beside this weekly activity we will make small “sniffaries” in the garden and do evening walks at different places with different smells. Of course I will also let her do one or two gundog things once a while, but only for 5 minutes to prevent extra arousal. When a bitch is carrying her hormones change a lot, this has a huge impact on behavior but first of all how she experiences the world. It is likely that dogs become more fearful or less courageous when hormones are changing – normally seen in adolescent dogs and when with puppies. So we try to keep things nice and calm for her, apart from the regular free running walks and give her the right exercise in an amount that will keep her fit, but not put pressure on her mental state. Inheritance is not only about the pedigree but also about the period of pregnancy and nurturing, meaning that the puppies inherit predisposition to the chemical state (hormones) in which the mother is. So we avoid unnecessary stress these days.

I believe that mental stimulation and other calm activities (sniffing/exploring in a low pace) should be a part of any dog’s life next to regular exercise on walks…and humans for that sake as well. It really helps us all to gear down in the middle of hectic lifestyles and rebalance ourselves.

For more information on sniffaries and enrichment check out Facebook page “Understand Animals”, in The Netherlands on the internet search for “Snuffeltuinen”. In my area dog school “Feedback” has a really nice place..

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