Episode 35: The Importance of Mental & Physical Stimulation for Your Dog’s Well-being with Karen Baxter

Corey McCusker (0:03 – 1:30)
Hello, dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach, and today I’m thrilled to have with me once again, Karen Baxter, dog trainer and behaviour consultant. I’m welcoming that Karen back, and she’s done a few podcasts with us.

Karen is the owner and head behavior consultant at Unified K9 Behavior Centre, which she founded in 2022. Karen’s training philosophy is one size does not fit all, and true to the Unified K9 difference, tailors her training protocols and or treatment plans to the needs of the dogs and the lifestyle and goals of the dog’s owner. Her positive and fair techniques are designed to bring out enthusiasm in each dog, so they learn to love training, which results in building stronger relationships with their human based on trust.

I’m going to get Karen to just touch on a little bit of her credentials when I open the floor to her, just because there are so many, and she has done so much developing her knowledge and wisdom in the behaviour world, the training world. She’s competed. She lives in York Region with her dogs, and they have all competed in Agility Rally-O. They’ve reached master levels in all sports.

So welcome, Karen.

Karen Baxter (1:31 – 1:32)
Hi, Corey.

Corey McCusker (1:32 – 1:53)
So I do want you to just touch on before we get started on our topic . . . Today, we’re going to be talking about something that’s really important to animals well-being, dogs well-being. And I know that you have really done so much education and wisdom. So can you just touch on some of the things, you know, all those letters behind your name and tell us about that?

Karen Baxter (1:53 – 3:46)
I would be happy to. Also, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about some of those letters, because I think it’s important for people to know, when they see them, what does that mean for selecting a trainer or consultant to work with them and their dogs. So I have a few certifications that I’ve built up over time.

I’m a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed with the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers. And I know you are as well – a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, which means that we have passed a gruelling three-hour exam and have demonstrated that we have the knowledge base on dog behaviour and dog training and instruction skills and ethology, etc. So we passed this standardized international test, which shows that we actually know a little bit about dog training.

The other one that I have is the Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Certification credential, which I got from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants. Again, it’s another international exam that you demonstrate that you have the experience and the knowledge to work with dog behaviour. So this is a little bit different than dog training.

Dog behaviour is based on the psychology of the dog. I also took a one-year program on canine behaviorology, is what it’s called. So it’s the Canine Science Technologist is what my designation would be.

And then where enrichment comes into play too, came in through all of my learning, but it really came to the forefront for me when I became a Licensed Canine Complexity Consultant and learned about all the different facets of a dog’s life. And enrichment plays a huge role in that. So that’s pretty much it.

Corey McCusker (3:46 – 4:50)
That’s pretty good. I’m impressed. And that’s why I’m glad you’re one of my colleagues because you’re someone I always call upon when we do have cases that we may – that are a little bit more complex, you could say. So you mentioned enrichment today. That is what we are going to talk about. Muttz with Mannerz™ is all about enriching the lives of both ends of the leash. And we’re going to talk about the dogs and how we can enrich. I mean, Karen, you and I work with so many dogs and their owners. We teach, we train, we provide social activities and solutions for them because it really is about building a solid foundation to have those well-behaved and balanced dogs.

And today we want to talk about, to the pet parents, or the people listening today, how they can maintain what we do with them, plus provide them with some a little bit more background and insight about the activities we’re going to address, but how it can really help them be the best dog that they can be mentally and physically. So Karen, can you provide your description or definition of enrichment?

Karen Baxter (4:50 – 6:01)
Definitely. So enrichment incorporates activities, objects and experiences to the dog to stimulate their mind, engage their senses and improve their overall wellbeing. In order to be classified as an enrichment activity, it needs to mimic natural dog behaviour and environments and to alleviate stress and anxiety, right? And the dog has to have the opportunity to choose it. So it’s different than, I’ll give you an example, a structured walk on a four foot leash out in the environment, like out in your residential area, is not technically an enrichment activity because they are not given any choice in that walk, right? They are, they have to follow human rules, right, in order to do that walk. So yes, it gets a little bit of energy and it definitely gives them a change of scenery and it’s still good for them, it’s just not enrichment. So that’s, that’s the difference, right? So Enrichment needs to be a part of the overall wellbeing and care of the dog, right? A walk in the residential area is still a good activity to do.

It’s just not an enrichment activity.

Corey McCusker (6:02 – 6:18)
And you know, I think that we’re going to get into why enrichment is important, but you know, there’s where so many people say, Oh, I take my dog for a walk three times a day. So let’s talk about why enrichment is so important in adding this in, into your normal physical activity.

Karen Baxter (6:19 – 8:19)
Yeah. So enrichment is important because it improves the physical wellbeing of the animal and promotes good health. It reduces stress, reduces the chance of injuries because it is not, I’m going to use the word forced, and I don’t mean it to sound as harsh as that does, but when they’re on a leash and they’re walking with us, we are controlling the pace.

We are controlling how far they go, how long they walk for, whereas a natural walk where the dog is choosing, they’re moving the way that they would naturally, and they are doing things that they would. So they’re altering their pace. They may run more, which is actually better for them because humans are slow, right?

They may stop and investigate things more often. They may take breaks, you know, when they need to, because it’s based on their opportunity to choose it, right? So, it is, it’s good that way. Like I said, it does reduce stress and stress related behaviours, right? So, ’cause stress can negatively impact dog’s behaviour, right? That’s where you get the excessive barking or chewing, you know, stereotypical behaviors like tail chasing and a little bit of OCD, right?

Behaviours that usually results from stress. So by providing them a rich life, then it helps to reduce any negative impacts of stress and it increases their expression of their intrinsic behaviour. And what we mean by that are genetic behaviours that are natural to a dog or for instance, natural to the breed. So something that they’ve been bred to do, like a Border Collie chasing a flirt pole would be an example of a natural behaviour that the dog gets to do that is bred into them genetically. So if they don’t get the opportunities to express those behaviours they’ve been bred to do, it can cause a lot of stress and frustration in a dog. So if we incorporate activities to help them express who they are, basically, then they are going to be less stressed and a more well-balanced dog.

Corey McCusker (8:19 – 8:34)
Okay. So stress, I mean, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it in our daycare, I’ve seen it in training classes, I’ve seen it in, you know, clients I’ve worked with. Let’s talk about the impact.

Let’s expand a little bit more about that and its effect.

Karen Baxter (8:34 – 10:22)
I think, Corey, you could probably also testify to this as well, but what we’re seeing, I think, in the industry is an increase in stress-related behaviour issues with dogs. There’s a lot more leash reactivity. We see a lot of dogs with general anxiety issues, dogs that are destructive in the home, they’re licking their paws a lot, they’re chewing at themselves, just etc, etc.

The list goes on, right, of behaviours that we see in dogs that can all be attributed to stress. Our environment in the human world is very stressful for a dog. It’s not natural for a dog to live the way that we are asking them to live.

If they are in a home, let’s say, you know, two people and they have to go to work and the dog is in the house for eight hours doing nothing, right, while they’re on to work, then humans come home and they’re tired, but the dog’s been sitting there for eight hours. So if we don’t give that dog opportunities then to express themselves, get out that extra energy, use their minds, etc, then it’s going to result in frustration and stress-related anxiety disorders and behaviours. So I like to say to people, imagine if you woke up every day and you got to go for a little 15-minute walk in the neighborhood.

I gave you some breakfast and then I said, See ya. And there’s no TV, there’s no cell phones, there’s nothing for you to do at all. You just have to stay there and do nothing all day, right. How are you going to feel?

You’re going to start to feel tension, you’re going to start, you’re going to be bored, right, you’re going to be looking for things to do and keep yourself busy, right, and over time you’re going to, that stress is going to have an impact on your life. So dogs are no different, very similar.

Corey McCusker (10:23 – 10:47)
Yep, yep, so true, so true. A lot of people can get their dogs used to the routine, but there is that frustration that could build out and it all, I mean, depending on your dog, it can really build up or, you know, you can just have a chill dog. I know there’s five areas when we’re talking about enrichment that it’s categorized in.

So can we dig a little bit into what they are? So let’s just talk about what are the five areas.

Karen Baxter (10:48 – 11:06)
Okay, so the five areas of enrichment are social, cognitive, physical, sensory, and occupational. So that comes from Purdue University, put out a list, that’s where that list came from.

Corey McCusker (11:06 – 11:15)
Can we expand on, okay, what “social” means or maybe we talk about the activities and just give the listeners today some more examples.

Karen Baxter (11:15 – 12:59)
Yes, all right, so social enrichment means the dog is given the opportunity to interact with other dogs and people safely and positively, right. So again, remember, it’s all about opportunity and choice, right. So if they’re alone all day, that means they have had no opportunity and no option to interact with anybody, right.

So that’s an example where the lack of social enrichment can have an impact on a dog, right. But being with people, being with other dogs, those are opportunities for the dog, that has an opportunity to go and satisfy their social enrichment need, right. Then there’s cognitive.

Cognitive is mental, right. It’s mental activities, stimulation, problem solving, right. Anything that allows a dog to think and use their brain, that’s a cognitive enrichment activity.

Physical opportunities to engage their body, expend energy, all in a natural way that dogs would do anyways, right. So running is a good example for dogs that like to run, right. Dogs that like to walk a lot, you know, giving them chances to migrate, as we call it, is a, you know, is a good physical activity.

Sensory is engagement activities involve all their senses. So that’s scent, textures, sounds, taste, any of those types of activities are good from a sensory perspective. And occupational is opportunities to express those intrinsic breed-specific behaviors that I mentioned earlier.

So like the Border Collie getting an opportunity to stalk and chase, right. Or a Malinois giving an opportunity to bite, right, because they’re bred to bite. Those are occupational opportunities that we want to give to a dog.

Corey McCusker (13:00 – 13:18)
Okay, great. And so some of the listeners today may be going, Wow, okay, that’s, I better take a look at this and think if I need to add something enriching to my dog’s life. So if some, an owner was going to develop a plan or something, or just decide to do this, how would they go about it?

Karen Baxter (13:19 – 15:21)
In order to develop a plan, the first thing you want to do is look at your dog today. And let’s look at what are the things the dog is doing today that you, that are good desirable behaviours. And are there any behaviours that are undesirable, right? And then with those undesirable behaviours, you know, is there something we need to do to give those dogs an opportunity to express themselves that will then change that undesirable behaviour into something more positive for the dog and less undesirable for us, right? If they have stress-related behaviours, we need to then identify are all their needs being met. So we go back to those five categories, right, and look at, you know, are all of their physical, sensory, social, cognitive, and occupational needs, are they all being met?

Does the dog have choice and opportunity to do the things that they need to do? Or is everything structured and the dog’s not given a lot of choice, they just have to do it, right? Make a list of the priorities, what you think your dog is missing the most.

So if you feel that your dog is missing opportunities for sensory enrichment, then that’s going to be at the top of my list for when I develop my plan. I want to add those activities in, right? So then you develop your plan, right?

You know, who’s going to implement it? Where can we do it? When are we going to do it?

What activities? You know, just follow the who, what, when, where, why, how, and put those in your plan. And then, you know, you develop a schedule.

So this is a very formal way of increasing enrichments, right? So yeah, then I’ll create a little schedule. When am I going to do certain things?

Not everything needs to be done every day. Just like us, we have enrichment needs as well, but we don’t have to do them all the time, right? So, and then, you know, to make it easy to implement it if we’re changing, anytime you need to change anything, it’s easier for us if we have it documented. So you make a list, tape it to your fridge or put a magnet on it, right? And then you’ll have it right there to refer to. So you don’t have to try to remember.

And then eventually, it’ll just become natural. You’ll just do it naturally.

Corey McCusker (15:21 – 16:41)
Okay, that’s great. So there they have kind of a process. And that’s again, too, is when you’ve got that, you want to do something, a plan is always important. And you went through some great steps there. So we introduced Enrichment Daycare, we have the Enrichment Program for our daycare, we have the Play and Train. But, and the reason we added it is because we had some of the more mature dogs that were getting bored, they didn’t want the puppies like playing with them. Or we had the puppies that would get overstimulated. And we needed to utilize them. Or we’ve had some of them that have the herding breeds in it.

So we recognize that there was a need. So now we know when the dogs come into the enrichment program, they go home not only physically tired, but they are also mentally been challenged or stimulated. And then the owners were getting great comments because the owners are noticing how much more relaxed they see like, that some dogs like, if you just let them go, go, go, they’re going to go home and they’re going to be so wired, they can’t calm down. So the owners are seeing a difference. We’re seeing a difference and staff loves doing it with them. And we know how important it is for animal welfare. But it hasn’t always been the case that people were aware of the enrichment. So can you provide us with some insight as to how enrichment became important in dogs care?

Karen Baxter (16:41 – 19:38)
For sure. Sadly, in human history, animal welfare has not always been important. We really used animals to for our our benefit and to our advantage. And we’ve not really spent a lot of time thinking about what’s good for those animals. So really, in the history of enrichment only really started about 100 years ago. So it started with Robert Yerkes, who’s a psychobiologist, and he was studying primates, right? And he observed that in improving the physical well-being with the primates improved their overall behaviour. So he put in apparatuses into their enclosures that gave them opportunities to climb and do things that primates will do, right? And he noticed that there was an improvement.

So that was back in 1925. So then psychologist Donald Hebb’s rat study observed that rats raised in homes versus rats raised in a sterile lab scored higher on cognitive tests. That was back in the 40s, right? So already, we start to see how from the 1920s on that just small improvements in the animal’s lives resulted in a much greater, richer life for the animal. And then overall, their performances were better and their behaviours were better. Back in the 1960s, B.F. Skinner, which most of us have heard of, his students observed emerging complex behaviours that could not be explained by whatever work they were doing with the animals. It couldn’t be explained by conditioning and B.F. Skinner was known for really making conditioning a like a household word, right? So well fed animals, for example, still foraged. Well, why would they forage? Right? Well, that’s because that’s a natural behaviour that they would do. So even though they’re well fed, they still like to forage and I think most of us who have dogs have seen that as well. Right? So we feed our dogs their dinner and then we take them outside and they still sniff around for food on the ground or they’ll still go to training and work for food.

Right? So it’s just natural. It’s just natural behaviour for a dog to forage. So that’s a really good example. Really what happened from there is those ideas started being implemented with zoo animals. Right?

So in the zoos, especially once we get into the 80s, right, in the zoos, they really started implementing enrichments, changing habitats to make it more natural for the animals. And they saw that they had less stress related behaviours from the animals in the zoos when they provided them with a much more enriching environment. And then fast forward, now we bring it to dogs, and we have started implementing it with dogs. I would say it’s probably only been, would you say, Corey, 10, 15 years where that’s become a big deal to start adding enrichment for the dogs?

Corey McCusker (19:39 – 20:07)
Yeah, I think so. Yes. And again, too, as I’m saying too, I mean, it’s part of my day-to-day life, even with my own dog, but I’m saying too, is I’m seeing it so much more with owners, like what’s available. So you know what, let’s talk about those five energies. That was really interesting information, but let’s talk about the five areas that you mentioned and let’s provide the listeners today with some ideas they can incorporate into their dog’s life.

Karen Baxter (20:07 – 25:38)
Right on. So, okay. So let’s, the first one let’s talk about is physical.

So I mentioned how going for a structured walk in your environment on a four foot leash is not enriching, right? It is a good activity. It’s good bonding activity for you and your dog, but it’s not true enrichment because the dog doesn’t have opportunity and choice, right?

They just have to do it because we took them out, right? So really good physical activity is what we will call a natural walk or a decompression walk, which means, you know, to decompress them so they’re not so stressed. And that’s either like an off leash trail walk or put them on a long line.

If they don’t have good recall or there’s leash laws in your area, you put them on a nice long line, you take them to a nice natural environment where there’s grass and trees and you know, things like that, or the dogs to walk at their own pace, right? And rest if they want to rest. We don’t actually interfere that much. So we’re not giving them cues.

We’re not asking them to do anything. We’re just giving them the opportunity to walk at their pace. When they start to rest and decide that they don’t want to walk anymore, we don’t make them, right? We just, Okay, that’s it. We’re done. So that’s one activity.

Some dogs really like to chase things and play fetch, right? Or they like to go to the dog park and play with other dogs. That’s a physical, it’s got more than one, but it’s definitely a physical activity because they’re running around and playing, right?

And plus there’s a social enrichment component to that one as well, right? Because they’re playing with the other dogs. Same with playing fetch or doing agility or anything like that, where the dog wants to do it.

They love it. It’s their activity that they enjoy. And there’s also a social component because they’re doing it with a human.

Sensory is things like scent detection. Like I mentioned, the foraging, you can do scatter feeding in the grass and let your dog, you know, search for food, putting like some very gentle diffused odours, like essential oils. But, if you’re using essential oils, you’d be really careful because if they’re not diffused, they are super strong and dog’s olfactory centres are much stronger than ours. So then it’s no longer enrichment because it’s too, it’s too powerful for the dog, right? Music and singing is a sensory thing that you can put, you can put on those like nice rain sounds and things like that. If you’re going to be out, you can put on, there was a study done and it showed that playing soft classical music versus like hard rock, for instance, right?

It’s calming and soothing for a dog. I personally have used singing lullabies and watched as dogs completely relaxed from singing them a soft lullaby. Those are really good sensory type activities. The scent detection is great for dogs who really like to use their nose. And so that’s a really good activity to do with your dogs. Social, of course is play dates, daycares, grooming when the dog likes it, right? So like I have a couple of dogs here that if they see me pull out a brush, they’re, you know, pushing each other out of the way to get to me, right? Like they really love to be groomed. So, and of course, any human dog interaction opportunities to hang with us and do things with us that is also social, right?

Then cognitive could be things like puzzle games, slow feeders, trick training, if the dog is into it, right? So if they really want to do it and they have the opportunity to opt in and choose, is really good for their cognitive well-being, especially dogs that need jobs, right? Then there’s the job specific stuff.

So if they, which we’ll go into, which is the occupational dogs who are highly social, may like to do like therapy dog work, right? Then there’s the working dogs who like to do like search and rescue or sheep herding or, you know, all of that. So if they don’t have those opportunities to do their actual occupation, because these days we’ve taken a lot of their jobs away, there are artificial ways to provide that same enrichment to a dog.

So again, I’ll use the herding dogs as an example. Flirtful work is good. Agility is good.

All of those things are really good for them. Scent dogs who like to search and rescue dogs is what I had there for a job. You can do things just even in your own backyard where you teach them to find things and you can hide stuff around in your house and things like that, which gives them a job.

I will tell people with retrievers, teach them to fetch stuff, right? Teach them to go get your shoes, teach them to go and get a newspaper, right? Because that’s their job, right?

That’s something that they, if they have strong retrieving instincts, you can channel that right into something positive. Here’s how you can use it, where you can change a behaviour that is problematic. So sometimes undesirable behaviour at a door, for instance, would be a dog jumping all over people. So I have a client who has a retriever and we taught that retriever to go get a pair of slippers that are his. So like they’re, nobody wears these, they’re for the dog, but they’re kept with the shoes, right? And he’s told to go and get his shoe, right?

So when somebody walks in the door, he naturally turns, goes and gets his shoes, and now he’s not jumping all over everybody, right? He’s just standing there with a shoe in his mouth, wagging his tail. So that’s an example of using enrichment to help change undesirable behaviour. So that’s the way, those are some quick ideas, right? I think we’re going to put resources, right, on the show notes.

Corey McCusker (25:38 – 27:35)
Yes, we are. We are definitely going to put some resources. Yeah.
Great ideas there, too. And there’s just so many too, right? Again, it goes back to that plan, looking at your behaviours or if there’s desire, right? And really knowing your dog or getting to know your dog and trying things out. If you’re not really sure they’re a retriever, you’re not sure they like scented, try it out and see, you’ll see, they’ll get excited. I mean, I know Skye who is high energy girl.

I have to do enrichment with her or else I’m going to have a dog that’s going to have behaviour problems. So, you know, we’ve done everything with her. We’ve started even community walks with our facility to help any of those dogs get out that maybe haven’t been social with other dogs or getting them, you know, used to it.

You know, we have the Women in Dog Circle hikes. Skye has done trick training, agility, scent work. I mean, we, both of us, I think, offer these in our facilities for our clients to come in and try out and do some enriching activities with them too. So we’ll definitely provide those resources in the show notes. And, you know, Karen, I think this is something that people, if they make it a priority, it doesn’t take long. I mean, enrichment activities can be simple.

You can incorporate it into your daily life when you’re feeding your dog, maybe using a slow feeder or, you know, using their kibble with the puzzle games that you have. When you’re going on a walk, you know, you talked about scattering in the grass. We call that a snafari.

Go and have a little snafari in the grass with them too. So there’s lots of things, you know, even adding things if you’ve got a, you know, a fenced in backyard, doing some stuff out there with them. So lots of things you can incorporate.

And it really is about the well-being of the dog. And I think those have been, it’s been a great overview that you’ve provided today. Some great tips.

You gave us some background on it. Is there any final words or tips or advice that you can leave the listeners with today in regards to the enrichment?

Karen Baxter (27:36 – 28:33)
The one point that I keep, you know, pointing out is make sure that the enrichment is natural and is something the dog likes to do and is going to want to do. So you’ve got to have the opportunity to choose to do it, right? It’s not something we’re going to make them do.

It’s something we’re going to give them the opportunity to do, right? That’s the key. And again, just more to your point, it doesn’t mean that you have to set aside, you know, three extra hours a day to make sure your dog has enrichment.

Be creative. Think of, try different things. See what your dog likes.

As you’ve mentioned, we’ll put those resources where people can get a ton of ideas on enrichment, right? So one of the websites that we’re going to post out there is, it’s called 100 Days of Enrichment. So you can really see how varied it is and really get some really great ideas about how to provide those opportunities for your dog.

Corey McCusker (28:34 – 29:52)
Excellent, excellent. Thank you so much, Karen, for joining us today. I know you’re one busy person.

I want to really thank you for sharing the knowledge and wisdom for the listeners in regards to the enrichment. You know, I’m going to have you on again because you have so many expertise that I like to share with pet parents. And so for those listening, if you want more information about Karen and Unified K9 Behaviour Centre, please visit the website www.unifiedk9.ca. It’s provided in the show notes too. Thanks to all the listeners today for joining us and hearing how we can improve your dog’s well-being. If you would like to learn more about Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Training Academy and what we offer, please visit our website at www.muttzwithmannerz.com. You can find other blogs and podcasts to enhance your knowledge and education about your pup.

If you’re interested in hearing a topic that we may not have covered on our podcast, or you have questions, please reach out to us at info@muttzwithmannerz.com. Our goal is to enrich the lives of both ends of the leash. And today we’ve provided you with some tips on how to do that. Karen, thank you so much for joining me. And again, thanks listeners. Everyone have a great day.

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