We gotta talk about health and safety in all our enrichment endeavours. An awareness of what might go wrong will help us keep our pets safe, because, let’s face it, they don’t always look to keep themselves safe!
Dogs will injure themselves in all sorts of ways, especially when it comes to edibles or things they think should be edible…
What follows are general tips but there may be more specific guidelines appropriate to your pet. There will also be more specific safety tips with particular challenges. But, the bottom line is, you need to know your dog and their tendencies.
- Always supervise pets with puzzles.
Again, knowing your pet is important here – there are some things that can be given to some dogs to keep them busy when alone. Choosing appropriate toys or devices will need to be appropriate to the dog’s size and chewing/play style. Toys or devices should look too big for your dog’s mouth and be tough enough that they can’t break off small pieces and ingest them, should that be what they’re into.
- Know your pet’s puzzling, chewing and play styles. For example, does he have a tendency to ingest non-food items? This might happen accidentally, while chewing and puzzling, but we are more concerned about the dog that intentionally ingests non-food items.
Some adjustments and close supervision may be required for some individuals.
It’s a good idea to have a pocketful of HIGH value treats while you pet is puzzling. If they attempt to ingest or chew something inappropriate, quickly toss some of these treats across your pet’s eye line to redirect their attention.
- Make sure to clean away remnants of puzzles carefully so your pet can’t get them. This might be relevant for the ingesters but also may cause resource guarding in some dogs, who will guard access to even scraps from a puzzle from people or other pets.
- Many puzzles are designed to give your pet more acceptable outlets for destruction and dissection, which are normal, natural, necessary behaviours for dogs, so make sure that you are preventing them accessing anything you don’t want destroyed or dissected at other times.
Human training required in putting things away and closing doors!
With both acceptable destruction and careful management in place, your dog seeking less appropriate outlets will decrease.
- Never just take or grab something off a dog, especially something higher value like puzzles or treats.
Not only is it important to allow your dog work it out without too much human interference, some dogs may be uncomfortable with people or other dogs approaching them, reaching for them, touching them or attempting to take something from them.
This may cause them to demonstrate resource guarding related behaviour such as freezing, growling, snapping or even biting.
To prevent this, when you want to remove a puzzle, divert their attention so that they move away. You might try throwing some treats in the other direction, go to the fridge, rustle some packing, pretend to get ready to go out.
Let your dog finish up and move away from the area before you reclaim the puzzle and tidy up. It can be better to allow them to move into another room so you can close the door if necessary or when they are not aware of what you are doing.
- If you have more than one pet participating, many will prefer just to work on each puzzle alone. This may be especially true in the case of food or toy based challenges; by making it more difficult to get the reward we may increase its value. This means that dogs may be more likely to guard access from one another and people.
- Children love making puzzles for pets and it can be a great and safe way of involving them in the care of their pet. Make sure to supervise all interactions between dogs and children directly. Teach and guide children to give the dog lots of space to enjoy and work on their puzzles on their own. Humans observe, rather than participate too much or too closely!
- Lots of puzzles will reuse items such as packing and containers. Carefully check all items and remove loose or unsafe bits such as lids, staples, tape, plastic pieces or loose parts.
And most importantly, have fun & brain games!