Welcome to Day 95 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- eating grass is natural, normal and necessary dog behaviour
- grasses provide enrichment in other ways too
- sensory based enrichment
- providing access to safe grasses and other plants may benefit dogs in a number of ways
- get the family involved in this one – for the most part, the dog will be doing all the work but children might like to be involved in some of today’s challenges
What do you need?
- grass – an area that allows your dog to interact with grasses as they choose
- you might like to engage in some creative gardening too!
- cat grass which can be purchased from pet shops and online pet retailers – product review below
- to facilitate normal dog behaviour and grass eating
- to monitor grass or plant eating to ensure it’s safe and appropriate
- to provide outlets for normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour
- to encourage interaction with their environment and help in the development of behaviours/strategies dealing with their environment
- to encourage dogs to choose and introduce choice into their day to day life
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
Dogs will often ingest plant material, outside of their every day diet, as part of normal canid behaviour.
For the most part this behaviour is not of concern, but some awareness of the types of plant material ingested is important to maintain safety!
Grass can provide enrichment benefits beyond ingestion too!
Grasses provide lots of cognitive outlets, with changes in terrain and changes in how scents and sounds are perceived. Running through long grass is enjoyed by many dogs, bouncing up and over to see and explore.
Rolling in grass is enjoyed by many dogs, providing lots of sensory feedback.
Grasses, such as bamboo, can help with soundscaping – changing how sounds travel to the benefit of both canines and humans.
How can we achieve these goals?
- bring your dogs to grassy areas regularly
- rather than manicured lawns or shorter grass, choose places that provide a more natural landscape with a variety of grasses, grass lengths/densities, and terrains
- allow your dog to choose how they interact with grasses
- think about introducing grasses to your home or garden if this is something that your dog doesn’t get to interact with regularly
- many dogs live in apartments or similar so don’t have access to much outdoor space, or may only have access to a paved or concrete yard or fake grass lawns – providing these dogs with freer access to grass may be beneficial
- learn about which plants are safe for pets so that you can provide your dog with guidance
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of grasses:
Grass eating in dogs has not been studied much at all, despite questions about this behaviour being very common from pet owners. Given that this is pondered so often, we can assume that grass eating is common behaviour among dogs.
Sueda et al, 2008, surveyed pet owners about their dog’s grass eating behaviour. Although a small sample was surveyed, almost all pet owners reported that their dogs would engage in eating grass and plant material regularly.
Here is a nice summary of this research.
This also helps to explain coprophagia (poop-eating) of faeces from grass eating animals such as rabbits, sheep and horses…yum! These animals have already done all the hard digestion work on the grass so your dog takes a short cut!
So, if grass eating is normal and not necessarily associated with health issues, should we ever be concerned about this behaviour?
There are some situations in which I might worry a little about grass eating behaviour. Generally, if normal dog behaviour is expressed at abnormal intensity, frequency, duration or outside of normal contexts, that might be cause for concern.
Dogs who intensely seek out and eat grass, and possibly grass clippings, eat a lot of it and are difficult to move on from eating it, may be doing so because they are experiencing some sort of gastrointestinal upset.
If a dog regularly poops or vomits lots of grass, that might also indicate some sort of gastrointestinal upset.
No matter, discuss concerns with your vet to prevent these signs worsening and to rule out underlying conditions.
Option 1 Grazing
Decker is a grazer. He will eat a bit of grass here and there on every outing, pretty much, and eats grasses daily.
Bringing your dogs to places that allow for this behaviour will give them the opportunity to choose to graze, or not, and to choose how they interact with the world that grasses and other plantlife can create.
Option 2 Homegrown Grasses
You can buy kits to grow grasses for your pets and they are particularly marketed toward pet cats, rabbits and other cage pets. Presumably, this is to compensate should these animals not have access to outdoors.
Dogs may also be in a similar position and may not have choice-based access to grass so this might provide an appropriate alternative.
I will confess that I am not at all green-fingered but each product did grow grass, some better than others. These are the results after a week and a half in a sunny spot with irregular watering (again, I am not a gardener!). The HydroGrass worked best and quickest.
Each product seems to be a similar species or mix of grass; the manufacturers claim a cereal grain, a barley grass and a mix of barley, oat and wheat respectively.
They are each grown in vermiculite, which we don’t want the animal to ingest, so take care. I have since planted these outside and they all grew and spread a little – Decker has grazed on them throughout the summer. I am growing more indoors now for the winter.
The first time I gave it to him, in this clip, he was pretty enthusiastic about interacting with it probably due to the novelty factor, but now that I just leave it down for him, he will dip in and out as he chooses.
Option 3 Among the grasses
Grass provides fun enrichment in other ways too, so allowing your dog choice-based access can tick lots of enrichment boxes too.
Your dog will certainly enjoy sniffing among grasses (Sniffathon rules apply), they often love to roll in it, and lots of dogs appear to experience great joy in bounding through long grass.
Have fun among the grasses today!
Option 4 Pet-friendly Gardening
With the growing interest in enrichment for dogs, developing sensory gardens for dogs is regularly discussed. If you are lucky enough to the have the space and resources, you can easily add garden features for your dog, but if you don’t, it’s possible to do it on a smaller scale too.
A sensory garden is a place where the dog can interact with their environment, in a relaxed state, and can just hang out. It should engage their senses and tick a range of enrichment boxes.
Think about Day 27 Adventure Time, where we looked at designing adventure outings for our dogs. When that’s not possible, bringing the adventuring inside or into your garden or yard may be the best alternative.
What activities does your dog find enjoyable?
The clues will be in what your dog is already doing, even if those are behaviours that are a problem for you. This often includes destructive behaviours like digging or chewing and distracting behaviours like intense sniffing.
Consider cognitive, sensory, environmental, social and food based enrichment. A sensory garden should emphasise sensory feedback – visual, auditory, gustatory, tactile and olfactory.
It being a garden, most of this should come from ‘nature’ which will likely mostly come from plants.
Plants can provide a fully rounded sensory experience for dogs and may include:
- bamboo – creates height, shelter, shade, acts as a sound and visual barrier, changes the way sounds and scents travel, and adds sound as it rustles in the wind
- grasses like wheat, barley, oat
- lemon thyme
Space plants out and distribute away from one another, especially if strong smelling. Having all the scented plants together might be over powering.
Add plants in containers, which will protect them and allow you to rotate them. Plants in containers is the perfect solution if you don’t have the space or resources for a full-on garden.
Make different heights and substrates available to the dog, with a variety of substrates. Provide a digging area too if that’s your dog’s thing.
Arrange plants and obstacles to form pathways and encourage the dog to wander through each area. (Think Sniffari)
Some nice ideas described in this piece.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!