For most dogs, human companionship offers the highest quality enrichment. For most shelters, however, staff and trained volunteers who can provide this enrichment are often in short supply.
Mackenzie's Animal Sanctuary strives to provide at least five 20-minute sessions a week with a human for every dog, and provides more whenever possible.
To make the most of their limited time, Mackenzie's varies the activities that dogs and humans do together:
Playing in the exercise yard
Exploring the enrichment yard (This two-acre yard has a small pond, a climbing mountain, steps, and barrels with the bottoms cut out for dogs to crawl through.)
Making offsite trips to the local village to experience people, traffic, and ordinary human activity
Reading and relaxing together in the dog's kennel
Training and TLC in a real-life room
These activities are richly stimulating, mentally and socially. They also provide a variety of sensory experiences.
Leashes and collars for walking, other offsite activities, and training
Treats for training
Toys for play time in the exercise yard and TLC
Reading materials and a chair for reading and relaxing
Staff and trained volunteers can perform these tasks. When assigning volunteers, you'll need to consider their level of experience and ability to safely handle specific dogs.
What to Do
If possible, plan to have each dog participate in every activity at least once a week.
Walks and Play Time
Playing in the exercise yard
Exploring the enrichment yard
Making offsite trips to experience ordinary human activity
Biking, hiking, or jogging with the dogs also provide a great experience if you have staff or volunteers who enjoy these activities. Physically demanding outings are especially good for high-energy, active dogs who are otherwise difficult to tire out.
Read and Relax
Read and Relax is an in-kennel activity in which a volunteers sits in a dog's kennel and reads aloud for 30 minutes. This social experience helps the dog learn:
Good things happen inside the kennel, and that the fun begins when the dog presents calmly at the kennel door
How to enjoy human company without having to be the center of attention (Yup, they learn to just hang out.)
Read and Relax is especially beneficial for dogs who need to learn to be calm in the presence of humans.
This 20-30 minute activity is probably the most socially and mentally intensive enrichment experience for shelter dogs. The activity takes place in a real-life room, which is a room with a couch, chairs, and other objects commonly found in a home.
Mackenzie's tries to provide this activity for each dog at least once a week. If you have enough staff or trained volunteers, daily sessions would be ideal.
A staff member or trained volunteer interacts with the dog in a number of highly positive ways, including:
Approximately five minutes of reward-based (positive-reinforcement) training on basic cues, including sit, stay, down, come, leave it, and give it
Playing with toys, especially those favored by the dog
Grooming, if the dog chooses to participate
Any other tender, loving, care that the individual dog enjoys (belly rubs, anyone?)