Dog enrichment equals happiness

Various enrichment activities are incorporated to make the lives of dogs at Best Friends more enjoyable and happier.
By Kelli Harmon

Memphis the dog and his big blue camouflage stuffed boneThe moment Memphis spots a toy in Jami LoVullo’s hand, his whole body radiates with excitement. His giant bat-like ears stand at attention, trained on her. He remains very still — almost as though he’ll break the spell if he moves, and maybe he won’t get the toy after all. But, of course, he’ll get the toy. Jami opens the door, walks into his kennel and hands Memphis the big blue camouflage stuffed bone, which he proudly holds in his teeth. And, surprise of surprises, it squeaks. Memphis is a happy dog.

How enrichment saves dogs' lives

It’s “new toy Tuesday” at the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles, and it’s Jami’s favorite day of the week. She explains, “It’s the most fun, and the dogs get excited about it. Some just tear up the toy, but that’s OK too — whatever they want to do.”

As the behavior and enrichment lead at the center, Jami heads up dog training, as well as enrichment programs to keep dogs happy during their stay. But it’s much more than just fun and games. It’s a key part of Best Friends’ goal to get Los Angeles to no-kill by 2017, because each dog adopted opens up space for another dog from one of the six Los Angeles Animal Services shelters. And happy, healthy dogs find homes more quickly. It’s as simple as that.

Every day’s a special day

Best Friends staff and volunteers spend hours every day walking dogs, holding play groups (where dogs get to romp together in a yard) and conducting special training sessions. But dogs can’t be out and about all the time, and that’s when in-kennel activities are utilized to engage dogs’ senses, as well as their minds.

Sunday is spa day — when dogs get massages, baths or just quiet time cuddling with someone on a blanket. On Mondays and Saturdays, dogs get fleece toys scented with essential oils like orange, peppermint, lavender and chamomile. There are Kong and food puzzle days, when dogs have to figure out how to extract each piece of kibble or chunk of peanut butter, and have great fun doing it. The different activities provide the dogs with variety while they wait to be adopted into homes of their own. And each dog has a favorite enrichment day, too.

Canine enrichment ideas and activities

Tuesday is Memphis’ favorite day, and he’s a pro at catching a Frisbee or a ball tossed in the air. An adorable dog with a cinnamon-colored coat, he’s that perfect in-between size — not too big or too small. He’s just right. And he’s smarter than the average dog, which means he’s at his best when he gets lots of attention, as well as new experiences, like a toy he hasn’t played with before.

Axel loves his spa dayMeanwhile, Axel, who’s the physical opposite of Memphis with his short white-and-gray coat and big muscular body, loves Sundays best. That’s when Jami goes to his run with her spa supplies, which always include a container of bath wipes. “I call it a sponge bath,” Jami says. Axel, who looks like he’s always raising one eyebrow (thanks to the gray dab just over his left eye), can’t wait for what’s next. He flops onto his side while Jami massages him all over with the wipe. When she’s done his belly, he’ll lift up a front leg as if to say, “You missed a spot.”

The special one-on-one time never fails to bring big toothy smiles to the dogs’ faces. Best of all, it gives potential adopters a glimpse of the sweet, smiling dog who maybe, just maybe, they’d like to bring home. That is, after all, what it’s all about.

To help more animals like Memphis and Axel get the royal treatment they deserve until they go home, become a Best Friends member.

Learn more about how Best Friends is working to make Los Angeles a no-kill city by 2017.

Photos by Lori Fusaro