The Feng Shui of Enrichment: Environment Matters

Feng shui. Cycle of creation: fire, ground, metal, water, treeThe ancient Chinese practice of feng shui uses energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. Five elements are important to the practice of feng shui: wood, fire, earth, metal, water.
Physical environment is the third form of enrichment for animals. But feng shui for dogs? Go with me on this one. No, physical environment enrichment isn’t really feng shui, but it’s a useful paradigm for thinking about how your dog’s environment can be enriching. Think about the many ways some changes to your dog’s environment may create a more mentally fulfilling experience. These become the elements of your dog’s physical environment: temperature, height and structures, visual barriers, substrates, tactile.
Temperature
Heat and cold are sensory experiences and changes to the ambient temperature of your dog’s world will stimulate different neurological responses. I’m not talking about extremes, of course. I imagine your dog seeks her own temperature variations on her own. One moment sunbathing; the next moment flattened on cool tile. Laying in front of the fireplace; or not. Maybe we are a little too careful about ensuring an even environmental temperature for our dogs.
Height and Structures
Giving your dog climbing surfaces can be a very enriching experience for her. I know my dog loves jumping onto rocks; jumping over or crawling under felled trees; climbing stairs; going through tunnels; and jumping into and out of the car. Many dog sports give dogs these opportunities, as well. You can create your own obstacle course in your yard, providing climbing and crawling experiences for your dog. What a great adventure for her!
Visual Barriers
Have you seen these new dog windows? These are acrylic bubble windows that can be installed in barrier fences to allow dogs to look through to the outside world. Here you have both the barrier fence as one type of environmental element and the window as a second. Or how about gates and fences: dogs are fascinated with looking out of them. Imagine creating some visual barriers on your obstacle course, where they can sometimes see out and sometimes not. Believe it or not, it isn’t necessarily frustrating. It can be it’s own type of adventure. 
Substrates
In our last post, we talked about textures as a sensory enrichment element. It’s also pertinent to the physical environment. Walking over different surfaces gives your dog different sensations experienced through her feet (texture, temperature, variations in surface). Again, think about that obstacle course and building in some different walking surfaces between structures. Think about bubble wrap. Or one of those plastic floor runners with the nubs on the underside to grip carpet — turn it over so the nubs are up. You might find your dog a bit hesitant at first, if they haven’t had much experience with a particular surface. Don’t force them, but give them an incentive (food or toy lure, etc.) to be adventurous.
Tactile
Objects and surfaces that come into contact with your dog’s body are also part of her physical environment and an important element of enrichment. There are scores of YouTube videos of dogs rolling in sand and mud. Ever see a dog in a ball pit? It’s one of the best things you will ever see! Imagine how much fun a sprinkler can be for your dog to chase water or run through the water streams. All these sensations on her body ignite neurons and fire up different centers of the brain.
I think physical environment is the most overlooked type of enrichment for your dog. Give your dog variations in these five environmental enrichment “elements” to explore for her own canine feng shui.
We will continue to cover the five areas of enrichment in coming posts. Next up: Cognitive!

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