by Anna Cooke
Keeping the mind of a shelter dog positively stimulated is of constant concern for shelter workers and volunteers. Although walks are an excellent way to provide socialization, other enrichment programs may include playgroups for dogs to play with other dogs, as well as with people.
Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center’s Christine O’Dell spent time researching a concept that’s been growing (pun intended) in popularity in shelters around the globe. She thought a sensory garden would be enjoyed not only by the dogs but people as well. In her presentation to gain support for creating the space, she explained how a sensory garden encourages dogs to use all of his senses by providing mental stimulation, while reducing stress and increasing confidence.
Scientists estimate a dog’s nose to be tens of thousands of times more sensitive to odor than our noses. Part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing those smells is proportionally 40 times greater than ours. Get a dog sniffing and you’ll get her mind working.
Christine’s idea was well-received. Then, the pandemic hit and the Shelter closed to the public. The Shelter’s closing correlated with Field officers and investigators moving to Code Enforcement. Christine was given the green light to proceed with the garden along with a plot of land on the backside of the shelter property: the asphalt parking lot where Field officers once parked their vehicles.
What has transformed over the course of the last year is a yet-to-be-named garden full of color and activity with butterflies fluttering in and out of flowers. Christine’s design includes spaces where dogs can sniff, walk through and dig around to their heart’s content. Some plants are grouped for their calming effects, like lavender and marigolds. Boulders, strategically-placed, will give dogs an area to climb onto or search through in crevices and openings underneath. A nose work program is definitely being planned for the near future. There is also a beautiful water feature complete with waterfall where dogs can jump into. It was designed and built by Shelter staff employee Cory Chmielewski.
Science backs up Christine’s vision. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast found that dogs exposed to the scent of lavender and chamomile appear to spend more time resting. Dogs exposed to rosemary and peppermint perk up, playing and barking more.
Sniffing actually makes a dog happier and healthier. That’s why, when walking our own dogs, it’s important to allow them some sniff-time, you know, so they can check out that pee-mail on the tree, and other delightful aromas wafting about.
Stop and smell the roses. It’s therapeutic for you and your dog.