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Ever heard of a sensory garden? It’s a self-contained garden that is designed to stimulate the senses not just with lovely looking and nice smelling plants and flowers but also by having items that can be interacted with, such as fuzzy plants to touch or giant instruments like a xylophone, strung up that people can play.
Sensory gardens may serve various functions from teaching and socialising as well as therapy but they’re not just for humans!
Many rescue centres are discovering the benefit sensory gardens can have on their animals in providing enrichment opportunities and building confidence. And, the good news is you do not need a large garden to do this. You can create a mini-sensory area even if you are in a property with no ready access to the outdoors. See below for simple ideas on what you could do to create your own pet sensory garden which will bust some neurons and tickle your animal’s senses.
Sensory ideas for your pet garden
- Fill plant pots with ornamental grasses that spark interest, and plants that can be sniffed (e.g.) chamomile, rosemary and lavender.
- Create a tunnel for your pets to run through made out of willow. This not only looks pretty but can be great fun for doggie dashes.
- Speak to your local car garage or tire centre to see if they can give you any spare or used tires. These are great for filling up with plants, balls for your dog to dive in or simply to be jumped on, in and out of!
- Create platforms made from different textures to stimulate those paws, such as cut tree trunks, concrete, artificial grass and rubber matting.
- Make a sand or earth pit either free-standing or buried into the ground so your pet has a designated spot to dig until his or her heart is content.
- For dogs that love water: set up a small sprinkler so they can chase this, paw or snap at and drink.
- Create little pet pens for your animal to investigate or rest in. An old children’s playhouse, outdoor tipi or even a simple wooden A-frame structure that you can cover with weatherproof material, can work well.
Sensory ideas for apartments/no garden
- Fill small plant pots with different herbs. Whilst you may think only cats enjoy catnip, dogs enjoy this too.
- Create an indoor play-pit with a hard-plastic shell and fill with balls.
- Create your own Spin the Bottle game for your dog. If you are feeling creative: make a basic frame and pole, then create holes in some plastic bottles to thread these through. Alternatively, thread the bottles with string then tie up across two points and secure the ends (see ‘Enrichment tip: Crazy kebabs’, for an example). Place some dry kibble or treats into the bottles, then watch your pet work out how to spin the bottles to get the food.
- Bubbles fun! You can buy bacon, peanut butter and liver favoured bubbles for dogs, so fill up a bubble machine or manually blow bubbles for your dog to chase and pop.
- Snuffle mats work well for tickling the senses indoors as they are an unusual texture under your dog’s paws and he or she has to use their nose to sniff out the treats.
- For more enrichment ideas, see ‘Hacks to burn your dog’s energy during lockdown.
There are many more things you could do, so get creative and we’d love you to share your pet sensory pictures on our Facebook page.