Exploration Zone is a simple, low-impact and can be set up in any environment and practiced with dogs of all ages. It’s sometimes called Freework or Enriched Environments because that’s exactly what it is; we take a normal environment like a kitchen, kennel or field and make it more enriching. Dogwood, with the Adventure Play equipment and Sensory Garden, is built on this concept. 

We set out the environment with different kinds of food, treats, objects and textures. To put it simply, set out a load of random objects, lace it with food and allow dogs to explore!  

The blend of textures, scents and tastes helps to engage your dog’s senses. It allows them complete freedom to explore at their own pace while you watch and learn more about them.

What’s the difference between Exploration Zone and Cache?

When playing search games we hide one or several pieces of food or toys in the environment (the environment could be boxes, your living room, garden, etc). You then cue your dog to ‘Find it!’ (or whatever words you use) and they go and search for whatever is hidden. Once they’ve found it, you could repeat that process several times in a session. It’s a bond-focused and interactive process as we are working closely with our dogs.

Exploration Zone on the other hand allows our dogs absolute freedom. They explore the environment at their own pace while we observe. Search games are relatively quick. An Exploration Zone session can last up to an hour! Search games usually require small pieces of treats, or a toy, whereas Exploration Zone foods are varied; some can be eaten quickly, others are long-lasting.

During the seven day challenge we took a brief look at the Exploration Zone – but there is a lot more to it. It can be used just as an exploratory enrichment activity that can be set up for dogs’ enjoyment any time. However, it also has a very strong link to Partnership. Here’s why. 

Part of developing a strong partnership is understanding how your dog is feeling. Observing them in the Exploration Zone will give you a wealth of useful information!

The more you practice observing and the more relaxed your dog becomes, the more you will see. That’s why Exploration Zone is not a one-off activity. Do it regularly, watching and making note of any changes. It’s a great way to monitor changes in behaviour and health. 

In this chapter we are focusing on your observations. Please use the prompts below to note your observations (also available as a PDF to download).

Note the types of foods / textures / smells / toys / surfaces that your dog enjoys and take these to different environments to help them feel confident there. 

Exploration Zone is best done completely naked (the dog, not you… though I would never judge).

If your dog has been know to show guarding issues around food or objects, please observe from a safe distance. Only go back into the Exploration Zone when your dog leaves because they are finished. You may need to give them a chew in another room while you clear all the items away.