Canine enrichment refers to the many ways that you work to keep your dog healthy, both physically and mentally. Just like people, dogs can become bored, and we know that destruction and depression are two ways that dogs show us they are feeling this way. To keep your dog as healthy and happy as possible, adding enrichment activities to your daily routine is a great place to start.
What you’ll find is that enrichment activities benefit you as well as your pup. You can practice some of these activities while you’re working from home and need time to focus on a particular task. Enrichment activities can help to tire out your dog through mental stimulation and will leave them feeling very content.
Keep reading to learn more about the different ways you can keep your dog entertained and happy.
The Importance of Enrichment Activities
Dogs need healthy stimulation in their daily life. They aren’t meant to live a life where they sleep all day long (though some might prefer it). As their parents, we have to provide them with activities to encourage this kind of stimulation so that they can be as healthy as possible. Studies have shown that providing dogs with an enriching environment improves their mood, decreases stress, and enhances their cognitive abilities.
Not only does enrichment keep them entertained, but it also tires them out. If you have a high-energy dog who is constantly in the mood for an activity, implementing enrichment into their routine will leave you with a very pleased and tired pup.
Types of Enrichment and How To Do Them
Playtime is how dogs work — from problem-solving to exercising — when your dog rips apart a cardboard box, you’re seeing a mind at work. When it comes to brain games, you can buy store-bought versions or make your own.
That means it’s time for some inspiration. While you can hop on the AskVet Clubhouse to ask the pet parent community, we also have a few unique enrichment ideas here.
Let’s talk about the DIY dog toys and games that work as hard as your pup does:
We talk a lot about how using a dog’s natural instincts to motivate training and what’s more instinctual than looking for nourishment? Food-based enrichment toys work amazingly well at keeping food-motivated dogs occupied and happy.
While these are often referred to as treat-dispensing toys, don’t feel like you have to fill them with treats. These toys can (party) replace mealtime — subtract some of their kibble from their daily allotment and put it in their puzzle feeders.
How To Make Puzzle Toys for Dogs
Grab a handful of treats (or dog food) and a towel, wrap the treats up in the towel, and tie it into a knot. Let your dog see you preparing this before giving it to them. Depending on how complex the knot is, your pup could spend upwards of an hour trying to get it undone.
Engage their scavenging and smelling instincts with a muffin tin and some balls. Grab an old muffin tin and several tennis balls, place a treat in one of the tins, and cover half of them with the balls. Your dog will have to push and sniff to find where the treat is. Some breeds, like the beagle and bloodhound, might naturally excel at these games more than others, but all breeds can benefit from nose work.
Introduce Slow Feeders and Lick Mats
Slow feeders and snuffle mats are great forms of enrichment. You can purchase slow feeders and snuffle mats for your dog to use for every meal. Not only does this make your dog’s feeding times longer, but it uses up more mental energy to complete the task.
While not quite a scent game, your dog might enjoy lick mats. Lick mats smothered in peanut butter can be used as an enrichment snack for the middle of the day and are especially helpful during long Zoom meetings. In addition, you can look online for fun and healthy recipes to use for your dog’s lick mat!
How To Make Dog-Friendly Popscicles
After a long day of playing (or lying) in the sun, a cool frozen treat is a luxury. Grab a container and fill it with water and fruits that are both safe and tasty and that your dog will love. Freeze this container overnight and then give it to them the next day once it’s in a solid form.
It has a slight hydrating benefit and requires patience and persistence (aka mental engagement) to get to the dog treat — a win/win.
Going around the block and following the same pattern is not always the most fun for a dog. Some dogs thrive off routine, and others need to spice things up every once in a while.
For enhanced social enrichment, take your dog to a new location where there will be other animals and humans around. Dogs find enrichment in simply sniffing around a new place (but you can also work on training for greeting other dogs and humans).
You can also find isolated areas that are new for your dog and let them have a romp around there without the stress of coming in contact with other people. Find dog-friendly beaches or lakes in your area, especially if they like to swim. The beach offers endless romping, sensory enrichment, and can even act as one giant dig pit (which you can make at home too).
Physical Exercises and Challenges
If you notice your dog is always jumping onto higher surfaces as you walk along the street or loves to bound around in the woods, adding physical enrichment objects into the home might bring them pure joy. Pop-up tunnels, sand pits, and obstacle courses help burn energy and make the environment more complex and mentally stimulating.
Hide and Seek is an interactive game that you can play that involves several forms of enrichment. For one, your dog has to use their senses to find where you (or a special object) have hidden, might be frantically running around during the search, and also burning mental energy while waiting patiently for the “Seek” command.
Getting involved with the enrichment activity will make it even more enticing, and who knows — you might find yourself enjoying the game too!
Dog Training Exercises
You can never go wrong with practicing basic training exercises throughout the day. This is the easiest way to enrich your dog, as it brings the focus to you. Our dogs love to impress us, and spending time with us is all they ever want.
Making them sit, stay, down, spin, paw, and whatever else you are training them for 15 minutes every day is just as much enrichment as a 30-minute twice-daily walk. This is great for rainy days or sick days when you don’t want to leave the house.
Find a Well of Pet Well-Being Knowledge
Feel like you might be running out of ideas? Talk with our Certified Pet Coaches at AskVet to learn more about training resources and behavioral guides. We can come up with new enrichment ideas and get to the bottom of what your dog needs.
Sign-up today for a virtual dog training session where we get to know your dog and come up with a plan on how to make them the happiest and healthiest pooch on the block!