Enrichment is a way of providing outlets for and encouraging what’s called “species-typical behavior” - basically behaviors that dogs do just because they’re dogs. Dogs are endurance animals. A lot of them could keep going and going for long periods of time - but their brains don’t have the same endurance as their bodies do. By engaging their natural cognitive abilities, we can satisfy that sometimes boundless amount of energy! If you want a more relaxed, happier dog, you have to try our favorite 10 super easy enrichment ideas.
10. Go find it - To get more physical exercise, toss one piece of kibble at a time for them to chase and say “go find it.” Repeat until their meal is gone! You can also use treats for this game. Popular with many of our clients at night while they’re watching TV - toss a treat down the hall for your dog to sniff and find, then repeat!
9. Scatter feeding - One step up from “go find it!” Toss their kibble in the grass or snow, or even on the floor in your house! Let them use their nose to go find each piece. Like a real life, one player version of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
8. Snuffle mat - Less mess, more sniffing. A snuffle mat is covered in pieces of fabric that act like grass to hide their food. Simply scatter their food into it and let em go!
7. Shredding - Give your dog paper bags, cereal boxes, paper towel tubes, or cardboard egg cartons, all to shred before you throw them out. You can even encourage them by putting food inside. Celery, carrots, and other dog-friendly veggies are fun shredding options too!
6. Treat ball - let them get some physical and mental exercise by rolling this ball around the house to get their kibble out. A classic, beloved by dogs of all ages.
5. Frozen enrichment - Make up some soft mixtures of food and stuff them into a toy like this one or smear it on a lick mat. With your veterinarian’s permission, some good choices are mashed banana or pumpkin, plain yogurt, baby food, or hydrated Honest Kitchen! You don’t have to freeze it, but it’ll take your dog longer to lick it all up if you do. Bonus points: this type of repetitive licking can be soothing for some dogs.
4. Stationary puzzle - Really put their dexterity to work by helping them manipulate the pieces of this puzzle to find their food. There are so many options out there with varying levels of difficulty like these two:
Nina Ottoson has some of the best!
3. Positive reinforcement training - Reward their manners with treats, or teach them a new fun trick! Kikopup is a Youtube account with the best how-to trick videos or reach out to set up a training session with us!
2. Scent work - Dogs' noses are SO POWERFUL. Let’s harness it, all without leaving the house. Gather 4-5 boxes of different sizes, at least 3x as big as your dog's nose. Place a smelly treat like tuna in one of the boxes, and let your dog eat the treat directly from the box. Repeat, but instead of holding the box for them, shuffle the boxes around on the ground and say “search” then encourage your dog to find the tuna. As they get better and better at this game, you can expand the area, add more boxes and other objects, add height, and even have them wait in another room while you hide the food! This is great for when you want a bit more of a challenge than “go find it” or for when the weather is too icky for a long walk.
1. Decompression walks - Your dog needs time to be a dog. The more sniffing, wandering, and exploring they do on a walk, the better - even if you don’t get very far! You can facilitate more sniffing by walking them in a secluded area (any dog-friendly park with some fields or open space will do) on a long, fixed length leash so they have more freedom. Let them sniff all that they want and basically just let them be a dog!
A few things to note:
You should keep your dogs supervised at least the first few times you try these things to be sure they’re not ingesting anything harmful. Plus, most of the puzzles aren’t durable enough that they should chew on them.
Make sure these are fun for your dog - if they’re too difficult or frustrating, they’re not decreasing their stress level. Even if they figure out a puzzle quickly, it is doing its job as long as they enjoy it!
We are part of the Amazon Affiliate program - purchasing the recommended products via the links above helps support Young Lion Training and Behavior (but also we totally understand if you want to shop small or local - most of these products are available in pet supply stores in our area!)