Canine enrichment isn’t rocket science.
…Yet many dog owners aren’t completely sure of what it means, or the impact it can have on your dog’s overall wellbeing.
Put simply: Canine enrichment means engaging your dog in activities designed to stimulate their mind, and to keep them physically fit at the same time.
In this guide, we’ll share why enrichment is key to your dog’s development, along with some fun games you can use to keep your pup’s mind busy.
Why is enrichment important for my dog?
Canine enrichment is essential–not only because it offers a range of health benefits to your dog, but also because it strengthens the bond between you and your pet.
It also alleviates boredom. This decreases the likelihood of dogs developing aggressive behaviors that usually results in excessive chewing and continuous barking. (And saves your precious skirting boards.)
Luckily, providing proper enrichment for your dog doesn’t require a lot of time or money.
Whether you own a pup that’s always eager to have some fun, or an elderly dog that’s slowing down with each passing day, there are various activities that can help them live a happier and healthier life.
What counts as dog enrichment?
Dog enrichment isn’t just play-related; it can take many forms, using a variety of their senses.
Here we discuss the different types of dog enrichment, along with seven best items that will help you enjoy your canine companionship to the fullest:
1. Social Enrichment
Social enrichment means giving your dog sufficient opportunities to socialize with other pets and people.
Take them to public places, including parks and shopping malls. Better yet, try visiting a dog park at least once in a week to let them have fun in a completely safe environment.
In fact, we’ve put together a free socialization checklist you can print-off and use. It’s an ideal way to start introducing social enrichment into their routine.
2. Cognitive Enrichment
Give your pooch an opportunity to demonstrate their talent, and you’re likely to be blown away by their decision-making and problem-solving skills.
(Sprockers, especially, are incredibly intelligent dogs!)
Playing hide and seek is a great way to provide cognitive enrichment for your dog. Alternatively, you can use puzzle toys that also come in handy for feeding dogs that always antsy.
3. Physical Enrichment
Whether or not you have a hyperactive dog, physical enrichment ensures that your pet never gets bored even if you aren’t available to keep them entertained.
Providing physical enrichment can be something as elaborate as creating a fancy obstacle course in your own backyard. Or, you can keep it simple by filling a large tub with sand and hiding plenty of toys and doggie treats in it for your pooch to find later.
4. Sensory Enrichment
Sensory enrichment, as the name suggests, refers to activities that stimulate the dog’s sense of:
There are various ways to go about providing this type of canine enrichment. For example: You can blow bubbles as it serves as an exercise for your dog’s eyesight (buy a scented, dog-friendly bubble solution for maximum fun).
5. Feeding Enrichment
Feeding enrichment is meant to make mealtimes more fun or challenging, depending on the scenario.
If your pooch is always hungry, it’s better to hide treats all around the house. This lets them work hard to find the food, instead of having it presented to them effortlessly.
Similarly, you can use a puzzle feeder to slow down a pup that tends to gulp food down without chewing it properly. This simulates their mind while they’re eating–which could also make them less likely to choke, or throw-up their food because they’ve eaten too fast.
6. Toy Enrichment
This should be a no-brainer. Toy enrichment means using different objects to keep your furry friend entertained.
These do not always have to be special dog toys, though. You can also use common household objects–such as an empty milk carton or old tea towel-to play with your pooch.
However, make sure not to use any potentially dangerous items (like some food), or items that can be easily ruined, like pillows.
6 Dog Enrichment Games and Activities
Are you ready to start introducing enrichment into your dog’s routine?
Use the following items for a well-rounded canine enrichment experience:
1. Snuffle Mat
A snuffle mat is a felt mat with cut pieces where you can hide food, making it ideal for encouraging nose work and developing scavenging abilities in your dog.
You can grab a snuffle mat for as little as £13 on Amazon.
But if you don’t want to spend extra money on buying such equipment, you can easily make one yourself using an old rubber mat and a discarded t-shirt (or fleece). Simply cut a few holes in the material and hide some tasty treats for your dog to sniff out.
2. Stuffed Kong
A Kong is hands down one of the best toys for dogs because it can keep your pet entertained for hours without requiring any efforts on your part.
Fill a Kong with your pooch’s favorite treat–such as squirty cheese, peanut butter, or natural yoghurt–and let it freeze overnight. Give the frozen delight to your dog in between meals to keep them munching happily.
(We do this with Hugo to distract him while we’re cooking. It keeps him entertained and out of the way!)
Bonus: We’ve put together a list of 40+ KONG recipes you can give to your pooch. They’re bound to keep them entertained for hours.
3. Flirt Pole
A flirt pole, also known as a flirt stick, not only provides great physical exercise, but also enhances their cognitive function.
It is basically a long stick with some attractive item (toy or treat) attached to it using a rope. Moving the pole around will entice your pooch to chase the item. This game also lets dogs use their natural instincts in a non-destructive way.
4. Sniff Break
One of the best ways to provide enrichment for your dog is to let them do what they do best: Sniff.
Needless to say, sniffing plays a crucial role in how these pets perceive the things around them. Take your dog out for a walk, and let them off the leash in a safe and suitable place. (You could even rent a dog field for this.)
This enables them to explore the world in a more interactive manner, using their favorite tool: Their nose!
5. Spinning Toys
Remember when fidget spinners were an instant hit amongst people of all age groups? As it turns out, dogs love spinning toys too. They love it even more if the spinning toy gives an extra treat as well.
Make a few holes in a large empty plastic bottle and then use it as a food-dispensing spinning toy that your pooch is bound to fall in love with. An empty plastic bottle is perfect–just make sure they can’t unscrew the lid.
6. Find the Sound
If your dog loves playing hide and seek, they will surely love this version of hide and seek that comes with a twist.
Instead of finding a person or an object, let your dog identify the source of sound. You can use a spare mobile phone or a durable Bluetooth speaker for this game, playing other animal noises or classical music.
7. Ice Cube Tray
Arguably the easiest enrichment idea is this ice cube tray.
The concept is simple: Stuff an empty ice cube tray with dog-friendly treats (such as cucumbers, honey, carrots, peanut butter, or chicken) and top it with water. Pop it in the fridge and give it to your dog once it’s frozen.
They’ll need to sniff out the treats–but the entire game will last longer because they’re locked in ice!
Here’s one I made for my pup, Hugo:
Get started with dog enrichment
When it comes to canine enrichment, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for keeping your dog busy in a healthy manner.
You need to experiment with various toys and engage with your pooch in different activities before deciding what works paw-fectly for you and your four-legged friend.