If you're looking for exciting dog enrichment ideas for your pooch, then these top tips and inspiring activities are sure to do the trick.
Coming up with new ways to satisfy a canine's eager mind can be challenging, but the good news is it doesn't have to cost the earth to pull off. In fact, many can be achieved with good quality dog toys you have already in the home.
It's likely you already know how important canine enrichment is for our dogs. ‘Enrichment’ means improving an animal’s environment to make it more interesting. It’s something that’s done in zoos, on farms, and even in homes – you may even be doing some of these things without realizing.
Dogs are intelligent and social animals with great puzzle-solving abilities that they rarely get to use day-to-day. Providing them with more enrichment opportunities gets them to stretch their mental muscles and enjoy their environment, and is thought to be very fulfilling for them.
1. Increase playtime
Social interaction is key for dogs, and play forms an important part of bonding. If you have time, playing with your dog is one of the best types of dog enrichment you can offer. However, if adding in a daily play session isn’t feasible, consider investing in a few toys that your dog can play with on his own.
Interactive toys for dogs are increasingly available, and you’re bound to find an option that might excite your dog. Some reward the return of a ball with a treat, whilst others move of their own accord to get your dog chasing and catching his ‘prey’.
2. Try puzzle feeders
The benefits of using puzzle feeders cannot be overstated. Dogs are highly intelligent, and descended from wolf-like creatures that used that intelligence to hunt and scavenge for their foods. In fact, a large portion of a wild dog’s day was hunting. Now, we give them dog food and, although it’s nutritionally excellent, it’s eaten in a matter of minutes, leaving them unsure how to spend the rest of their day.
Try adding puzzle feeders to your dog’s day. There are designs for wet and dry food, beginners and experts, so you’re sure to find something to entertain your dog and provide them with mental stimulation and enrichment.
3. Rotate toys regularly
Whether it’s puzzle feeders, interactive toys, or simply the best dog toys that your dog loves, rotating them is a way to ensure they remain fresh and exciting. Since dog enrichment is all about improving your dog’s environment, don’t allow it to get boring by leaving all the toys out, all the time.
Instead, try to keep a third of your dog’s toys out of sight, and swap them for some of the ones in the basket from time to time. This enrichment idea can actually save you money, as you don’t need to buy a new toy to entertain your dog! Switching your dog’s toys also allows you to assess them for damage and remove any that are starting to become dangerous.
4. Add in some new toys
Rotating toys is certainly a good way to keep the costs down, but there does come a time when adding new toys is best. One option is to make DIY dog toys that your furry friend will enjoy but that don’t cost a fortune. You may also be able to pick up toys second hand – just make sure they’re clean, and there’s no damage. Lastly, consider using toys made from natural materials or recycled plastic in order to minimize your impact on the environment.
5. Treasure hunts
A creative and affordable dog enrichment idea for those on a budget, try setting up a ‘treasure hunt’ for your dog. To do this, hide your dog’s kibble around the house or garden before letting them go to find it. As you would for small children, make sure all kibble is accessible by your dog, and leave it in obvious places until your dog gets the hang of the game! It’s best to start with not too much food and only in one room of the house so you know it’s all been found!
7. Change of walk
Try changing where you walk your dog to spice things up a little for both of you! Take a drive to a new area, or do the usual walk in reverse. You can also change what you do on the walk – instead of just marching around the route, try letting your dog stop to sniff more, or sit on a bench and see who passes. Changing your dog’s routine is good mental stimulation and is another cheap way to provide easy dog enrichment.
8. Set up a playroom or garden zone
If you really want to spoil your dog, one option is to set up a room or space just for your dog to enjoy. The room (or space in the garden) should be designed around what your dog loves to do. You might include a sandpit, long grass for sniffing and chewing on, a cosy den, or even a giant snuffle mat rug on the floor. Think about your dog as a wild animal – design them a ‘zoo enclosure’ that mimics their natural habitat and their interests. For those with the space and time, dedicating a space to your dog is the ultimate exercise in love!
9. Make a ball pit
Try setting up a ball pit for your dog to play with. If you don’t have a proper ball pit then get creative! Throw any of his toy balls in an old children’s paddling pool, plus raid your recycling bin for all of those empty water and soda bottles.
Hide some of his kibbles in amongst the balls and bottles so that he has to try and find them. This is another good way to get your dog’s nose working and give him some great mental stimulation – plus he’ll enjoy the excitement of being surrounded by all those balls!
10. Water play
Many dogs love water, particularly in warm weather. Why not get a cheap kids paddling pool for the garden (sturdier paddling pools for dogs are also available) and fill it up with water. Your dog will love splashing in and out to cool off. Some dogs also love playing with jets of water.
Playfully squirting water from the hose or a water pistol can get him excited. Some dogs try and catch the water whereas others enjoy getting properly wet. Bubbles from a bubble blower toy or wand are also a hit with some pooches. Just make sure your dog is always supervised when playing around with water!
11. Teach your dog some new tricks
A great way to bond with your pet and give him some great mental stimulation is by training him to do new tricks. Even older dogs can have a go at this! This could be anything from basic commands like sit and stay, through to some doggy dance moves. You can do this yourself at home using plenty of positive praise and rewards.
There is also lots of great inspiration out there on social media if you are stuck for ideas. Simply interacting with you will give your dog some enrichment as well as giving you a sense of pride when he learns his latest move!
It’s easy to see why our dogs can get bored in the house, especially when they’re young and inquisitive. Trying some new dog enrichment ideas is a great way to amuse them as well as tire them out. Whether it’s changing the walk routine or creating a whole playroom just for your dog, enrichment can be as simple or as complicated as you like.
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After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.