Five Go-To Enrichment Activities for Dogs
I wrote about the importance of enrichment here, so I’ll simply add that enrichment isn’t something we should do to keep our dogs out of our way or as a special perk on special occasions. Enrichment is and should be a non-negotiable every day component of our dogs’ lives.
With this in mind, here are my five go-to enrichment activities that will help meet your dog’s needs:
A decompression walk is a walk in nature, off-leash or on a long line where your dog is free to sniff, dig, roll, run, chase, explore and do all the doggie things they want. Think of woods, trails, parks, fields, beaches, or any area that is away from traffic and hustle and bustle of the city. The goal of this walk is to give your dog an opportunity to be a dog in as stress-free and unstructured environment as possible.
These walks are stimulating, calming, and…yes, decompressing. They were life changing for my dog and remain the single most important enrichment activity we do every day.
Sniffing is how dogs see the world. Nothing gets my hackles up more than seeing dog owners interrupt, yank, or most heartbreakingly of all, correct their dogs for sniffing. This is misguided and unkind. Please let your dog sniff!
Sniffing in a new place for 15 minutes can be more enriching than sniffing in an old one for 30.
Sniffing is self-calming and is also a calming signal to other dogs.
Sniffing is a great way to finish a walk or to decompress from a stressful event.
Here are some sniffing games to try:
Hide or scatter treats around the house and cue your dog to “Find It”
Scatter kibble/treats in the backyard
Scatter kibble/treats along your walking path in patches of grass or leaves
Roll treats into a towel
Take a nose work class at your local positive reinforcement training facility
DIY, also known as “do you have this at home and can you put food in it?”
In our house no recyclable goes to waste. We’re especially fond of using delivery boxes and stuffing them with packing paper or ripped paper bags and hiding small treats inside. The goal isn’t to use a lot of treats, but to help meet your dog’s scavenging, ripping, and shredding needs.
Feel free to get creative with DIY enrichment, but here are some easy items to try:
Boxes from cereal, pasta, crackers, etc.
Empty paper towel and toilet paper tubes
Delivery boxes and packing paper
Please supervise any new enrichment activity to make sure it’s safe for your dog. Paper products are safe for dogs who will rip and shred, but won’t ingest non-eatable items. Pick up all DIY enrichment items once your dog is done working through them.
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed my love for ZippyPaws burrow toys. They are super versatile and make for really fun puzzles. Sometimes I stuff several at once and hide them around the house for my dog to find.
I also like Nina Ottosson and Outward Hound puzzles. It’s especially great to find them in HomeGoods, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx, because they’re a fraction of the price there. In fact, the pet sections at these stores are excellent sources of a variety of affordable puzzle toys.
Tip: try splitting your dog’s meal among several puzzle toys.
Here are some of my favorite puzzles:
Food dispensing toys:
The Kong Wobbler
Omega Paw Tricky Trainer Ball
Busy Buddy Twist n’ Treat
The Kong Toy
Planet Dog Carrot Toy
Chase 'n Chomp Sticky Bone (great for bath time)
Chewing and Licking Time
Whenever possible, I try to designate a time every day when my dog can indulge in chewing and licking. Stuffed and frozen Kongs are always a good bet, but here are some other chews to try:
Frozen raw bones
Natural no-hide chews
Some Final Words:
Introduce new enrichment activities slowly and make them accessible enough so that your dog can succeed at every step. Enrichment helps build confidence, problem solving skills, and perseverance when done right. If your dog is getting frustrated, make the puzzle a little easier until they get the hang of it.
Finally, sometimes sniffing games or DIY puzzles at home are better than a stressful walk outside. If your dog is struggling with their environment, it’s always OK to substitute what is stressful for a fun and calming enrichment activity.
Additional Enrichment Resources: