Canine Enrichment: Keep Your Dog’s Brain Happy!

December 24, 2022

Enrichment – such an important topic!  But what exactly is enrichment?

Enrichment can mean a lot of things, but basically it refers to different ways to satisfy some of the needs of your dog.  By stimulating the dog mentally and physically, your dog will be less likely to engage in behaviors that you don’t appreciate, like chewing up your couch!  Dogs like to engage in plenty of behaviors of which we don’t approve, like chewing, digging, destroying, and more.  Enrichment allows an outlet for these types of behaviors and results in a much happier dog (and owner)!  Enrichment results in a happy dog! Proper enrichment is critical for puppies, but equally important for adult dogs too!  Just because your dog is all grown up doesn’t mean that he or she won’t appreciate the fun experiences of enrichment. Enrichment doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, although there are plenty of options if you want to spend money!  Let’s talk about some of my favorite enrichment activities!


Ditch the Bowl for Enrichment


Eating food out of the same bowl day after day is so boring for your dog!  Dogs have natural instincts to sniff and search, so let’s satisfy some of those needs during dinner time! There are a lot of ways you can do this!  You can serve your dog’s dinner in a slow feeder.  There are many versions of slow feeders, and sometimes it’s fun to have more than one!  You can use an egg carton and put a few pieces of kibble in each cup.  You can place your dog’s kibble in a paper bag or box, and let the dog find the food.  There are several commercial slow feeders on the market that work well for this purpose. One of my favorite ways to feed dinner is in a food dispensing toy.  There are many toys designed to move around and dispense food or treats.  My personal favorite is the Buster cube because it’s a bit harder for the food to come out and it typically has a slower rate than other feeders.  Using the Buster cube, my golden puppy took 20-25 minutes to eat his dinner, and he spent that entire time running around the kitchen moving the toy.  In this way, I was able to get him both mental exercise and physical exercise at the same time!   Kongs are another good food dispensing toy.  I take canned dog food, stuff the kong, and freeze for a fun treat that lasts 15-20 minutes.  There is also a Kong Wobbler, which is an oversized Kong with a weighted bottom.  The dog moves the Kong around and it dispenses treats.   Snuffle mats are fun too!  Buy one or make your own.  Snuffle mats are a bunch of pieces of fleece woven throughout a plastic grid.  You can shove treats down in between the fleece to keep your dog engaged for a while.   You don’t need fancy toys, though!  Scatter the dog’s supper in the grass and let him search for it!  For an indoor option, toss the food down the stairs and let them bounce everywhere.  Digging in snow is a lot of fun, so hide part of your dog’s dinner under a snow pile.  While your dog is using his nose to find his food, feel-good chemicals are being released in his brain, which will result in a happier healthier dog.


Fun Indoor Activities for a Happy Dog!


Puzzle toys can be a blast for your dog.  There are many types of these toys available, or you can make your own.  Most of these puzzles require your dog to figure out how to get at the food.  When they figure it out, they are rewarded with a tasty morsel!   Dogs love to seek and destroy, so satisfy that need by giving them appropriate outlets!  Hide a treat in a box or a paper bag.  Let the dog tear it apart to get to the treat.  Once the dog figures it out, hide a treat in a box in a box in a bag!   Another way to teach your dog to use his or her nose is to play hide and seek!  Tuck a treat around the corner of the couch or in another fairly easy-to-find location and tell your dog to search!  Start easy, and as your dog gets the hang of it, hide the treats in harder locations.  Dogs have amazing noses and you’ll be surprised how easy they find the game once they understand!   If you google canine enrichment, you’ll get so many more ideas!  There are some great Facebook Groups that feature this topic also.  Whether you choose to make your own or buy some toys, be sure to make enrichment a daily part of your dog’s life!

Do you want some more enrichment ideas for a happy dog?  Check out this blog post on Managing Your Puppy for a Happy Household!

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