5 Simple Ways To Offer Your Dog Enrichment
Our dogs are such a big part of our lives, but their routine can sometimes become stagnant from day to day. Enrichment is such an important piece of your dog’s well being and can help mediate problem behaviors that may arise. If your dog’s are anything like mine, if you don’t give them something to do they will find something on their own (and probably something we wouldn’t enjoy very much). As we try to keep up with busy schedules in our day to day lives, it can be a real challenge to carve out time for our canine companions. I’ve put together a list of just a few ways you can offer your dog enrichment. You and your dog will have so much fun, and your dog will thank you!
- Sniff Walk – Our dogs experience their world primarily through their sense of smell. Having the opportunity to stop and sniff on a leisurely walk is such a simple and effective way to offer your dog enrichment. While out on a walk I give my dog the cue to “go sniff” and allow him to explore all of the wonderful new smells! I still require a loose leash, so pulling is not allowed, but I give him the freedom to wander and follow his nose. If you can, try going for a walk in a new place to offer your dog new smells, sights, and sounds!
- Snuffle Mat – If you’ve been around me for any amount of time you know how much I love snuffle mats! Snuffle mats are another way to encourage your dog to express natural behaviors and offer enrichment. A snuffle mat is a shaggy carpet with folds of fabric that you can hide food in. Your dog will love using his nose to snuffle and search for the hidden pieces of food. Instead of feeding your dog his meal in a bowl, consider putting it into a snuffle mat and letting him work to find it. If you don’t have a snuffle mat you can accomplish the same thing by dropping an old towel or blanket on the floor and hiding food/treats in the folds. You can also play this game outside by scattering the food in the grass. Try to keep it in a small area (about a 3′ – 4′ diameter circle) to encourage thoughtful and methodical searching where your dog has their nose to the ground. This is an excellent decompression activity for dogs. I encourage my students to play nosework games, and love the relaxation effect it offers for our anxious/reactive dogs.
- Go For A Ride – Even a short ride in the car is a great way to get your dog out of their normal environment to experience new sights, sounds, and smells. I typically crack the window (weather permitting) to let my dog fully experience all of the joys of a dog out on the open road!
- Puzzle Toys & Puzzle Bowls – There are endless possibilities here! Puzzles you can make and ones you can buy! There are a variety of options and styles, some of which require supervision and some your dog can enjoy on their own. In the picture below you’ll see some of my collection of puzzle toys. I love our Kong Wobbler as an alternative to feeding meals in a bowl, this is a great example of a toy my dog can play with independently as it doesn’t have any small parts or removable pieces. We also have a few brain puzzles/puzzle boards that require the dog to lift, slide, and move objects out of the way to get access to the food. Puzzle bowls (a flat bowl that looks like a maze) are also a great alternative to a traditional bowl and add a little extra challenge for your dog at meal times (this is also excellent for dogs who may eat a little too quickly). Most pet stores carry a variety of options, and you can also order puzzles and puzzle bowls on Amazon or Chewy.com. Pintrest also has lots of wonderful ideas of puzzles you can make at home. One of my favorite DIY puzzles is a muffin tin and tennis balls. Place food in the cups of the muffin tin and place tennis balls over the top, then let your dog figure out how to get to the food. Meal times are such an excellent and often missed opportunity to offer your dog enrichment, consider using one of these options as an alternative to a traditional bowl.
- Bubbles – Also featured in the picture below are IncrediBubbles (I ordered mine from Chewy.com)! These are made specifically for dogs and the ones in the picture are peanut butter flavored. My dog’s love chasing and eating the bubbles! It’s a very simple way to entertain my dogs and get them moving.
So there you go, five easy ways for you to mix up your dog’s routine and offer them enrichment! Do you have a favorite enrichment toy or activity? We’d love to hear about it (and of course cute photos of your dog are always appreciated as well).
“Training is everything and everything is training.” – Seren