One of the best parts of having a dog as a family member is the pure joy of spoiling them. Treats, toys, walks in new places, or maybe even a “puppuccino” from Starbucks (...yes, this IS a thing! You can even buy your own sugar-free cool whip and make one at home!) Did you know that in providing these new sights, smells, and yummy tastes, you’re also providing valuable enrichment? In addition to mental stimulation and just plain fun, an article by Purdue University states “the purpose of enrichment is to reduce stress in dogs and to reinforce socialization practices. Providing a dog with enrichment allows the animal to have a sense of control over their environment, which can help to reduce and avoid stress. There are 5 types of enrichment possible for dogs in kennels: Social, nutritional, occupational, sensory, and physical.” In the examples we gave above, just by being a pet owner you’re constantly giving your pets enrichment! In this blog, we’re taking the time to take about 10 unique ways to offer enrichment that you might not have thought of!
1. Snuffle Mat
A bit of a silly name with a great purpose! Snuffle mats are made up of fabric materials used to hide treats, food, etc. This design encourages dogs to sniff and scrounge. Since foraging comes naturally, this is sure to keep them entertained! Click here to learn more about snuffle mats!
Photo: Bindi's Bucket List
2. Dig Pit
If you have a dog who LOVES to dig or bury things, here’s an idea for you! The Dog People suggest grabbing a kiddie pool, filling it up with sand, and letting your pup go to town! The American Kennel Club states that “digging can be fun for dogs, making it a great way for them to relieve stress. This stress can be created in several ways, but most active diggers are either very bored or suffer separation anxiety. Dogs left on their own for too long, without ways to remain occupied, will often turn to digging. Dogs with separation anxiety need a way to channel their negative emotions into something productive and can become quite obsessive about digging. Digging provides mental and physical stimulation — something necessary for curbing feelings of boredom and anxiety.”
If you read our previous blog about catnip infused bubbles, we are happy to share that there are bubbles for your dogs, too! Check out this Bubbletastic Bacon Bubble Machine for dogs!
4. Treasure Hunt
You can go on an adventure without ever leaving your house! Encourage your pup to use those problem solving skills by taking treats or toys, and hiding them around your living space (indoor or outdoor)! In an article about enrichment for dogs Purina suggests “simply hide treats or toys in various boxes and encourage your dog to hunt for them.” First, try showing them how it’s done, and then it’s their turn! No boxes? No problem! This article goes on to say “If you don’t have boxes and packaging on hand, try laying a towel folded in half lengthwise on the floor and dropping treats inside as you roll it up. Then let your dog figure out how to unroll it to get the treats.”
5. Destruction boxes
Ciara Pollen with Venture Dogs shares her dog’s favorite way to have meals all while getting out some energy! “Start by taking an empty cereal box and putting your dog's food inside, leaving it open at one end to make sure it's not too difficult for them. Then let them chew, shred, and/or toss it around to get all the food out.” As with any enrichment activities, she goes on to suggest making sure what they are eating is safe.
Sniffari Another amazing recommendation for an easy (and free!) enrichment idea, again comes from Ciara Pollen with Venture Dogs. “A sniffari is a walk where you allow your dog to explore, sniff, and investigate to their heart's content. Let them lead a walk, choosing the route you take. Most importantly, your aim is to allow them to sniff as much as they like. This is particularly beneficial for puppies, rescue dogs, elderly dogs, and dogs with more anxious personalities.” The best part? Not only will your dog benefit from the exercise, mental and physical stimulation, but this is a time when you can just wander and bond without it feeling like a chore. Who knows- maybe you’ll be getting just as much enrichment!
7. Freeze a treat!
Grab a toy that allows you to fill it with treats/food and then freeze it! A few examples of this would be a kong filled with peanut butter, a licky mat smothered with peanut butter, cream cheese, etc! You can certainly get creative with this, and your pup will appreciate it. This added step of freezing the treat not only allows the experience of eating to take a whole lot longer, but on a hot summer day it can also be a refreshing way to cool down.
Photo: The Pet Project
No, this thankfully does not mean letting your dog give you a slobbery wet kiss- although many dogs would agree that that is great enrichment! In an excerpt from Playtime for Your Dog via ClickerTraining, the author shares this fascinating enrichment idea:
"-Carefully drill two holes halfway each side of the plastic bottle. Push the stick through the holes.
-Place some treats in the bottle, hold on to both ends of the stick, and invite your dog to play. Some dogs are creative enough to start to “spin” the bottle immediately. Others may need help with this challenge at first.
-You can make it easy for your dog and arrange for quick success. For instance, you can position the bottle so that even the slightest sniff or little touch from the dog’s nose will make the bottle topple. Be sure to use treats that roll easily and that fall out when the bottle is turned." (Playtime for Your Dog)
Photo by Goods Home Design
9. Puzzle Feeder
A great way to provide additional enrichment during feeding time is a food puzzle! There are many variations of these puzzles- some focus more on problem solving to get the treat out, and some that focus on simply slowing down a speedy eater. Click here to see an entire list of various food puzzles for dogs.
Photo: NY Mag
10. DIY Obstacle Course
You’ve seen the famous agility courses on TV- quick and precise footed dogs leaping over bars, weaving in and out of poles, and sprinting through tunnels. Why not create something in your backyard? If you're worried that your furry friend doesn’t necessarily have as much pep in their step as the pups on TV, that is okay! This can be modified for any age, skill or mobility level! This article gives advice and information on how to build your very own backyard obstacle course!
Photo: K9 of Mine
No matter your dog’s age, skill level, size, or mobility level, there is always a way to enrich their lives. In this blog we shared some unique ways that we hope inspire you to think outside the box…or at least how to use a box for enrichment! If you try any of these out, or think we missed one, let us know!
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