I've been a dog lover since I was a little girl, and I love finding new ways to keep my own dogs happy and entertained!
The Importance of Canine Enrichment
First, let's talk a little about why canine enrichment is so important and what it means!
Over time, dogs have become more and more important in our daily lives. For most of us they are like another member of the family, so we strive to find new ways to keep them healthy and happy.
Canine enrichment is anything that keeps your dogs mind occupied or burns off energy. Or just anything that they really enjoy doing! Most of us already know that physical exercise helps tire dogs out and burn energy, but did you know that exercising the brain does the same?
If you have a dog that is very active and requires constant stimulation from you, there are a lot of different activities and tools that you can use to make it a little easier on yourself. The best thing is that a lot of these don't cost much, and some are even free!
If you have this type of dog then you already know that it can be similar to a full time job! So it's always good to find new ideas to experiment with. Your dog will enjoy some of these things more than others, but you just have to find what works best for them. And you know what they say....a tired dog is a good dog!
Slow Feeders and Snuffle Mats
A slow feeder is something you can buy that essentially makes your dog work for their food. There are all different types, but a couple of the most popular are bowls and mats.
Not only does a slow feeder stimulate your dog mentally by making them figure out the best way to get the food, it also is good for their health. Because the food is harder to get to, the dog will eat at a much slower pace. So if you have a dog that gobbles food down and throws up afterwards, or a breed that is more likely to develop bloat, then a slow feeder is a great tool in managing your dogs eating habits.
A snuffle mat is also very enriching to the canine mind! It's a mat with different lengths of fabric sewn together. These are typically used with dry food or treats. You just throw some kibble on the snuffle mat and let your dog "snuffle" around with their nose to find the food nestled down in the fabric. Super fun activity for them!
Most of us have probably seen flirt poles for cats before, but not a lot of people know that they make flirt poles for dogs as well! A flirt pole is just a pole with a long rope attached and a toy on the end of the rope.
Flirt poles are a great form of physical exercise for dogs! Especially for people who may not be able to run or walk with their dog as much as they'd like to. You can just go out in your yard and let them chase the flirt pole to tire them out for awhile. My dog will usually get so tired that he will let me know when he's done!
If you have a large and strong dog, just make sure that you buy a heavy duty flirt pole so they don't break it while playing. They also are available with extendable handles to give you a little more length while you're playing with your pup. With a little bit of work, you could probably even make your own!
Take a Sniff Walk
This is one of my favorite ideas! We all know how dogs always want to stop and sniff everything. We are usually only allowing them to sniff for a few moments before we are encouraging them to move along on their walk. After all, we are usually busy and have so many things to do on any given day.
But here's a thought! Whenever you have the time, just take a nice leisurely walk with your dog and allow them to lead you for once. A longer leash than what you normally use would be great for this, if you have somewhere you can do so safely. Try to go somewhere that they can roam wherever their little heart desires without you needing to redirect them constantly. Your neighbors garden probably wouldn't be the best place for you to wind up!
Sniff walks are great physical exercise, but even better mental exercise. A dog's nose is between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than ours. That's a lot! So when they are stopping to sniff things, their brains are working super hard to process what they're smelling and make sense of it. That takes a lot of mental energy and will leave your dog pooped!
Chewing and Licking
Dogs love to chew things! Our job as pet parents is to make sure they are chewing things that are safe and appropriate. Rawhide has been around for a long time, but can cause problems if they swallow big pieces. Fortunately, there are other things we can use if we get creative! I always suggest supervising your dog when they're chewing most things because some dogs will eat whatever they're chewing, no matter what it is. Use common sense and know what is ok for your particular dog.
With that being said, there are so many things you can use as chewing enrichment! Many people find that their dogs enjoy chewing up cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, even plastic bottles (as long as they aren't a strong chewer and able to bite pieces off, or try to eat the pieces).
There are also many foods that you can use to satisfy their desire to chew and shred. These are all generally safe, but I would monitor to make sure they aren't eating too much of these just so as not to cause an upset stomach. Cabbage and lettuce are both safe to eat in moderation, and so much fun to shred! You want to give it to them whole so they can rip it apart all on their own. My male dog won't eat either of these, but he loves shredding them. And for something different, you can toss them a whole carrot or some celery! Both are dog safe!
Another idea is to let them tear apart a whole pumpkin. You should watch that they aren't actually eating the skin, but the flesh and seeds are fine in moderation. Cut off the stem and let them go to town. My dog just shreds it up and leaves it for me to clean up when he's done having fun!
Lickimats are a lot of fun too! A lickimat is a mat that is usually made of silicone, and has a bunch of little grooves and nubs that they have to lick to get the food out of. You can use canned dog food, peanut butter (xylitol free), canned pumpkin, plain yogurt, and lots of other goodies.Just make sure that whatever you use is considered dog safe! You can also freeze the lickimat after putting food on it so that it will take them longer to finish it.
Another cool way to keep your dog occupied is by using a kong. A kong is a rubber toy that can be stuffed with various foods. The same stuff that you use on lickimats will usually work with a Kong, and these too can be frozen. There are a lot of very creative recipes online that you can make to stuff kongs with. These tend to keep most dogs occupied for awhile, because they have to work the food out of the hole with their tongue.
Give Them a Job to Do
This is so important! It can be a small job or big job, just as long as it's something they are enjoying and will be rewarded for afterwards. You can teach a dog to herd small animals if you have a farm, you can teach them to do nose work, you can hide things and have them sniff it out.
There is also agility work if you have a dog that is very agile. You can play hide and seek with your dog too! You can even teach them to help you clean up by picking up their toys and putting them in a designated spot. The possibilities are endless.
Our dog, for example, enjoys bringing sticks home from his walks. His job is to find a nice stick and bring it home to add to his collection. He's always so proud when he finds a good stick and can't wait to bring it back with him! Eventually we end up having a really big stick collection in our shed. It gives us a good excuse to build a nice fire and sit outside.
If it's warm enough weather, you can fill up a kiddie pool with water and let your dog splash around. Some dogs really don't care for water, while others absolutely love it! Our older dog doesn't care for it at all. Make it even more fun by throwing in a couple toys! You can also buy a sprinkler or splash pad for Fido to cool off with.
If it's a little too cold for water, you can always buy a big package of ball pit balls and throw them in the empty kiddie pool. Just watch that your dog doesn't try to eat them. Blowing bubbles is a fun outdoor activity too because most dogs like to try to chase and catch them. Regular bubbles are usually ok unless you're using huge amounts, but they also make flavored bubbles just for dogs. If you wanna really have fun with lots of bubbles, buy a bubble machine!
If you have a herding breed, they make herding balls that dogs can roll around the yard and it tires them out like nothing else! Any dog can use them, but herding breeds seem to take to using them more naturally. They aren't able to be picked up like a regular ball and have to be pushed around with their nose.
This is another food activity for your dog. A puzzle toy usually has little cubby holes, doors that slide or pull open, or a toy that they roll around the floor and dispenses treats.
These toys really work their brain, and there are different levels. If your dog is new to the idea of puzzle toys, try starting with one that is for beginners. Otherwise, your dog may get frustrated and give up. It's only fun for them if they are able to figure it out and get the reward. No reward means no fun!
Have Fun and Remember to Relax Sometimes
No matter what ways you choose to enrich your dog, just remember to keep it fun! There are so many things you can do, dogs are more similar to kids than a lot of people realize. They thrive when they are given fun and stimulating things to do, and it's even better when you switch it up occasionally.
If your dog is showing behavioral issues, a lot of the things mentioned here can help. Usually dogs are just bored, and some breeds need something to do to keep them out of trouble.
It's worth mentioning though to always teach your dog how to relax too. Some don't know how, and will become extremely agitated when they are expected to do nothing while you watch TV or handle a phone call. Reward these types of dogs when they are relaxing with you peacefully, and work up to longer periods of them being ok just relaxing without you always doing something. Have fun and enjoy your doggies, and thanks for reading!