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Dog enrichment can be a complicated subject.
Most of us aim to provide a happy, healthy, and complete life for our dogs, but what happens when you walk for miles and miles every day, yet your dog seems unphased and filled with energy while you can barely take another step?
It is common knowledge that dogs need physical exercise, yet many forget or are unaware of the importance of mental stimulation.
You could take your dogs on the most exciting walks, hikes, and outings, but your dogs won’t be fully satisfied unless you also provide sufficient mental stimulation.
An understimulated or bored dog might turn to destructive and undesirable behaviors. These behaviors might be obsessive barking, digging in the yard, chewing, howling, scratching, or even obsession.
Mental stimulation, also known as canine enrichment, cannot (and should not) replace physical exercise. It is a necessary complement to incorporate into your dog’s daily routine.
If you are new to canine enrichment or would like to learn more, this introductory guide will get you started with 7 indoor enrichment ideas.
So, What Is Dog Enrichment?
First, we need to determine what canine enrichment means and how it can benefit your dog.
Dogs are known for being highly intelligent. Just like us humans, they need the opportunity to put their minds to work.
An enrichment activity helps activate their brain, allowing them to think to solve a task or find the solution to a problem.
Challenges for Mental Engagement
These activities should always give the dog a fair chance to succeed. Games that are too difficult could cause problems such as frustration or reduced self-esteem.
Brain games help the dog become more confident while providing mental stimulation. Keep in mind, that the confidence boost only comes with eventual success.
Adapt the level of difficulty to your dog’s abilities. Start with something simple if it’s your dog’s first time using a treat puzzle, kibble dispenser, or homemade toy.
Then, increase the difficulty level without making it too complex or unsolvable.
Providing Dogs with a Job
Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that all dogs need a job? While this doesn’t refer to our fur friends clocking in at an office every morning, there is truth to it.
Wild animals work for their food by hunting, scavenging, and more, while most pet dogs get their meals served conveniently in a bowl.
Dogs don’t have the same options for entertainment as we do. They can’t just pick up the phone and call a friend to talk for an hour. There are no electronic devices or social media that can keep a bored pup at peace for a few hours.
Likewise, you can’t stick your dogs in front of the TV, but you can give them an enrichment toy.
7 Different Types of Dog Enrichment Ideas
To get you started, we will take a look at 7 different types of enrichment toys to try out with your pup!
All are great for indoor play.
Each category comes with a long list of toys and brands, but it should give you a basic idea of picking an activity type that suits your dog.
Keep in mind that DIY dog toys (including those presented in the ideas below) were not designed to withstand the strong jaws of a dog. It is extremely important to supervise your furry friend at all times when testing these out.
Not all DIY game ideas are suitable for all dogs, and when it comes down to it, you know your dog best. Never leave your dog unattended or unsupervised when playing enrichment games.
1. Treat Puzzle Toys
There are numerous canine puzzles available to purchase. These often include elements where the dog has to tip over cups, lift something up, or use its paws to uncover dog treats and rewards.
You can purchase dog puzzles like the Nina Ottosson games, or try making your own using DIY materials and things you have at home.
- Mad Scientist Puzzle (pictured above)
2. Kibble Dispensers
With kibble dispensers, the game is usually to push or roll the toy around on the floor until all kibble or treats fall out.
It can be a simple ball-shaped toy with a hole for kibble, or something a little more sophisticated like the Kong Wobbler or Kong Gyro.
You can also make a simple kibble dispenser yourself with a plastic bottle! Just remove the cap and the plastic ring around the opening, and cut an additional hole in the side of the bottle.
3. Snuffle Mats
Engage your pup with a game where it is all about sniffing!
These mats use pockets and fabric to “hide” treats, and your dog’s job is to sniff everything out.
You can also toss kibble out on your lawn and let your dog use its nose to find every piece on days with good weather. For indoor play, a snuffle mat is a great investment!
4. Stuffable Toys
Toys like Classic Kong are great for bored dogs! Stuff it with any dog-friendly food, such as plain and unsweetened yogurt, peanut butter, or canned dog food, and let your fur friend lick it out.
You can also freeze these toys to make the game more challenging. Check out our frozen kong recipies.
5. Ball or Sand Pits
Is your dog a digger? How about providing an opportunity for nose work and digging inside your home?
All you need is a ball pit. Use a cardboard box or a kiddie pool and fill it up with those colorful balls, or use tennis balls if you want something a little more sturdy! You can also use old wrapping paper, newspaper or anything you have at home.
Toss in some treats or kibble and there you go—an exciting game for your furry friend on rainy days!
If you are not too worried about making a mess, you can also try an indoor sand pit. Chances are you’ll have your whole house turned into the Sahara desert. Because of this, sandpits are likely more suitable for outdoor play.
6. Hide and Seek
For those who want to interact with their dog during playtime, a game of hide and seek is always a great idea!
The original game consists of you telling your dog to sit and stay (or someone physically holding onto your dog) while you go and hide, and then the dog needs to find you.
However, you can always make it a little extra exciting by hiding treats along the way, to have your loyal pup sniff out the treats that will eventually lead to your hiding spot.
7. Pick a Cup
A very simple game to teach your dog is the cup game.
You need three cups and dog treats. Show your dog where you are putting treats, and proceed to move them around so that the dog no longer knows where the treats are.
The purpose of the game is for the dog to use its nose to find the treats. In the beginning, your four-legged friend will likely just guess, but with patience, your pup will soon be a pro and you’ll have a fun party trick to show off whenever someone comes to visit!
Find even more of our favorite dog enrichment toys HERE
The opportunities are endless. You can decide if you want to buy enrichment toys for your dog or if you rather make them yourself.
Anything that challenges your dog, without being unsafe or too difficult, can be considered a canine enrichment activity.
Physical exercise can never replace mental stimulation and vice versa, and your four-legged bestie needs a good mix of both.
Mental stimulation can be achieved in multiple ways. It comes down to finding games and activities that are fun and safe for both you and your dog.
As with everything else, dog enrichment activities should be used in moderation as it can often be even more tiring than physical exercise.
Moderation should also be applied if you are using treats as part of the game. Dogs should get a maximum of 10% of their daily food intake from treats.
Remember, safety first at all times, and don’t forget to supervise your dog.
Taking a few minutes out of your day to play with your pup can help strengthen the bond between the two of you, plus offer you a much-needed break from your everyday responsibilities.
The key rule is to keep it fun for your dog and to not overdo it.
Are you ready to start enriching your dog’s life and to make indoor time a little more exciting?