Ever wonder why you can’t seem to leave your dog alone without coming home to find something mangled, destroyed, or in the process of being chewed on? Does your dog seem to have excess energy even after their walk? Can your dog not get enough of playtime? If so, you may want to look at adding some enrichment activities to your dog’s routine.
While dog enrichment isn’t a silver bullet for all misbehavior, dogs innately want to hunt and explore, things their wolf ancestors did every day, but their lives now involve set meal times and boundary-defined play areas. These two things are steps up in health and safety for your pet but can lead to boredom and looking for stimulation in other, less productive ways. Additionally, research done by zoos suggests that adding enrichment activities to an animal’s daily routine can lead them to be happier and healthier.
Easy Dog Enrichment Ideas
So what is dog enrichment? Dog enrichment just means adding variety to your dog’s life, whether it’s through a toy rotation, dog-friendly puzzles, or spicing up outdoor and walk time. In reality, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to add an element of enrichment to your dog’s daily routine.
Purchase a puzzle feeder or puzzle toys.
While it’s not the same as hunting, a puzzle feeder makes your dog work a little bit harder for their food, engaging their brain while slowing down their mealtimes. With designs available for wet and dry food as well as beginners and experts, there’s a puzzle feeder out there that will keep your dog entertained during mealtime.
Puzzle toys are another great way to engage your dog’s mind during playtime or times when you are out of the house. These toys allow the dog to smell the treat inside but make them work for it by figuring out how to access the treat. This is a great alternative to hand-feeding your dog treats for the same reason as replacing your regular food bowl with a puzzle feeder, it engages their mind while rewarding them for their cleverness.
Hide treats for your dog to find.
Instead of buying a puzzle toy to get your dog to work for their treats, you can create a treasure hunt of treats for them to find. While this is a relatively simple enrichment idea, there is a right way to go about implementing it.
You want to start your dog in a defined area such as one room in your house or a small part of your yard. This way, you’ll be able to easily clean up any treats your dog wasn’t able to find without attracting unwanted pests. Begin by leaving the treats in obvious, easy-to-find spaces until your dog starts to get the idea of the game. As you continue to set up treat treasure hunts, you can start hiding the treats in harder-to-find, but still accessible, places and expand the footprint of the treasure hunt.
Rotate your dog’s toys so there’s always something new to them.
Like many dog owners, you probably have a large stash of dog toys, only some of which are in your dog’s “frequently played with” rotation. An easy way to get the most out of this stash, extend the life of your toys, and create an enrichment opportunity is to keep a third of the toys out of sight at any given time. This will allow you to consistently add “new” toys to your dog’s toy basket giving them something new to play with regularly. It also allows you a good opportunity to inspect the toys for dangerous wear and tear.
Switch up your walking route.
If you’ve ever experienced the ability to completely zone out while driving because you know the route like the back of your hand, you’ll understand why, sometimes, taking the same route over and over can breed a dangerous sense of familiarity. The same goes for your dog’s walk route. If you take the same route over and over, your dog knows what to expect and isn’t exploring enough. Switching your route up by walking it backward or turning right instead of left before you start can engage your dog’s mind and nose in great ways.
Another great enrichment activity is to take your dog somewhere new. Whether it’s to a new dog park, a different park with a walking trail, or the beach, the new environment will engage your dog’s brain and leave them pleasantly satisfied at the end of the day.
Dogs are just as capable of becoming bored as we are. Adding in a simple enrichment activity to their daily routine is a great way to keep them happy and healthy, and save you some of the frustration that can come from working with a dog with too much energy to burn!