Keeping your high-energy dog entertained and exercised can be tricky. Especially if they spend a lot of time alone while you're out and about. What if there was a way to increase your dog's activity levels and reduce pent-up energy without extra long walks or trips to the dog park?
In this article, we'll cover why enrichment activities are important for your dog's health. Plus, 19 dog enrichment ideas to increase mental stimulation and enjoyment in your pup.
3 reasons why canine enrichment matters
Adding enrichment to your dog's life is beneficial for both you as a dog parent and your dog. There are plenty of ways you can provide enrichment for your dog.
1. Dog enrichment provides mental stimulation.
Enrichment activities and enrichment toys aid in mental stimulation and entertainment in dogs. Plus, enrichment helps your dog follow their natural instincts to:
2. Enrichment activities reduce stress.
Frequent mental stimulation through enrichment reduces stress and anxiety in dogs. Enrichment activities also can curb unwanted behaviors like:
- Excessive barking
- Chewing furniture or other items
3. Enrichment activities help you bond with your dog.
Spending time with your dog and providing enrichment activities daily boosts your bond with them. Plus, the more time you spend with your dog, the better you will feel as a pet parent.
Studies show that petting or snuggling with your dog gives humans a boost of feel-good hormones. And, human interaction is good for dogs, too.
Dogs get oxytocin by interacting with humans. And, their brains light up at the sound and scent of their humans.
19 types of enrichment ideas and activities for dogs
There are five areas of canine enrichment dog parents can tap into, including:
- Cognitive enrichment
- Sensory enrichment
- Food enrichment
- Environmental enrichment
- Social enrichment
Each area of enrichment looks different and has different benefits. Here are 19 types of enrichment activities to try with your dog.
Enrichment activities for cognitive health work to exercise your dog’s brain. It’s important to provide mental stimulation and exercise for your dog every day.
1. Make DIY enrichment toys for mental stimulation.
DIY dog toys are great for cognitive stimulation and enrichment, because they exercise your dog’s brain through problem solving and entertainment. These types of enrichment toys can be incorporated into your dog's play time or meal time.
One easy enrichment toy to make at home is a scented towel toy. Here’s how to make a scented towel toy:
- Soak an old washcloth in chicken, beef, or bone broth.
- Put the washcloth in the freezer for a few hours.
- Take it out for your dog to chew on.
This enrichment toy is great for keeping adult dogs or senior dogs entertained while you are away or busy.
2. Wrestle with a tug toy.
Tug enrichment toys are great for high-energy dogs. Dogs naturally love to tug and pull, so playing tug-of-war with appropriate toys is a fun way to add enrichment to your dog's life.
Tug toys teach dogs impulse control while exercising them physically. So, playing tug-of-war with your dog for a few minutes can provide lots of mental stimulation.
When playing tug-of-war, be sure to only tug from side-to-side. Moving a dog’s neck up-and-down is an unnatural movement, and may cause injury.
3. Incorporate clicker training.
Clicker training helps dogs associate a click with a positive action. To clicker train your dog, you'll need a clicker and high-reward treats your dog loves.
Practice training your pup with simple commands. For example, tell your dog to "sit."
As soon as your dog sits down, click the clicker and reward them with a treat. Over time, your dog will associate the clicking sound with following directions and commands.
They'll also associate the clicking sound with receiving treats. This helps dogs stay focused and interested during training sessions.
This type of enrichment involves stimulating your dog's senses. Dogs have senses including the ability to see, hear, smell, and touch.
Dogs sniff to find things, identify humans and other animals, and gather information. The best enrichment activities stimulate all their senses and are fun for your dog.
4. Get a snuffle mat.
A snuffle mat stimulates your dog's senses, especially their sense of smell. Use a snuffle mat to hide treats from your dog. Then, let your dog sniff out the treats out of the snuffle mat.
5. Try out food puzzles.
Interactive feeders like puzzle feeders are a way to make your dog work harder for treats and meals through sniffing and touching. Puzzle toys and puzzle feeders make your dog's meal more interactive and entertaining.
To get kibble or treats out of a food puzzle, your dog will need to use their paws and noses. Some puzzles require your dog to move things out of the way with their paw or nose and sniff out where the treats are.
Plus, dog parents don't have to buy a puzzle feeder, interactive feeders, or other puzzle toys to play enrichment games — they can make them at home.
Create a DIY enrichment muffin tin puzzle.
Dog parents can make DIY enrichment toys like a puzzle feeder with a muffin tin and tennis balls. Put food inside the holes of the muffin tin, then put tennis balls or soft toys on top. Let your pet sniff the food out of the puzzle feeders as an enrichment activity.
6. Play scent games.
Use paper towel rolls, cardboard boxes, and some of your dog's food to make a scent game. Hide kibble inside of a cardboard box or towel roll and let your dog sniff it out until they find the kibble.
To make a scent game with your dog's favorite toy, let them smell the toy for a few moments. Then, hide the toy somewhere in a different room while your pup isn't watching.
Release your dog and let them sniff around the room until they find it. This activity works on your dog's sensory enrichment and helps them learn problem solving skills.
7. Blow bubbles.
Blowing bubbles activates different senses like vision and touch. Bubbles are interesting for your dog to look at, and they can touch them with their nose to pop them.
8. Provide sound toys.
Sound toys improve your dog’s auditory and attention skills. Plus, dogs love them! Be sure to have plenty of squeaky toys in your dog’s toy box to provide sensory enrichment for their hearing.
A simple way to add enrichment activities to your dog's routine is by switching up their mealtime routine. Instead of putting your dog's food inside a bowl, try a slow-feeder, food puzzle, or a lick mat instead.
9. Use a slow feeder.
Slow feeders add enrichment to your dog's meals. Plus, they help slow down your dog's eating. Eating slowly also helps aid healthy digestion in dogs.
10. Create a lick mat with high-value treats.
Like slow feeders, lick mats are an easy way to add enrichment. Lick mats can slow down your dog's eating speed and make mealtime fun.
To use a lick mat:
- Use wet food
- Blend and freeze your dog’s kibble
- Combine kibble and yogurt and freeze
Your dog's environment can play a huge role in their overall happiness. To provide the most enrichment for your dog at home, try these enrichment activities.
11. Play hide-and-seek.
If you have a new dog or have recently moved into a new space, playing hide-and-seek may help your dog get familiar. Use a cardboard box, blankets, and furniture to hide from your dog and let them find you. Or, hide a toy and let them search and find it.
12. Set up a scavenger hunt.
To set up a scavenger hunt, tell your dog to sit and stay. Let them sniff a few treats in your hand, then hide the treats in a few areas in your home.
Release your pup and let them sniff around your home until they find the treats. When the treats are found, give your dog high praise and words of affirmation.
Dogs are social animals. Most dogs love spending time with their pet parents, family members, friends, and other dogs.
Simply spending time with your dog is an excellent social enrichment activity. But, there are plenty of ways to provide enrichment and build confidence in social situations.
13. Take your dog to daycare.
Daycares and boarding facilities provide an opportunity for your dog to socialize with other dogs. The more time your dog spends with others, the more confident and comfortable they will be in social settings.
14. Build confidence with trick training.
Whether you practice tricks at home or in training classes, trick training is a great enrichment activity. Training also helps your pup build confidence and stay safe in social settings.
A well-trained pup may come when called, sit and stay on command, and know other tricks. In a social setting like a dog park or walking trail, or walking by a street, training may keep them safe.
15. Put pheromone diffusers in your home.
Pheromone diffusers can help dogs be more comfortable in social situations. They also can help relieve stress, anxiety, and fear in dogs.
Adding a diffuser to spaces your dog spends time in can help by:
- Calming dogs in new environments
- Promoting bonding in new homes
- Socializing dogs with other dogs
- Reducing anxious behaviors like barking, chewing, and marking
Dogs need regular exercise and physical activity to stay healthy. Dog parents should try to provide at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
16. Provide plenty of play time.
In between walks and training sessions, incorporate play time with activities your dog enjoys. Provide at least 30 minutes of play time every day with toys like:
- Small toys
- Tennis balls
- Brain games
17. Go for a long walk.
Instead of walking your dog around the block for just a few minutes, try taking your pup for a long walk or hike. Hiking with your dog, especially on trails, gives them chances to sniff out plants. And, hikes and long walks provide more rigorous physical exercise for your dog.
18. Take your dog swimming.
Apart from walking and fetching, there are other ways to incorporate physical activity in your dog's routine.
Try visiting a dog-friendly beach to swim. Swimming is a unique way to exercise your dog. Plus, it's low-impact for dogs with physical limitations or injuries.
19. Curate an obstacle course.
Creating an obstacle course is a unique enrichment activity for high-energy dogs. Set up an obstacle course in your house or yard for your dog to explore.
Use pillows, cardboard boxes, ramps, and hoops to create a course. Obstacle courses are great for physical and mental exercise.
Dog enrichment is important for dogs and pet parents alike. Add enrichment to your dog's daily routine to boost mental stimulation, physical activity, and bonding with your pet.
Support your dog’s well-being throughout their life.