While the word "enrichment" may seem like it means an additional treat for your pet friend, it actually refers to baseline animal behaviors. Zookeepers do their best to help animals in captivity express natural behaviors, as they would in the wild. Some animals may literally jump through hoops in order to get to a tasty treat.
But perhaps your dog isn't one of them.
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Dog enrichment activities and games
Canine enrichment goes beyond food into many other aspects of a dog's well-being. Physical activity, dog training, and even a cardboard box can be added in a fun way to your day to promote greater-well being.
First, make a list of the things that your dog loves to do — including "problem behaviors" like digging through the trash. Perhaps that's an indication that the dog might enjoy a dig pit or a kiddie pool full of tennis balls. A dog who counter surfs may be yearning to put their superior sniffer to good use in an at-home nose work course.
Keep in mind the breed of your dog. Though every dog is unique, breed-specific traits can be put to good use in canine enrichment.
For instance, hounds may prefer nose work in the form of a snuffle mat. An easy way to add scavenger behavior to mealtimes, a snuffle mat can be bought or made. Simply sprinkle dry kibble between the folds of the fabric and your dog will be presented with more of a challenge. Remember that the point of canine enrichment is to find a fun way to incorporate natural behaviors. Though dogs are a long way from their wolf ancestors, they can still enjoy the thrill of a found meal.
Decompression dog walk
Taking the dog out to use the bathroom is a chore of dog ownership, but taking the dog on a walk can enhance their well-being and improve your dog's life. Though urine isn't traditionally used in nose work, urine is used as a signal between neighborhood dogs. It's like a neon sign declaring, "Max was here!" Nothing is more natural to a dog than peeing on a tree or fire hydrant, and allowing ample sniff breaks on dog walks is an easy way to add canine enrichment to your everyday routine.
A common mistake on an enrichment walk is not allowing ample opportunity for nose work. Your dog loves to use their sense of smell, so allow them a few feet of leash to wander, and wait while she sniffs out the latest neighborhood interlopers.
DIY obstacle course
Another way to keep your dog engaged is through physical activity. Though the classic dog walk can be beneficial to both your canine and your human-dog bond, sometimes weather conditions or boredom with routine requires you to spice up your evening.
A dog obstacle course can include classic agility equipment, like a tunnel or poles to jump over. Or it can be as simple as a bench or slide in a deserted park. Keep in mind that while agility taps into natural dog behaviors, dogs aren't born knowing when to jump over a pole. This type of obstacle course would also require dog training — which is also part of enrichment! Problem solving and learning new skills can help you in this DIY obstacle course to hopefully find a new activity your dog loves.
Dog enrichment ideas and games
Hide and seek isn't just for children! Try hiding a muffin tin filled with a high-value item (think: tennis ball or peanut butter.)
The first time you hide the tin, let your dog watch you put the tin down in an easy to reach spot. Once they finds the tin, lavish them with praise. Then, try playing hide and seek again, letting your dog watch you place the tin in a harder to reach area. Don't forget the praise when they find the tin! Slowly graduate to hiding the tin in a hard-to-reach place without your dog watching. Hide and seek engages your dogs scavenger tendency and nose work to ultimately find the muffin tin: your own DIY puzzle toy.
Enrichment should be a fun way to engage your dog's natural behaviors. Whether its hide and seek with a muffin tin or shredding a cardboard box, canine enrichment taps into the behaviors your dog already loves. Even those dogs who are less motivated by kibble or peanut butter may be invigorated by the problem solving nature of many at-home canine enrichment activities.