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What is Dog Enrichment?

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

​Dog enrichment means providing opportunities for your dogs to enjoy activities that both mentally stimulate and physically engage your dog.

This helps keep your dog physically fit, keeps boredom at bay but can also help teach your dog to interact with the world around them calmly and acceptably and reduce anxiety. A lack of enrichment often leads to unwanted behaviours such as barking, destructiveness and attention seeking.

dog enrichment toys including West Paw, Sodapup, Lickimat, Kong, Nina Ottosen, and long lasting natural dog chews
Enrichment Rainbow

There are multiple types of enrichment we should aim to incorporate into our dogs' lives. (Different types of enrichment cross over and don't tend to just sit in one category)


 

Nutritional


For most dogs, getting food is one of the most exciting parts of their day. We can make sure this doesn't become a boring predictable behaviour by changing things up.


sodapup wave ebowl
  • We can change the varieties of food we give with different fruits, vegetables or chews.

  • You can change up the texture of their food. You can start by soaking and blitzing kibble and spreading it on lick mats. As your dog gets used to this you can start filling toys with layers of wet and dry food and to progress this further you can even freeze it first.

  • We can uses puzzles, snuffle mats or house sniffaris to encourage them to use their nose and brain.

  • Training is important for every dog and we can use their daily food allowance or treats throughout the day to help teach them the behaviour we want from them in a fun and engaging way.


 

Sensory Enrichment


When thinking about sensory enrichment it can be useful to research what your specific breed enjoys. Are they a scent hound and would love sniffing or a sighthound that might love a flirt pole.

  • Olfactory - Whilst it might be frustrating when your dog is constantly stopping to sniff on walks, it's their way of understanding their environment and gathering information. It provides a lot of mental stimulation for them and is a great way to tire them out. At home snuffle mats can encourage dogs to sniff out their food.

  • Visual - encourages your dog to use its sight. If your dogs enjoy watching out the window, allow them to do this for a bit (if your dog gets anxious or barks out the window this is not suggested). Instead they may enjoy watching TV , there is even a TV channel dedicated to dog watchers! Equally you could just be encouraging them to look at things with different colors and shapes of toys.

  • Auditory - Lots of dogs are very noise sensitive and we can help reduce the anxiety they feel about unexpected noises by playing a variety of sounds to them, especially when they’re young. During the day we can play calming music to them to help relax them. If your dog is anxious about specific noises we can treat them when they hear the noise to start to teach them that the noise is not a worry but something good instead.

  • Touch - Very important to teach whilst they are young but also enriching once they are older is different textures. This could be walking over different surfaces like grass, gravel, plastic, tiles so they are not afraid when older. Toys can have different textures being fluffy, shiny, squishy or hard. You could have a ball pit they have to wade through to find treats or water they have to put their noses and feet in.

A brilliant way to combine all these enrichment activities in one is to create an obstacle course of different objects (cardboard boxes, clean recycling, tunnels, noisy/rustling items), surfaces, treat dispensers, toys with treats or kibble throughout encouraging them to explore. Allow them to take this at their own pace. Some dogs might only start with a box they have to put their head in to get some kibble where others that are more outgoing may be able to go straight to a variety of items.


 

Social Enrichment


maya pup and puzzle goldendoodle

Spending time with you is really important

for your dog. It can reduce anxiety and reduce bad behaviours. One of the best ways to do this is through training, as you are actively engaging with them. This could be on a walk encouraging loose leash walking and practicing recall or at home trick training. But equally it could be playing with them or just having a good cuddle on the couch. Our pup is not that interested in her long lasting chews but if I hold it for her whilst sat next to her she loves spending time chewing it being next to me.

This should also include going to different environments where they will see, hear and possibly interact with other people, dogs, sights and smells. This can help prevent fear, reactivity and aggression when introduced at an early age in a positive way.


 

Physical Enrichment


maya pup and puzzle goldendoodle

Now its time to play!

Physical enrichment can be anything that encourages your dog to move and be active. This could be a nice walk exploring new areas or a game of tug or fetch in the garden but could also involve agility classes or some active games based training.



 

Occupational Enrichment


Giving your dog a job. This is something that some dogs need more than others and whilst you can try any of the options it can be really useful to understand your breed when thinking about how to ‘employ’ them.

dog enrichment swimming

Dogs have been bred to retrieve, hunt, herd, swim, sniff out and guard and by understanding what our dogs DNA is telling it to do we can really start to understand what our dog needs. By using this and giving them ‘a job’ we can prevent a lot of the unwanted behaviour we see from dogs that are been driven by their DNA.


Some great options for classes are man trailing, agility and flyball. However if you don't want to do classes there are options at home.

  • A dog that has been bred to dig and is digging up your garden - give them a designated sand pit where they are allowed to dig.

  • A dog bred to herd can be given a herding ball in the garden.

  • Dogs that enjoy using their noses can play scent games around the house or garden.

  • Retrievers want to retrieve so play fetch (in the correct way!).


For more information on fetch and why we shouldn't just keep throwing the ball for our dogs check out our blog here



There is such a wide range of enrichment ideas we can provide for our canine companions. So be creative, try new things and have fun! Your pup will certainly appreciate it.


Dog Enrichment products here at Pup and Puzzle


sodapup honeycomb lick mat with peanut butter
Sodapup Lick Mat

Lick mats - Help slow down fast eaters,

but also the licking process is very calming for dogs as it releases endorphins which reduces stress and anxiety. This means they're great to use if your dog is a bit over-excited after getting back from a walk or you need them distracted and on their own calmly whilst you have guests over. We have several types of lickmats and slow feeders here so take a look.





wuf salad snufflemat enrichment
WufWuf Salad Snuffle Mat

Snuffle mats - Whilst it might be frustrating when your dog is constantly stopping to sniff on walks it's their way of understanding their environment and gathering information. It provides a lot of mental stimulation for them and is a great way to tire them out. At home snuffle mats can encourage dogs to sniff out their food.







Slow feeder bowl Sodapup honeycomb eTray
Sodapup Honeycomb eTray

Slow feeder Bowls - These are a great tool to slow dogs down and stop them gulping their food but they can work really well to keep dogs occupied for a while. They can be filled with a variety of dry or wet food and if your dog needs a challenge they can also be frozen to prolong the enjoyment. Look for Kong, West Paw Zogoflex Toppls or Sodapup Honeypots.





West Paw zogoflex tux enrichment dog puzzle feeder
West Paw Tux

Dog Puzzle Toys - Puzzles use your dog's food and hides it away meaning your dog has to figure out how to get to it. This could be simply such as pushing a ball to get treats out up to very difficult where multiple levers have to be moved to access the reward. This is a great way to mentally stimulate your dog and prevent them finding their own distractions. Remember to work from easy puzzles up to harder ones as you don’t want them getting frustrated and just giving up.




maya pup and puzzle goldendoodle hoof
Cow Hoof

Long lasting chews - A lot of dogs have an innate urge to chew on things as it helps them understand their environment. By providing chews which they are allowed to chew, you can prevent them opting for things you don't want chewed - like your furniture! They are also great for preventing boredom as they can last a long time and clean their teeth which helps prevent bad breath. Some options for these are Yak chews, antlers, hooves and horns and dog safe wood chews.






For further information on the benefits of natural chews for dogs check out out post here










Dog with sodapup crazy bounce tough ball
Sodapup Crazy Bounce Ball

Toys for tug and fetch - enhance your bond with your dog whilst providing physical activity by playing. Lots of toys can also be used as chew toys which help to calm and entertain your dog. Make sure you buy chew toys that are suitable for their chew level.





Soft toys - look for toys with different textures

tug-e-nuff sheep skin chaser tug toy dog enrichment
Tug-E-Nuff Sheepskin Chaser

and sounds to engage your dog's senses. If you have a destroyer of toys look for stuffing-less and squeaker-less to be safe or ones designed specifically for tough chewers.



Chasers - Great for dogs that are more motivated by toys than treats. Use these to reward your dog when training or recalling or to just have fun!







Please remember that dogs should always be supervised when using these items in case damage to the item occurs and small pieces break off or splinter.



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