Canine Enrichment activities can make your dog’s life more rewarding and instill a sense of purpose in your dog.
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Why Are Canine Enrichment Activities So Important for Your Dog?
A lack of stimulation and enrichment can lead to depression or boredom that may result in behavioural issues such as destructive habits, nuisance barking or even escaping.
The great thing about Canine Enrichment activities is that you don’t have to find more hours in the day to add enrichment to your dog’s life. In fact, if you normally walk your dog for 45 minutes every morning, with these activities added you can walk for 30 minutes and do 15 minutes of enrichment activities. You will tire your dog out mentally, and your dog will be far more satisfied and therefore happier. Most importantly, your dog will love you more than if you walked the entire 45 minutes! Providing enrichment for your dog is simple and the benefits are well worth the small effort daily.
If your dog is recovering from an injury, operation, or is an older, less active dog, the benefits of Canine Enrichment are endless. As dogs age, eyesight and hearing begins to fade so using their nose for food puzzles, gives them a purpose and keeps their mind sharp.
What are Canine Enrichment Activities?
There’s lots of options to choose from for Canine Enrichment activities and toys to suit your dog and your lifestyle.
You can use food challenges when dogs eat their food, toys, learning games, puzzles and rewards. Or you can try challenging problem-solving games that requires a dog to use their mind through activities that they instinctively enjoy, such as sniffing, chasing, and digging, all to create satisfaction, confidence and purpose.
You will find that spending time on Canine Enrichment will have a positive impact on other training you do with your dog, like establishing eye contact and hand signals, or becoming calmer on leash.
Why Not Just Exercise My Dog More?
As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog, however, many dogs experience adverse reactions from being over-exercised, including injury, hyperactivity and elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Your dog may also become an Olympian in a matter of weeks if you exercise it too much, and before you know it takes your dog a three hour walk before they are satisfied. They may start barking for even more exercise, get frustrated and start exhibiting destructive attention-seeking behaviours, so you will be stuck having to exercise your dog even more. This is not a viable long-term solution.
Canine Enrichment helps to:
- Stimulate brain growth.
- Improve problem-solving skills and memory.
- Build confidence and social skills.
- Encourage your dog to engage in natural and instinctive behaviors.
- Create a happier more engaged dog with a purpose.
How to Get Started Easily with Canine Enrichment Activities
Canine Enrichment relies on food and treats you will already have at home, and toys you may have either bought like kongs, or general home products like paper towels rolls. You can make your own toys or purchase them online or at your local pet store. These toys do not have to be an expensive endeavor for you, use your imagination and make it fun for you and your dog!
Set daily time aside for Canine Enrichment like you would normally do to take a walk or exercise your dog. Either use part of that time to do these activities below, or add the treat and food challenges to your dog’s daily fun when you’re busy and don’t have the time to keep your dog occupied, or when they are clearly needing attention from you.
For example give your dog a pre-frozen Kong full of their favourite food or treats, and they will stay occupied mentally for some time which will tire them out. Typically they will need a nap afterwards from mental stimulation, just as much as they will nap after exercise.
Fun and Easy Canine Enrichment Activities with Food
Treat Balls and Other Food Dispensing Toys
The Omega treat ball and the hard plastic wobble Kong are great food dispensing toys. Ask your dog to go to their mat, crate, place or bed and release to the toy with their release word and watch your dog have fun using their paws, brain and determination to get the food out. It’s a fantastic brain workout and an alternative for dogs that eat too fast and need slow feeding bowls.
Slow Feeding Bowls Can Be Made More Challenging
Use the ridges and designs on special feeding bowls to your advantage and mix your dog’s food with some broth or wet food and put in the slow feeder and freeze it. Now your dog has to problem solve and eat even slower at the same time.
Snuffle Matt with Treats or Kibble
9 Fun and Easy Canine Enrichment Activities with FoodA snuffle mat makes great hiding spots for treats or kibble, and is made using cloth fleece strips woven throughout a mat that has holes in it. Ask your dog to go to their mat, crate, place or bed, and release him or her to the mat with their release word or “find it”. Your dog will sniff and snuffle around to find the food, thus stimulating their natural appetite for sniffing for roots, bugs and other food sources in the wild. Do NOT let your dog rip the snuffle mat cloth strips. If this occurs, take the snuffle matt away, or ask your dog to go back to their place and release them again.
Frozen treats are great, and it’s best to make them large so that your dog take time to lick so they don’t eat quickly. The easiest way is with a homemade bone broth. How do you make a bone broth? Boil soup bones in water, cool and place in a container for freezing. Old food containers work great. Serve outside on the grass, on a mat and or in their crate on a towel.
Food Stuffed Kongs
These “Kong” type of toys are the most convenient enrichment options. If your dog eats kibble you can moisten the kibble with water or bone broth and pack the moistened kibble into a Kong, and seal the ends with a bit of pure ingredient such as peanut butter that has only peanuts in the ingredients, then freeze and serve. Are Kongs too easy for your dog? Put the King inside a box and let them open the box to find the Kong!
Stuffing Kong Tips and Recipes
Give your dog a stuffed Kong when your dog is in their crate or exercise pen, on their bed or the other side of a baby gate, rewarding them for being away from you and being calm and quiet. This is excellent to start to condition dogs with separation stress and anxiety, so that being away from you becomes a good thing. Think of a Kong as a self-rewarding game for your dog. It rewards them for lying on their belly licking and being quiet. Being calm and quiet are behaviors that we always want to reward.
Stuffed Kong Recipes and Freeze:
- Use the raw or fresh food that your dog eat daily, and stuff it into a Kong and and then freeze it.
- Peanut butter, typically organic where the there is no other ingredient except peanuts.
- Kibble meals can be soaked in water or broth until the kibble is absorbed, then stuff it in the Kong and seal the ends with peanut butter or a tablespoon of canned food or a banana.
- Mix kibble with pure pumpkin.
- Use your dog’s treats as a main ingredient wet, frozen or dry.
- Add yogurt or kefir to the kibble or treats, to moisten and stuff.
- Left overs or any cooked meats mixed with yam, squash, potato and broth – yum!
- Veggies like zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower make nice crunch stuffing.
- Fruit with yogurt like apples, blueberries, and bananas.
- Canned dog food or mixed with kibble or treats.
- Use a bully stick or dental chew and plug it into the centre of the Kong and freeze. For raw fed dogs use a duck, turkey or chicken neck.
- Canned tuna or another fish mixed with kibble, veggies or alone.
There are many puzzle games on the market where you place food in the puzzle and your dog will have to lift up tabs, release leavers and press buttons to access the food. Nina Ottosson <link out to her site/page> is a leader in creating toys and puzzles for dogs and cats, and has graded the level of difficulty per puzzle.
Does your dog figure out the puzzle toy too quickly?
Some dogs are faster, have more confidence and are more coordinated than others solving a puzzle toy quickly. That doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of the toy, it means you have to make it more difficult. Cover the puzzle toy with a towel, put the puzzle inside a box or under or in a mixing bowl and make it more challenging. Also use all their puzzle toys at once and create a canine enrichment zone. Put down their puzzle toys, Kong, snuffle mat, and encourage them to go back and forth between puzzles.
A very simple do-it-yourself project with a paper towel roll or toilet paper roll, empty box or paper egg carton. Fill the roll, box or carton with a few treats and paper, then fold the ends in, tape the box or carton and give it to your dog with the cue “take it”. Your dog will shred the paper and find the treats. This is a supervised game as you do not want the dog to eat the paper or cardboard.
Nosework Find It Game, Seek and Find
Teaching “find it” is very simple and easy. Ask your dog to sit down, go to their mat, crate, special place or bed, and release your dog with the cue “find it” while tossing a treat. If your dog already has a release word, you may need to use it first and immediately follow with “find it.” Example if your release word is “break” you may have to use “break, find it” so your dog will go for the food you toss.
Once your dog has a grasp for seeking and finding the tossed kibble, the next step is to ask your dog to go to their mat, crate or place and stay while watching you put the food around the house on different objects. Place the food a few feet away under a chair or on top of an ottoman or around the corner on the floor. Release your dog from their place with “find it.”
The next step would be to have your dog out of sight and release them to a new room where they have not seen the items. Be creative, place the treats on the backs of chairs, on top of doorknobs, on shelves or molding.
“Find it” can also be used to find people and toys once your dog can recognize the people and dogs by name.
Easy Canine Enrichment Activities without Food
Sniffy Walk – Go Sniff
Sniffy walks are great for dogs as they are so satisfying! We don’t have to give up our training walks to let your dog enjoy the environment through their nose. Take them for their normal walk and stop in a grassy area, parking lot or place that is clean from debris, and put them on a long 15 foot leash and let them follow their nose and sniff. Ask them to start sniffing on the cue “go sniff” There will be no leash pulling on a long leash and stay with your dog, as you are both are following their nose. The goal of this exercise is to let them sniff.
Tug of War, Fetch Flirt Pole or Go Find It with Toys
A Dog Ranch favourite – games with toys. These games can be so effective to burn off excess energy, chase drive (dogs instinctively chase things), and catching games while reinforcing impulse control and obedience. This is how your dog will master leave it, drop it, take it, sit and down stays. The best part is your dog thinks that you are playing with them and not formally training them.
Dogs love to dig. If you have the space for your dog to dig or a sand dog park nearby, encourage your dog to dig on cue. If you don’t want your dog digging in the garden, create a space for your dog to dig. Using a kiddie pool or a kiddie sandbox (finding one with lid) is a great option. Put a large tarp down, place the kiddie pool or kiddie sandbox on top of the tarp. Take a favourite toy or toys, and bury them in the sand box, or balls you can buy like the above photo. Again, have your dog sit or go down, and then release them to the sand box giving them the release “go dig” and let them have a blast! When done, take the kiddie pool off the tarp, gather corners of the tarp and pour the sand back in the pool and cover until next time.
DIY Obstacle Course
Get creative around the house and build your own obstacle course. You do not need an agility rink or equipment to provide the same stimulation and exercise at home. Even in a hallway you can provide objects for your dog to go around jump over and to climb. For example, a small puppy may climb up a bean bag chair and down the other side. A medium sized dog may jump over an ottoman or stool or even a cardboard box. Use your body and lure your dog under and over your legs and arms – get creative!
Remember: Practice Frequently!
There are many Canine Enrichment Facebook groups where people share ideas and creations. The options are endless!
The best thing you can do for your dog’s health and fitness is to add Canine Enrichment to their daily lives, making their experiences more rewarding give them a sense of purpose.
Information about Chewing and Injesting Bones:
Chewing time is a release of anxiety and excitement, but worried about your dog’s teeth and ingesting a bone? Don’t know what bones your dog can and should eat? Dr. Peter Dobias, a Vancouver local natural vet, will share with you what he recommends and why on his blog.