Enrichment for Dogs: A-Z Guide + DIY Ideas | Pupford
August 11th, 2023
Filed under Pet Parenting
We get a lot of questions from pup parents in our community wanting to learn more about dog enrichment to make sure they’re giving their dogs the best possible experience.
We’ve put together this guide to dog enrichment to help answer those questions and give ideas for ways to work more enrichment into your dog’s routine. We’ll be covering:
- What is enrichment for dogs?
- Why is dog enrichment so important?
- How much enrichment does your dog need?
- How to provide mental enrichment
- DIY enrichment activities, puzzle toys, and games
Let's get into all things enrichment for dogs. 👇
WHAT IS ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS? DOES IT APPLY TO PUPPIES?
Rather than reading books and solving crossword puzzles, dog enrichment taps into innate behaviors and instincts. Activities like smelling, licking, chewing, scavenging, and chasing in order to complete a task are all mentally stimulating to your dog.
Plus, there are usually treats involved. That’s always fun too.
WHY IS DOG ENRICHMENT SO IMPORTANT?
We know dog enrichment is essential - but why?
There are a few reasons why dog enrichment is so important, so let’s talk about them:
- It gives your dog a positive outlet for the innate behaviors they want to engage in. If they have an opportunity to sniff, dig, chew, etc. on things productively, they’ll be a lot less likely to do so on their own – and at the expense of your furniture or shoes. Dogs often turn to destructive behaviors out of boredom, so occupying your dog with enrichment activities is a great way to prevent unwanted behavior.
- It challenges your dog’s brain allowing them to sharpen existing skills, learn new skills, and be more confident in their ability to solve problems in the future. This helps them stay sharp and live a longer, healthier life.
- It tires them out. Remember how exhausted you would be after studying for a test and taking the exam? While mental exercise is not a substitution for physical exercise, it’s a great addition to it because it leaves your dog satisfied and relaxed.
- Because enrichment activities are low impact but high effort, they’re a great option for times where weather, injury, or travel limit how much physical exercise your dog can get.
All in all, enrichment is just as important for your dog’s health and happiness as a good diet and enough exercise – so make sure it’s prioritized accordingly!
HOW MUCH ENRICHMENT DOES YOUR DOG NEED?
When it comes to dog enrichment, quality is a more important factor compared to quantity. But having an approximate goal for how much enrichment to provide for your dog is certainly helpful.
While factors like age, breed, and size affect this general rule, the consensus is that the average dog should spend 20% of their day engaged in an activity. That works out to about two hours per day. When you factor in walks, play sessions, and training sessions, you’re usually left with about 20-30 mins per day that can be filled in with enrichment and mental exercise.
Again, every dog is different and has individual needs. If your dog is healthy, an appropriate weight, showing a good disposition, and not engaging in unwanted behaviors, it’s likely they’re getting enough enrichment and activity.
HOW TO GIVE YOUR DOG MENTAL ENRICHMENT - 5 ENRICHMENT IDEAS FOR DOGS & PUPPIES
One good thing about mental enrichment is that there are so many easy ways to do it. While just about any activity that gets your dog’s brain working can be considered enrichment, here are some common enrichment activities to add to your dog’s routine:
- Nose work during walks - This is a great option because it combines mental stimulation and physical exercise. Plus, you don’t need to have anything prepared in advance. During your walk, let your dog veer slightly off their path to sniff around and follow their nose. This works best in a nature trail setting rather than a neighborhood, just be sure that your dog isn’t getting into any brush or near wild animals.
- Enrichment toys - These are toys designed to be filled with treats, food, or other goodies. Your dog will have to use their nose, tongue, paw, and brain to figure out how to get out every last crumb. Just be sure to select toys with holes on both ends to prevent suctioning to your dog’s mouth – shop these .
- Enrichment mats - and are also great enrichment options. While they work slightly differently, the goal is the same: to engage your dog’s brain and other innate senses while getting food out of the mat. For more information, here’s a and a .
- Doggy play dates - While play dates can seem more like physical exercise at times, they also provide a lot of social enrichment for your dog(s). Sometimes dogs just need to be dogs. Playing is great mental enrichment because the dogs involved are making up games, trying to figure out the other dog’s next move, and thinking of ways to outsmart their opponent in their intense game of chase. See our for more information.
- Games and puzzles - There are an endless amount of games and puzzles that make your dog think critically and problem-solve. But don’t worry, their hard work isn’t for nothing, they always manage to find the treat in the end!
Pro tip: Prepare in advance. Just as you would prepare your meals for a busy day or week, you should get in the habit of doing that for your dog’s enrichment activities. Mix up your favorite fillers (we love a good combo of ground chicken, fruit, plain greek yogurt, and ) and fill your toys/lick mat ahead of time.
Then, store in the freezer until you’re ready to use. While other activities are perfectly suited for when you have downtime, these grab-and-go options are great for unexpected Zoom calls or sudden thunderstorms raining out your other plans. Check out this video for some !
PUPPY & DOG ENRICHMENT IDEAS DIY
As we mentioned before, there are a ton of puzzles and games that can be used for enrichment. But did you know you can make your own at home, using items you probably already have around the house?
While we couldn’t possibly list them all out, here are some of the most popular DIY enrichment activities that pups in our community have loved:
- - Place treats in some holes of the muffin tin, but not all. Cover each hole with a tennis ball. Give it to your dog and let them sniff out the treats and figure out how to get past the tennis balls.
- Obstacle courses - Gather some chairs, boxes, crates, or whatever else you have in your home and place treats at various spots, encouraging your dog to think about the best way to get through it.
- Foraging boxes and enrichment boxes - Fill a cardboard box with smaller boxes, paper towel rolls, empty tissue boxes etc., anything that would make for a good puzzle for your dog to find treats. . Just be sure to monitor your dog!
- Towel game - This one’s super simple: place treats on a towel or rag and roll it up so your dog has to work to discover the treats. Monitor your dog here as well!
RECAP OF ENRICHMENT FOR DOGS
Enrichment for your dog is something you should focus on every single day. While it doesn't always have to be complex, you can find changes to give enrichment during mealtime, playtime, and throughout the day!
Have you tried any of the DIY enrichment activities or have other ideas for getting your dog’s brains buzzing? Share them in the comments below and snap a picture to share on Instagram – be sure to tag Pupford for a chance to be featured on our page!