Canine Enrichment

You may have heard this buzzword, “enrichment,” recently. It’s all the rage. Hopefully, you’ve been a little curious to learn more about what it is. Lucky you, that’s what we are going to discuss in today’s blog!

Enrichment means “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.” In this case we are talking about improving or enhancing your dog’s quality of life. Who wouldn’t want to do that? If you’d like a human example, it might be the development of a hobby. Hobbies vastly enrich our own lives. So, how do we translate that to our dogs?

Enrichment boils down to mental stimulation. Of course, long sniffy walks, rousing games of tug or a long game of fetch can be very enjoyable for our pups, but we are talking more about helping them use their brains and their problem-solving skills. Allowing your dog to work out a food puzzle or search for a scent can be very rewarding and make them more optimistic about life! It can also help you exercise your dog when the weather is bad or you’re unable to provide as much physical exercise as usual.

Fortunately for us, we live in an age where so much information on enrichment is at our fingertips. Google or search Pinterest for DIY canine enrichment and you will hundreds of lost cost ways to provide some fun for your dog. There are also lots of toys and gadgets on the market for purchase that will give your dog lots of mental stimulation.

Here are some of my favorite DIY and pre-made enrichment ideas! You can find our product suggestions on this Amazon Idea list.

*Disclaimer: do not allow your dog access to toys while unsupervised, unless you know how they will treat them. Dogs can easily ingest these items causing illness or a blockage. Educanine Training Services is not liable if you allow your dog to ingest enrichment items.*

Cardboard (boxes, rolls, packing supplies, egg cartoons)

You can use what you have to create a fun puzzle toy for your dog. Get a cardboard box, some toilet paper or paper towel rolls, some brown packing paper or paper cups. Put then all together and throw in some treats or kibble. Let your dog dig through to find their surprise. You can make it harder by closing the carboard tubes, so they must work to open then up for the treats. This is my dogs’ favorite game because he also enjoys shredding the cardboard (he doesn’t ingest it).

You can also use egg cartons. Fill the spaces with kibble and it will act as a slow feeder. Put some paper cups over top each space and they will have to get the cups off in order to get their treats.

Find It (no supplies besides kibble or treats)

You can play “Find It” with your dog and get them started on a path to scent searching! First, tell them to find it, then drop several pieces of treats or kibble. As they start to understand that Find It means they need to locate food on the floor, you can start to place the food further and further away from them. When they get good at this game you can start to make it harder by hiding food in more difficult to find places, ex. under tables or chairs, in corners, behind furniture. Another way I like to play this game is in the yard. I use the grass to help hide the kibble so that they have to forage for their meal.

Snuffle Mat

Snuffle mats came on the scene a few years ago and they are so fun for your pup! These mats are made of woven fleece fabric pieces. You can hide treats of kibble throughout the fabric, so your dog has to sniff and search to get it all out. You can DIY this for a pretty cheap price. They are also more commercially available than ever before. There are other versions of activity mats, like the Buster Activity Mat, which has interchangeable pieces that change the level of difficulty for your dog.

Ball with fabric scraps (hybrid of pre-made and homemade)

I see a lot of people with these JW balls with holes in them. But I don’t see a lot of people who know how to use them to their greatest potential. In order to do that you should cut strips of fabric from and old shirt, sheets, towel, etc., and stuff them into the ball. This is a great game for dogs who like to rip and shred things. Bonus points for rolling kibble or treats up in the fabric them stuffing those pieces inside.

Kongs, West Paw Toys, Lick Mats

These toys are probably the most recognizable for dog owners in terms of enrichment items. The Kong is a classic and a wonderful toy. You can stuff this with a large variety of food and treat items, then freeze them for a fun, long lasting enrichment toy. Kong also has a large variety of recipes on their website so their toys will never be boring for your dog!

West Paw Design also makes several different shapes of interactive toys. The Qwilz, Toppl, Tux and Tizzi can all be used to stuff treats and kibble. They can also be frozen. I love West Paw because their toys stand up to heavy chewers so it’s great that they make toys that can also be stuffed with food.

Licki Mats are a new invention, though crafty people have been using different items for the same results for a while now. These mats have different designs so that cause dips and crevices that peanut butter, cheese or wet dog food can be spread over. Your dog can go to town licking the mat and getting their treat. These can also be frozen.

Food puzzle toys

These toys are like canine brainteasers! Sometimes your dog will need to push the vessel so the treats will fall out or pick up a cup to access the food underneath or lift the doors to find what’s inside. These provide great mental exercise for your dog and help them learn problem solving skills!

Wobblers, Bob-A-Lot and other treat dispensing balls

This category of enrichment toys can act as a more stimulating slow feeder for dogs who eat kibble. The Kong Wobbler and the Bob-A-Lot are weighted on the bottom, have a place to fill them with food and then a small whole that dispenses the kibble as your dog pushes it around. They can have fun chasing these and their kibble at meal time. There are other types of treat dispensing balls that are not weighted but have openings where the kibble falls out when your dog hits or pushes it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it has helped you see the importance of providing mental stimulation and exercise for your dog. As I said earlier, there is a wealth of ideas online to make yourself or buy. Use your imagination and make something new! Your dog will thank you for it! Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see new enrichment ideas and training tips.