Hold on to your dog leash! We’re going beyond the daily dog walk to spill the tea on more ways to enrich our dogs’ lives. Let’s discover all kinds of dog enrichment—from toys to games to ideas and activities—so you can spark more happiness 😀 in your doggo’s day. (And enjoy more bonding time together, too!)
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What is dog enrichment?
So, what is canine enrichment, anyway? Spoiler alert: You’re probably already giving your pupper dog enrichment. But with a good definition in hand, we can really up our game to make sure our dogs are enjoying life to the fullest.
In doing my research for this article, I found several definitions of canine enrichment. For me, this one from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary medicine summed it up best.
Canine enrichment is…
The process of manipulating an animal’s environment to increase physical activity and normal species typical behavior that satisfies the animal’s physical and psychological needs. It reduces stress and, therefore, promotes overall health by increasing the animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time. ~ The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine
So, what does all that really mean? Here’s my own “dog mom version” of the above:
Canine enrichment means giving our dogs the opportunity to be dogs! By offering plenty of time for doing what comes naturally (sniffing, digging, chewing, playing, running, etc.), dogs are happier, feel less stress, and are not bored. And when our dogs are happier, they’re healthier.
So, what does that look like?
For my dog, a day without enrichment might look like this…
On days when it’s rainy or I’ve been tapping away at my keyboard too long, my curious, smart Goldendoodle finds her own mind-stimulating activities and “toys” to occupy her time.
When she was a pup, she was a notorious sock stealer. Now, on days when she’s not mentally stimulated, she can’t resist chewing a good stick. (And by “good” I mean any stick in the yard.)
But on a day with enrichment…
When she’s played fetch, foraged her food from a dog puzzle, gone on a sniffing walk, and we’ve practiced a few of her favorite tricks, she’s one happy dog!
Can you relate?
Next, let’s break down canine enrichment by type.
5 types of canine enrichment
Similar to uncovering multiple definitions for the term canine enrichment, I also found that sources differed in how they categorized types of enrichment. After reading several articles, I chose the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine’s types of environmental enrichment as my source. They categorize them this way:
- Occupational enrichment
- Nutritional enrichment
- Social enrichment
- Sensory enrichment
- Physical enrichment
Also, it’s worth calling out that Purdue’s article emphasizes the importance of tailoring enrichment to your dog. It’s not a one size fits all solution. Rather, the article explains, “…enrichment is only valuable if it matters to the dog.”
That makes sense. Just like us hoomans, dogs have personal preferences.
So, we need to choose types of enrichment that give our dogs a chance to shine 🌟 as their own unique doggy selves.
How do we get started helping our dogs do what they love to do and that they find satisfying?
Let’s dig up some ideas for enrichment.
Canine enrichment ideas
To come up with canine enrichment ideas, we can look at “normal species typical behaviors” (i.e. digging, sniffing, chewing, running, chasing, pack behavior) and turn them into games and activities.
I’ve listed 25 canine enrichment ideas below. They’re organized by the type of enrichment. I hope it inspires you in your search for things your dog loves most.
After you’ve looked through the list, please remember it’s all about what your dog enjoys as enrichment. If it’s uninteresting, uninspiring, too difficult, or boring for your dog, then it’s not enhancing his or her quality of life.
And, if you have any questions, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian before undertaking something new for you dog. I’m a dog mom sharing my own experiences that work for my dog. You and your vet know your dog best!
1. Occupational enrichment
You’ve probably heard the phrase “give a dog a job.” That’s what occupational enrichment is all about! While some dogs have formal jobs (think police dogs, service dogs, or therapy dogs), occupational enrichment includes informal jobs—even a job that is as simple as practicing basic commands.
In fact, occupational enrichment can be any activity where a dog has to complete a task.
(As an aside, many dogs were originally bred to do jobs such as herding other animals, retrieving water fowl, or protecting livestock. That’s why many dogs love this type of enrichment.)
Does this strategy sound like one you could incorporate into your dog’s day? Maybe you already do! Here are some ideas to inspire you.
Dog toys, games, and ideas for dogs who need a job
- Enroll in a dog agility class.
- Try scent training.
- Investigate trick training or teach your dog new tricks.
- Enroll in a basic obedience class.
- Teach your dog the skills necessary to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test.
- Check out dock diving if your dog enjoys retrieving and swimming.
- Choose toys that encourage dogs to complete a task. For example, if your dog is a natural retriever, try varying the fetch toy. Two of my favorite retrieving toys are the West Paw frisbee and the Chuck-It! Breathe Right Fetch Ball (photo below).
2. Nutritional enrichment
Your dog’s food doesn’t have be served in a bowl! Nutritional enrichment (also called feeding enrichment by some sources) is simply adding a “hunt and find” or foraging aspect to mealtime. Here are some ideas to inspire you:
Dog toys, games, and ideas that provide feeding enrichment
- Try using a slow feeder bowl or puzzle toy instead of using a dog bowl for your dog’s meal. The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound puzzle (pic below) is one of our faves for its skill level and durability.
- Put your dog’s kibble inside a dog-safe treat dispensing toy or treat-dispensing ball. Your dog rolls the ball and uses his or her nose to forage for the food.
- Place your dog’s kibble in a towel, roll it up, and let your dog enroll it to find the dog food.
- Sprinkle your dog’s kibble in a snuffle mat—a fabric “placemat” that includes places to hide your dog’s kibble—and encourage him or her to forage for the food.
- Change up the place where you usually feed your dog. Your furry pal can use his or her senses to track it down.
3. Social enrichment
Social enrichment satisfies a dog’s need to interact with other dogs or bond with humans. Get inspired by our ideas or come up with your own.
Dog toys, games, and ideas that facilitate social enrichment
- Organize a supervised play date. (Of course, only do this if both dogs are social with each other.)
- Take your dog to a dog-friendly store.
- Enroll in dog obedience class.
- Take your dog to doggy day out at your vet’s office.
- Try games between dogs that encourage cooperation or social interaction (i.e. tug of war).
- Just spend time hanging out together looking out a window, watching a sunset, or looking for squirrels.
- Learn some new games to play with your dog.
4. Sensory enrichment
Activities and toys that provide sensory enrichment play into your dog’s senses—sight, taste, touch, and smell. Check out our list below for some ideas.
Dog toys, games, activities, and ideas that encourage sensory experiences
- Play the “find the treat under the cup” game or try out some of our other favorite nose work games for dogs.
- Try a sniffari dog walk adventure.
- Switch things up and discover a new pet-friendly walking trail. Your dog will have new sights to see and sniffs to sniff.
- Visit a pet-friendly store or restaurant so your dog has new sensory experiences.
- Check out the Playology line of dog toys — toys that include scent so dogs can use their sense of smell while playing.
5. Physical enrichment
Walks and exercise probably come to mind when you think of physical enrichment for dogs. But toys play a big part in physical enrichment, too.
In fact, there are studies showing that toy play may help reduce behaviors that we humans label as unwanted (i.e. digging, barking, etc.). If you’re looking for ways to up your dog’s physical enrichment, here are some ideas.
Dog toys, games, and ideas that provide physical enrichment
- Take your dog for a walk. For a little variety, reverse the direction you usually go.
- If your dog enjoys retrieving, play games of fetch or frisbee. (For us, the West Paw Zogoflex Zisc Dog Frisbee and the Kong flyer have stood up to endless games of fetch. And if you’re a Goldendoodle parent or your dog is a fetch enthusiast, check out my article, Do Goldendoodles Play Fetch.)
- Does your dog love to dig? Make a dig pit in your yard. Or, check out the idig digging toy by fetch. (In full disclosure, we haven’t tried this form of enrichment yet.)
- If you’re searching for more dog enrichment toys, check out my list of best toys for Goldendoodles.
Hint for extra happiness: Rotate your dog’s toys. Just like us hoomans, variety can be the spice of life and reduce boredom for dogs. Keep some toys tucked away and bring them out later. They will feel new again to your dog. (Of course, if your dog has a favorite snuggly, keep that one out for daily play.)
Enrichment = enjoyment
Inspired? We hope so! Grab your dog leash and head out with your dog on an adventure that enriches your dog’s life. By discovering what your dog loves, you’ll not only bring him or her enrichment, but also enjoyment…for both hooman and doggo.
And that’s the best part. ❤️
Thank you for stopping by Happy-Go-Doodle® and sharing your valuable time. We hope we’ve added a little more dog-friendly joy to your day.
(P.S. Looking for more ideas? Check out our ultimate list of things to do with your dog. The possibilities are endless.)
What canine enrichment ideas have you tried?
Please comment below. We can have fun swapping ideas.