Canine enrichment is a great way to reduce your dog’s stress and boredom. Like puzzles do for us, canine enrichment offers your dog the opportunity to exercise his brain while also having fun.
Canine enrichment can help with a wide variety of behavioral issues including destruction, barking, escaping, anxiety, arousal, hyperactivity, obsessive/compulsive behaviors, and depression. Providing your dog with enriching experiences will help him stay psychologically and physiologically healthy.
Canine enrichment comes in many forms and can be administered in a variety of different ways.
Social enrichment involves social interaction between your dog and others. If your dog is comfortable with it, try taking him to your local dog park. (You can find a list of local dog parks on our Resources page).
Physical enrichment involves aerobic exercise. In general, dogs need at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. By keeping up with your dog’s exercise routine, you are helping keep your dog’s heart and lungs healthy while also lowering his risk of obesity, arthritis, and not to mention, overbearing energy levels. For more information on exercising your canine companion, please see our Exercise article.
Sensory enrichment helps in kickstarting all of your dog’s senses including sound, sight, smell, and touch. Playing a different genre of music than you usually do at home can have an impact on your dog. Classical music can be soothing, while heavy metal can increase activity (which might be helpful during training). Introduce your dog to novel odors such as lavender, a couple of drops of an extract on a toy, fox urine scent, new food, etc. to stimulate his sense of smell. Introduce your dog to new textures such as a massaging brush and bedding with a cover made from a different material. Take your dog for a walk in a different neighborhood to provide new things to see, smell, and hear.
Food enrichment involves having your dog work for his meals rather than diving into a bowl. Food puzzles and treat-dispensing toys are a great way to stimulate your dog’s brain while he is eating. If your dog has a habit of eating too fast, they also work great in slowing him to eat at a healthier pace. They help to prevent boredom and allow your dog to more closely practice the natural behavior of hunting for food than eating out of a bowl does.
The food puzzle selection has exploded recently, giving pet owners lots of options. Below are a few of our favorites but you can also find instructions online for DIY food puzzle toys. Offering a variety is another wonderful way to reduce boredom.
With its hollow inside, you can fill a Kong with your dog’s favorite yummy flavors. Peanut butter, kibble, treats, the possibilities are endless. For an even more prolonged enrichment experience, try freezing the Kong overnight. Equipped with a rubbery outside as well, the Kong toy can withstand even the most rigorous chewers.
For a complete list of Kong-filler recipes, visit the Kong website.
Like a regular Kong, the Kong Wobbler also has a rubbery outside coating. However, this toy differs in its treat-dispensing capabilities. To use this toy, screw off the bottom and fill it with your dog’s food. After a little bit of batting around, the Wobbler dispenses food intermittently. This toy can also be used during mealtime as a way to slow down your dog’s eating.
Equipped with a treat-dispensing plastic jug, a rubbery massage ball and a durable rope, the Tug-a-Jug is a multi-sensory enrichment extravaganza for your dog. The clear plastic jug allows your dog to see the food inside, smell it through scent holes, hear it rumble as the toy rolls around, and finally taste it when it’s dispensed. The rubber ball and the rope allow your dog to find new ways to dispense the yummy food. Rather than just rolling it around, your dog can shake it, drag it, throw it, the possibilities are endless!
There are many different types of treat dispensing toys and it's important to know which ones will occupy your dog. Always supervise a few sessions with any new toy or treat to make sure they will be safe. Get creative with how you fill these toys and don’t forget that a dog with something to do is a happy dog.
If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.