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  • Lilith Erlenbusch

Enrich your dog's life!

Boredom is something we all understand as the birthplace for bad ideas and destructive behaviors. The term “Enrichment” has been circulating in the dog training universe for a while. Of course we all want our dogs to have rich and happy lifes and that is why we give them love although we are tired, play ball with them or buy them their favorite treats. But are our dogs really happy and fulfilled? 

What is Enrichment?

Enrichment generally means to enhance the quality of something and “Canine Enrichment” refers to the improvement of your dog's quality of life. The fulfillment of the core instinctual needs of your dog will increase his contentment. Increasing the natural behaviors of your dog in controlled settings will also prevent negative behaviors. Natural behaviors are barking, digging, playing, moving, foraging, scavenging, chewing, and sniffing. Mental enrichment is just as important as physical enrichment. This can be provided actively or passively by you.

The Benefits of Enrichment

Enrichment has been studied for a long time and the results are very clear. 

  • It helps to reduce undesired behaviors like demand barking, itching and reactivity

  • Increases positive behaviors and good decision making. 

  • Increases physical and mental health of dogs all ages 

Examples and Ideas

Enrichment can be split into 5 main categories which can overlap. 

Social, nutritional, sensory, occupational and physicalI enrichment are the different areas in which enrichment strategies can be applied. Dog owners should make sure that their dog is getting stimulation in all five areas to ensure your dog lives a well balanced, happy and healthy life. 

Social Enrichment

The dog has a natural need to interact with his own species and with humans. Make sure to provide quality interactions with other dogs and humans that are supervised. Especially if you are working the whole day! I recommend scheduling a dog walk for your canine friend and adding to your lunch break a belly rub for your pup to give quality interactions with you too. Here are some ideas. 

  • Dog walks on leash with dog walker in different locations

  • Play groups with other dogs

  • Downtown walks with interactions with other people

  • Social events in which your dog is confident and can interact with humans

Nutritional Enrichment

For dogs it is a natural instinct to search for food and use all of their senses and body to find it  in the environment. How boring to just feed food out of an easily accessible food bowl! There are so many fabulous options on the market that stimulate your dog's brain in many ways and keep them occupied.  It is really important to vary your offerings too. Dogs get bored by the same thing every day just like us!

  • Snuffle Mats & Lick Mats - Those mats are great for your dog to use the nose to find kibble or treats that are thrown into the mat. It will keep your dog busy and provide olfactory, cognitive, physical, and nutritional enrichment. 

  • Slow Feeders - If your dog doesn’t have much experience, start with one slow feeder that makes it easy for your dog to reach the food. Slowly increase the difficulty for your dog. Those feeders help to slow down the eating too! 

  • Kongs - Stuffed kongs are classic dog enrichment items that should be in every household stuffed, ready in the freezer to go!

  • Puzzle Feeders - These great games require a dog to move pieces around to access hidden treats they can smell. These are more mentally challenging than treat-dispensing toys and require your dog to think more. Puzzle feeders can help slow your dog’s mind down, which is especially helpful for more chaotic and restless dogs. A well know brand on the market is Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Dog

List of Enrichment Toys

Video with ideas for enrichment for visual learners 

Sensory Enrichment

Sensory enrichment is about stimulating the different senses of dogs: sight (visual), sound (auditory), touch (kinesthetic), taste (gustatory), and smell (olfactory). If your dog spends a lot of time in the crate this is especially important as for dogs who are at home a lot. In that case make sure to keep music and eventually the TV running for additional stimulation, as well as eventually access to windows. Always make sure your dog likes the stimulation as this might not reflect your preferences. Classical music has shown in research to reduce stress and reactivity. Kinesthetic stimulation is provided when the dog can simulate hunting experiences. 

If your dog is reactive you could try to work with a flirt pole. Those are excellent indoor tools when the weather is not allowing you to go outside or your dog is very reactive. 

Flirt Poles

A flirt pole (also called a flirt stick) is a long pole with a lure attached by rope to the end. You hold onto the pole and move it around, in turn making the lure move around and enticing your dog to chase. They provide great physical exercise, and they’re quite mentally stimulating.

Here is a video on how it can be used. 

Scent Work with Dogs 

Scent games are honing in on the strongest sense of your dog - his olfactory sense. Using the nose is very stimulating for your dog. You can start with very easy games like Find it - You can use any treat you like, but when you’re first starting out I recommend sticking to something smelly to make it a bit easier on your dog. And if you’ve never done any nose work games before I’d start with some easy spots that are in plain view.

Have your dog sit in the stay position while you go off and hide some of those treats around the house. Once they’re hidden, release your dog and tell them to “go find it” (or “find the treats” if you prefer). Keep it fun and encouraging for your dog by praising them every time they find a treat. After they start to get the hang of it and they know exactly what “go find it” means you can start hiding them in harder to find spots, further encouraging them to use their nose more and rely less on visuals.

Here are some further games - 

Occupational Enrichment 

Occupational enrichment strategies will give your dog a job. This could be as simple as paying attention to you when you are in a social environment and therefore teaching your dog to split his attention with the outer world while staying connected with you. But it could be also more demanding activities like:

  • Dog sports (e.g., GRC, agility, fly balls, dock diving, protection, detection, tracking, and so on)

  • Obedience training - the normal dog can learn up to 165 words and the most intelligent dogs can learn up to 250 words! 

  • Trick training - when was the last time that you taught your dog a new trick? Watch this video to bring back the joy of training

  • If you have a herding breed consider signing up for a Sheep Herding workshop. This is an amazing opportunity to get the natural instincts of your dog flowing. For Nordic Breeds a musher training might be the right path. Inform yourself about breed related work. Here is the link to the FB group in Truckee

  • Therapy dog training and service - Are you looking for volunteer work together with your dog? If your dog loves people and can stay calm and attentive while interacting with them, additionally is not reactive to other dogs, then you could consider becoming a therapy dog team together with your dog. ATD is one of several organizations who is facilitating the licensing.

Physical Enrichment

Physical enrichment includes altering the quality and complexity of a dog’s living space and physical routines. Examples include:

Playing fetch, a game of tug of war, and having a consistent rotation of interesting dog toys will provide your doggy with the physical stimulation it needs. Combining mental and physical exercises each day provides a positive way to reduce destructive behavior.

Taking your dog for a walk in a new environment and not always walking the same ways every day. Different and new areas offer uncommon scent and visual exposure for the dog. Take a long lead and just let them sniff and roam without any expectations. 

Digging Areas - especially if you have a Terrier at home. Dedicate a space in your backyard and fill it up with sand. Encourage your dog to use it by burying one of their toys, or by digging yourself to show them how it’s done. Praise them when they use their designated digging area, and pair it with a phrase such as “digging.”

After a few sessions your dog will know exactly what “digging” means, and where they’re expected to do so.


I hope this article could give some new ideas and inspire you to try out some of the suggestions. Mental stimulation and variety is often forgotten with our pet animals but as important as physical exercise. A tired dog is not always a good dog! 

More resources 

Canine Enrichment – One of my favorite facebook groups that’s filled with awesome canine enrichment advice and activities.

33 Ways to Keep Your Dog Busy Indoors – My favorite indoor activities for dogs.

Enrichment: 8 Easy Ways to Increase Your Dog’s Quality of Life – Great article with plenty of activity ideas.

Enrichment For Dogs – List of activities to enrich your dog’s life. (the article is tailored towards dogs in shelters, but they’re great for any dog)

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