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10 Dog Enrichment Ideas for Your Pup (7 are DIY) 

All dogs need adequate physical and mental stimulation that give them a healthy outlet for their natural instincts. Here are 10 dog enrichment ideas.

Can you imagine being left at home all day alone without any entertainment? No internet, video games, no books, or TV—just you and your imagination all day, watching the sunlight change patterns over the living room carpet.

No wonder your dog barks at the mail delivery people! Your dog is probably bored.

Dogs aren’t meant to sit around alone for hours at a time. Historically, people bred specific types of dogs to help them do things – hunt, guard, herd. When dogs chew on furniture and bark when left alone; they’re under-stimulated and telling you they need more out of life.

There are three prongs to happy, well-adjusted dogs. Every dog needs adequate physical exercise for their age and breed. They also need mental stimulation and a healthy outlet for their natural instincts, which is where enrichment for dogs comes in.

Enrichment for dogs isn’t all about alleviating boredom. It’s about bringing happiness to your dog’s life. With a bit of creativity, you can give your dog the mental stimulation your pup craves with canine enrichment.

What Is Dog Enrichment?

dog enrichment ideas

Dog trainers and behaviorists have long said the cure for many doggie behavioral issues is more physical exercise and mental stimulation. Now, they’re recognizing that incorporating dog enrichment activities makes an effort to meet your dog’s fundamental needs and makes your pooch happier.

You know how it’s hard to concentrate on anything else if you’re really hungry? It can be like that with your pup when you’re not meeting their instinctual needs. Enrichment activities are more than daily walks and a game of fetch. It’s about understanding the activities your dog craves so you can help your dog experience them.

In canine history, people bred dogs for specific purposes. These dogs worked hand in paw with their humans, contributing important work to the daily routine.

For example, Siberian people bred huskies to hunt and pull sleds in the frigid climate, and terriers and Labradors were hunting dogs.

You don’t need to be a dog trainer to recognize that today’s pampered pups may live a life of leisure, but they’re lacking purpose.

Not to get too existentialist, but when you offer enrichment activities for your dog that match their history, you help them connect with their core selves.

Dog Enrichment and Your Dog’s Breed

border collie

The best enrichment activities vary from dog to dog. Your dog has specific preferences, and sometimes they’re breed-driven.

Think of a border collie’s herding instinct. Such high-energy breeds need plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Appropriate enrichment activities could include scavenger hunts to improve your dog’s problem-solving skills.

If you’ve got more time and interest, such dogs excel in agility trials. Running obstacle courses and weaving through poles tests your dog’s natural problem-solving skills and gives them a safe outlet for physical activity.

Terriers are diggers and may appreciate a sandbox or special place to engage in their instinctual behavior.

When you think of dog enrichment, you want to offer your dog activities that match their preferences.

There’s the traditional game of throwing tennis balls for your dog or going on long walks. Those are great activities, but there are more you may not have considered. Plus, there’s mental stimulation everyone craves (even dogs). Why not try different enrichment activities to see which ones your pup loves? Then, you can incorporate them into your daily routine in some way.

There are two camps of dog enrichment activities:

1. Physical activity

  • Swimming
  • Obstacle courses
  • Dancing
  • Hikes
  • Long walks
  • Fetch

2. Mental stimulation

  • Nose work
  • Snuffle mat
  • Food enrichment
  • Hide & Seek
  • Dog training

Some dog enrichment activities overlap, such as dog training and hide-and-seek. All of them can be interactive and give you a chance to develop a stronger bond with your dog. 

Cater to Your Dog’s Natural Instincts

dog playing fetch

Dogs are natural foragers and scavengers; they all rely on their noses in ways people can’t imagine. A dog’s sense of smell is notoriously strong. Dogs have 10,000 to 100,000 times more scent capability than humans, and they communicate through scents. For example, smelling another dog’s rear can give them clues to the other dog’s age and diet. It’s no wonder dogs want to sniff everything!

Scent is a communication tool for dogs and they can smell fear, sadness, disease, and so much more through their millions of scent glands. Every new place is a prime sniffing locale for your dog, and you can enrich your daily routine by allowing extra sniffing time.

7 DIY Dog Enrichment Ideas

You probably have many things hanging around your house that you could turn into a dog enrichment activity and provide interactive playtime. You’ll encourage your dog to indulge in their natural instincts when you include some of these enrichment ideas in your playtime.

1. Cardboard Tube

Paper towels, toilet paper, or wrapping paper all come on cardboard tubes, making a ready-made dog toy. Save those! You can play “chase” with it. Wiggle it before your dog and watch him go after the tube.

You can enhance the fun by putting a dollop of peanut butter or fresh food on the inside of the cardboard tube, but supervise your pup’s playtime and make sure your dog doesn’t eat the cardboard.

2. Sandbox

If you have a digger, give your pup a sandbox in a shady part of the yard. You can hide your dog’s favorite toys in the sand, and your dog can feel the accomplishment of digging and unearthing the toys.

Don’t have a yard? You can still give your dog a box and fill it with toys, packing paper, or scraps of fabric for a cleaner version of a box to dig in without kicking sand all over your house.

3. Food Enrichment

If your dog scarfs his food like it’s his first and last meal, you can scatter kibble across the floor. Or, play a game of hide and seek with his dinner by dividing it around the room. Let your pup exercise his inner forager and reduce the risk of choking or bloat.

4. Food Puzzles

You can make your own dog puzzle toy with a muffin tin. To DIY your own puzzle feeder, take a muffin tin and put a handful of kibble or veggies in some compartments. Don’t put food in every compartment though. Part of the game is finding the reward. Then, top each compartment with a tennis ball so each compartment looks alike. Your dog will rely on his sense of smell to uncover the tasty tidbits beneath.

5. Fun with a Cardboard Box

In a twist on the digging game, throw a treat or two into the cardboard box and pile packing paper over it. Your dog will sniff out the treats and have fun scratching through the paper. You could also drop some dog food into the box and watch your dog have a good time finding it.

6. Fabric Chew Toy

Got a worn-out old t-shirt or towel? You can knot them and use them to play tug with your pup and let them chew on them. If you want to get fancy, snip the ends into a fringe or make your own rope toy.

7. Nose work

You already know your dog’s nose is a superpower. Not only can your dog sniff the neighborhood news, but many of them can train to sniff out cancer, bombs, and drugs. Some dogs are especially scent-focused and enjoy practicing nose work. The National Association of Canine Scent Work holds trials and competitions to teach this powerful training technique, and you can also get a taste of it through videos online.

Store Bought Dog Enrichment Activities

There are plenty of well-made enrichment toys for dogs, and many revolve around food enrichment.

1. Snuffle Mats

Imagine a looped rug with kibble buried among the fabric, and that’s one version of a snuffle mat. They come in different shapes, sizes, and fabrics, but the concept is to give your dog extra mental stimulation around mealtime.

2. Puzzle Toys

Enrichment toys like treat dispensers are great for improving your dog’s problem-solving skills. You put a little dog food in different compartments, and your dog learns how to press the button to open it to get the reward. They come in beginner versions and work their way up to advanced levels. Some are complex!

3. Kong

dog enrichment ideas

The classic Kong is always a pup favorite. Fill it with peanut butter or wet food, and let your dog clean it with his tongue.

4. Tennis balls

Another classic dog toy, you can throw them for a rousing game of fetch or use them for a DIY puzzle toy, as mentioned above.

With enough physical exercise and the right dog enrichment activities, problem behaviors disappear, and you’ll strengthen your dog’s well-being.

As you can see, dog enrichment activities can fit every dog and schedule. If you’re unsure what your dog will like best, try a few of these activities and see what thrills your dog most. You want to supervise these enrichment activities and prevent your dog from eating cardboard or fabric.

When you make your dog’s life fun, you strengthen your bond with your dog because you’re doing things together. Plus, you incorporate regular dog training and mental exercise into your daily routine, creating a great dog who can go anywhere and make you proud.