If you are an avid follower of anything “dog” online, you have probably heard the term “enrichment” used when speaking about our canine companions. Have you ever wondered what exactly it means?
Merriam-Webster gives two definitions to the word “Enrich” that I find applicable here.
- to improve the quality of (something): to make (something) better
- to improve the usefulness or quality of (something) by adding something to it
So when we discuss enrichment in terms of our canine friends, it’s fair to say that we are attempting to improve their quality of life by introducing activities that allow them to exercise their natural abilities and urges.
Imagine it like this… Let’s say you are passionate about drawing and painting, but you don’t have the tools to create anything. You may live a fairly happy existence, but without being able to paint you feel unfulfilled. Or maybe you improvise, and you use a Sharpie to doodle all over your walls! (Bad doggie!)
Now let’s say that someone brings you a canvas and the most amazing set of brushes and paints, and you are given the opportunity to just sit and create to your hearts content! Would that make your life better? Would that bring you more purpose and joy? Would that help you resist the urge to mark-up your walls with that Sharpie?
That’s how I imagine our dogs feel. They may have good lives, but when not given opportunities to explore and to sniff, to chew and to play, they are not living their most “enriched” lives. And, they may even improvise and create their own games by digging up your flower bed, or chewing on your furniture! (just like you did with that Sharpie!)
Ok, so now that we have the terminology straight, what kinds of paints and brushes (activities) should you provide your dog with for enrichment? Here are my top choices:
1. Feed your dog with food dispensing toys
Dogs are opportunistic creatures when it comes to their food, and before they were our companions they would hunt and forage to find their next meal.
There are many amazing toys on the market designed to give your dog that “hunting and foraging” experience. One of my favourites is the Wooly Snuffle Mat from PAW5 (pictured above). You simply drop your dog’s dry food or treats onto the mat, and let your dog dig and find them. This particular Snuffle Mat is machine washable which is definitely a bonus in my books!
Another one of my favourite toys is the P.L.A.Y Wobble Ball. You place your dog’s food or treats into the ball, and they roll it around until they get them to fall out. You can adjust the level of difficulty by adjusting the size of the treats, if you like. The Wobble Ball is safe to clean in your dishwasher too which is awesome!
You have to feed your dog anyway, so why not make mealtime a little more fun?
2. Play “search for food” games
Searching for hidden food and treats is one of our favourite games at BrindleBerry Acres. We have long winters and it’s easy to play this game indoors when the dogs are bored and it’s too cold to go outside.
If you have only one dog and you feed dry food, you can hide their meals too. Don’t get too concerned about hiding them well; I simply walk around the house and toss treats around. I throw a few on their bed, some on the couch, and toss a couple behind a door – you get the idea. Obviously, don’t throw treats anywhere you don’t want your dog to explore, or anywhere they could hurt themselves.
I prefer to play this game outdoors and that’s exactly what we do in the summer. I have the dogs wait behind a baby gate while I am hiding their goodies. You may have to show your dog the general area where you’ve tossed the treats, so they know what they are supposed to be doing. Over time, my dogs have learned that “find the treats” means exactly that.
3. Build your dog a sandbox for digging
Pebbles, loves to dig. And we have molehills that are incredibly tempting for her because they smell good and she’s hunting which she enjoys. When she was a puppy, we decided to create a “sandbox” for her, and whenever she dug inappropriately, we would pick her up and put her in the sandbox and encourage her to dig. We even trained her to dig on command, “dig, dig, dig”, and we rewarded her with verbal praise when she used the sandbox in this manner.
Now she uses it a lot on her own. She takes her toys into the sand, digs a hole and then puts her toys in the hole. She then proceeds to dig them back up. Of course, you can bury the toys for your dog if you like! Start by just partially burying your dog’s favourite toy, and encourage them to dig it up. You can later increase the difficulty by burying it deeper and deeper in the sand.
How did we make our sandbox? We found a large tractor tire on Kijiji (Craigslist I believe is the American equivalent) and placed it on top of some weedstop in the yard. We then filled the tire with children’s play sand we got from Home Depot. Easy peesy. It’s been a few years now, and there is still plenty of sand in the box, but we may have to top it up with more sand next year.
4. Provide raw bones and other chews
I recently created a “Q and A” style post on Instagram that describes all about why I feel raw bones are so important. Check out the post and read the comments for more questions and answers! Also be sure to follow me while you are there!
Dog dental health is WAY more important than we give it credit for! So many dogs have gum disease due to tartar and plaque, and most of us have a heck of a time brushing their teeth for them. 😁 . . Contrary to what pet food companies say, dry foods DO NOT help clean teeth. In fact, the carbs found in most of these diets are huge contributors to plaque and tartar build up! So, what do we do? ❓❓❓ . . Our dogs need to be chewing, and my favourite option for teeth cleaning is raw bones. They are economical, and long-lasting, and they require that the dog use many different areas of their mouth (effectively flossing and brushing the whole mouth). ☠️ . . Chewing is also relaxing, and reduces stress. Do you have any questions about choosing bones, or other concerns you may have heard about them? I will have some pretty amazing before and after photos of Kingsley’s teeth coming up in a future blog post. 🐶
5. Play a game of fetch together
Kingsley is the KING of fetch! He loves this game more than ANYTHING in the world! (Scratches on the head come a close second!) Fetch gives your dog the opportunity to get some much needed exercise, and gets you both out of the house. Kingsley likes to hone his catching skills – which are AH-mazing!
I do however have one cautionary note about this fun game! Don’t overdo it! Get yourself a chuck it-launcher to make your life easier, but if you feel any sort of soreness or pain in your shoulder or elbow, you know you are probably partaking in this game too frequently, and your dog may be feeling similar repetitive stress pain.
We watch Kingsley closely for signs of limping or stiffness. He’s on a great joint supplement because he is a large breed dog, and an athlete, and we rest him frequently. Most dogs don’t regulate themselves, so you have to watch out for them!
AND remember to keep your dog’s toenails short and properly trimmed. There are so many reasons why (for another blog post), but if your dog is running and jumping a lot with long nails, they could easily break off nails at the quick and that’s super painful! (Ever had a hangnail? This is worse!). They can also hurt their ankles and toes, even when just walking, so keep those joints and bones healthy with trim toenails!
6. Allow your dog to sniff and explore on walks
My stomach does flip-flops when I see dogs on super short leads for the duration of their entire walk. Walks are supposed to be fun! I understand there are times during a walk when a dog needs to be close to you and in control. For example, you are crossing the street, or a family is approaching you on the sidewalk. However, in situations when it’s safe to give your dog a little slack to sniff and explore DO IT! I call this, “checking their pee-mail”. If you can check your email on a walk, it’s only fair that your dog can too!
I know what you are thinking… “I need my dog to walk nicely, and heel beside me at times. Won’t this teach him to pull and disobey me?” I don’t believe so, and here’s how I get around that conundrum.
I give the sniffing and pulling a command: “Go sniff!” And I give them another command when they need to be close and in control: “close”. If you teach your dog what each means, they will learn when it’s ok to go bat-shit crazy and pull and sniff in the bushes, and when they need to be close by and more under control. If you are unsure of how to teach your dog these skills, have a reward-based trainer help you! It’s worth it to have a professional teach you how to teach your dog!
7. Create safe and compatible play groups
Not all playgroups are created equal. Not all dogs like each other. Not all people know what’s appropriate and not appropriate for their dog to be doing in a playgroup. If you find yourself frustrated at dog parks, and you notice maybe your dog is fearful or just having no fun at all, invite a small select group of dogs over to your yard for a play.
I am an introvert, and I don’t like hanging out with big groups of strangers so I understand when there are dogs just like me that feel the same and don’t enjoy dog parks. But, I do like to create meaningful relationships with smaller groups of friends and hang out with them from time to time.
You may be thinking, “How do I know if my dog likes another dog and wants to be friends?” The answer is… you know! You can tell which dogs your pup gets excited to see. You can tell because they engage in play, and they are both enjoying themselves. Don’t underestimate your gut – you got this!
Set a time every week when your dogs can meet up and mingle. Remember to choose only dogs who are attached to nice people, so you can have fun too!
8. Stuff and freeze Kongs and other treat toys
If you are interested in keeping your dog busy while having guests over, or you just need an activity to entertain your dog on a cold day, stuffing and freezing treats inside of a Kong or a Tux (pictured above) is a great way to give your dog something to do.
I also like to keep these frozen goodies in the freezer and have them on hand to give to the dogs when we leave the house. I feel that these toys are safer than chew sticks or bones to leave with my dogs when I can’t be there to supervise them. If your dog destroys toys like these regularly, you may not want to leave them unsupervised with these either. Every dog is different. Only YOU know your dog!
9. Create a “bobbing for treats” game in the kiddie pool
This is a great game to play on a hot day outside! All you need to do is load up the pool with dehydrated treats, apple pieces, or anything your dog loves to eat that also floats. You can also try this with your dog’s favourite float toys.
Try throwing frozen treats in the pool for bobbing such as frozen watermelon cubes or a few Frozen Broth BrindleBerry Bones, providing the water in the pool is not warm enough to melt them right away.
10. Invest in, or DIY a Flirt Pole
I have heard of Flirt Poles in the past, but have never used one myself. However, if you have a dog with a high prey drive, or who loves to chase, this may be the perfect enrichment toy for you!
Since I don’t have a Flirt Pole, I found a great video made by Atta Pup! explaining all about how wonderful these toys are and how to use them! I am thinking my dogs are really going to love this game!
If you would like to make your own DIY Flirt Pole, it’s really easy and cheap! See the video below!
Well there you have my 10 Favourite Enrichment Activities that Prevent Doggie Boredom! Do you have any activities you partake in with your dog that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about them! Leave your suggestions in the comments!