Canine Enrichment – What is it?

We love walking or running with our dogs and we all know about the importance of physical exercise to help keep our dogs fit and healthy but sometimes we forget that its not just their legs that need tiring out – but their Brains too!

Dogs are incredibly smart animals, and its key that we provide them with lots of mental stimulation to exercise their brains as well as keeping them physically active. If a dog doesn’t have an appropriate outlet for their brain they can quickly get bored, and bored dogs often find their own ways to entertain themselves in the form of unwanted or problem behaviours, such as digging a hole in the garden or chewing up your expensive shoes.

So, what is Canine Enrichment? It Involves giving your dog opportunities to engage in behaviours that are instinctual or natural, such as digging, chewing, puzzle solving, chasing, sniffing and searching – the sort of thing that they would do in the wild.  Zoo’s have been doing these sorts of things for years for their animals.  These sort of activities all help to enhance and improve your dogs mental state by challenging and exercising their brains and their bodies. Enrichment activities encourage your dog to think, to problem solve, to become more confident, to solve problems and puzzles and can they actually be just as tiring as a big walk.  Having some enrichment games up your sleeve can be really handy for times when you might be unable to walk your dog of if you have a puppy or a dog that is required to rest.

Allowing your dog to have lots of opportunities for Sniffing has massive benefits for dogs, while us humans are mostly visual creatures dogs are mostly about the smells, so it’s really important that while on walks we take the time to let them do plenty of sniffing.  Sniffing helps dogs to relax, can lower their heart rate and be very mentally tiring.  I try to do scent work with my own dogs as often as I can and can see it is very beneficial in helping them to relax – especially our rescue dog – Briar.

Many studies, especially those conducted by Zoos have shown that enriching an animals environment improves the psychological and physical well-being of animals, and dog re homing centres have discovered that enrichment can make the dogs more adoptable. Not only that but it can help your dog to live a happier, healthier and longer life, and improve the bond between dog and owner.

And the best part about Canine Enrichment is that it doesn’t have to be an expensive activity – you don’t need special equipment or toys – but you will need a bit of imagination.

If you should decide to sign up to our 5* Pet Sitting Service or Dog Home Visit Service then we’ll bring along some of these games and others to play with with your dog or pet to help enrich their lives and bring them joy and leave them calm and relaxed. 

See below for our favourite games/activities that I like to play with my own dogs:

Muffin Tin with Treats and Tennis Balls – Yep, its as easy as it sounds, put some treats or your dogs food at the bottom of a muffin tin and put tennis balls on top. Your Dog will need to snuffle around and move the tennis balls with their nose to get to the treats. Some dogs might find this quite easy but its still giving them a fun activity to do and you can keep replacing the treats and keep the game going for a while.

Towel Stuffed with Treats – Another easy one: Grab a towel and lie it flat and scatter with treats then roll the towel up. Your dog will have to figure out how to un-roll the towel to get the treats.

Tennis Ball Puzzle

Scatter Feed in Grass – Ditch the dog bowl and just chuck your dogs kibble around the garden instead, and encourage them to go and sniff out the food. This could keep them busy for quite a while and will help to tire them out and be much more fun than eating out of a bowl. If your dog has never done this before try and keep the food in a small area – expand the area as your dogs gets the hang of this.

Snuffle Mat – A special mat designed with strips of fleece that allows you to hide treats within the fleece. By burrowing the treats in the mat it encourages your dog to sniff and search for the treats. This is another great way to feed your dog without using a dog bowl we got ours from Happy Paws Dog Wear – they have a big selection of Snuffle Mats and can even custom make them in your favourite colours.  Our dogs thoroughly enjoying eating out of their snuffle mat, and its a nice calming activity for them.

Stuffed Cardboard Loo Roll Tubes – Save up of your Toilet Roll tubes and stuff them with treats and fold the ends over – to make it even harder you can even stuff with paper (I like to re-use brown paper that comes as packaging in parcels) I then add all the stuffed folded tubes into a box and give the box to the dogs, or hide the tubes around the house or garden. They LOVE to destroy things so getting to rip up and dissect the cardboard to get to the treats is a particular favourite of theirs.

The Kong – I can’t do a post about Canine Enrichment and not mention the Kong; Its probably the most famous Canine Enrichment Toy out there, and for good reason. Its so versatile, its can be stuffed, frozen, makes a brilliant alternative to feeding out of the bowl, it bounces, it’s unpredictable, its tough and long lasting, great for teething dogs or strong chewers. Its certainly a staple in our Enrichment toy collection. I regularly feed our boys from the Kong, sometimes I freeze it for a hours before to make it last even longer. Other times I’ll use it to make my own dog friendly ice cream for the summer to help keep them cool.

The Kong in my picture below is stuffed with Banana, frozen Raspberries, cucumber, Peanut Butter (dog friendly) and all mixed together with Yogurt then frozen.  This was enough for 2 Kongs.

Natural Chews and Bones (Raw- never cooked bones) – Never underestimate the power of a good chewing session for a dog! Chewing and gnawing is brilliant enrichment and can be incredibly relaxing and therapeutic for a dog and can help a stressed dog to relax, its also a great Jaw work out and helpful in keeping teeth clean.  If you have a dog that or Puppy that chews items it shouldn’t its also a good idea to give them an appropriate outlet for that behaviour by giving something they can chew on.  I only give my dogs natural treats such as pigs or cows ears, fish skins, bully sticks – you won’t find any nasty chemicals, toxins or preservatives in these sorts of chews like you will in Rawhide. We get all of ours from Peppers Natural Pet Pantry on the outskirts of Camborne, Cornwall. where they have a brilliant selection of treats and chews and IMO you’ll be hard pushed to find anyone locally with a greater knowledge and understanding of Canine Nutrition.  Giving your dog a chew is probably one of the easiest and quickest forms of enrichment you can do for your dog.

Rolo and Happy Chomping on some Bully Sticks (with Diesel & Pepper in the background)