Exercise is super important for dogs, but as pet owners we need to also enrich our dogs' minds. Enrichment activities are essential to their physical and mental well-being — plus they can be fun for us and our pets!
Getting started is easy. Here are 10 simple enrichment ideas to try with your dog.
- Feed your dog meals in a food puzzle or Kong. Giving your dog meals in a puzzle or a toy like a Kong offers them a rewarding problem solving activity they can look forward to every day. These can alleviate boredom, which can lead to less-than-desirable behaviors. Food puzzles can also help to slow down your dog’s eating to prevent bloat. Tip: If you have multiple dogs, separate them with a gate when using food puzzles to prevent potential conflicts.
- Take a different route. Going on the same old walk every day gets dull for dogs (and probably for you too!) Set out and explore new trails or neighborhoods with your pup. Try out different terrain like a beach walk or a gentle sloping hike.
- Let his nose do the walking! Give your dog plenty of time to sniff things when you go on walks, as this can help them burn as much energy as going on a walk. Dogs rely on their noses to tell them important things about the world around them. The olfactory system in dogs can distinguish a staggering variety of scents - and can pick up things that can't even be seen at all.
- Teach your dog a new trick. Start out with something easy like rewarding your dog when he checks in with you during walks. This has the added bonus of helping when you need to distract your dog from something, like chasing a squirrel or barking at the neighbor’s dog. Tip: Use high-value treats like tiny pieces of ham or cheese. Not sure how to get started? There are many dog trainers who offer group or individual classes or even come to your home to train your dog.
- Encourage foraging skills. Buy or make a snuffle mat, a toy that gives your pet an opportunity to sniff and search for hidden treats. Most dogs (and cats too!) will enjoy sniffing through the mat to find extra treats. If your dog likes this, you may want to also consider taking him to nosework classes.
- Play with a friend. Set up a date for your dog to run around with another dog friend in a fenced yard. (If they haven't met before, start out by walking the dogs with a friend in parallel several feet apart beforehand in a neutral location to see how comfortable them are with one another.)
- Reinforce recall. This is not only fun for your dog, it's very important for their safety to make sure they consistently come when called. This way if they accidentally get loose you’re able to help make sure they return to you safely. You can reinforce recall by periodically calling your dog to you when you're out on a walk or they're running around in the yard. Reward them with treats when they come to you. Start out teaching recall while keeping your dog on a long lead, and be sure they return consistently before trying this off leash. This video shows you how to teach a puppy to come when called – but it works for dogs of all ages!
Hint: Use an enthusiastic, happy voice to call your dog to you and always reward them when they do. Face the direction you want your dog to go in, so if you want them to come toward your door, for example, turn toward the door and call them in an upbeat voice.
- Use lickimats or chew toys. Lickimats deliver small portions of a dog’s favorite treat to them over time as they lick or chew the toy. Lickimats as well as chew toys like antlers can help soothe an anxious dog. Safety tip: Supervise dogs with items they might ingest, especially if they're giving for the first time.
- Try out an agility course. Many dog training centers offer introductory and advanced agility training classes, which are a wonderful way to help your dog gain confidence - and to strengthen your bond with your dog. In this sport, you learn to direct your dog through a variety of obstacles like a tire jump, a tunnel, and a weave pole.
- Create an obstacle course in your backyard. Give your dog plenty of opportunities for climbing and jumping by creating a DIY obstacle course.