Dog enrichment is a very important component of the life of your pet. When you enrich their lives with activities, they become the best version of themselves, often confident, obedient, and relaxed pets that mix well into the family. Enrichment is not just to teach tricks but rather to help reduce your pet's stress levels and to help encourage the dog to socialize in the proper, meaningful way.
The Benefits of Dog Enrichment
Before considering how to stimulate your pup and encourage them to engage in enrichment activities, consider the importance of it. When done well, this type of mental stimulation for dogs can help provide a wide range of potential benefits, including:
- It aids in reducing stress for the animal, giving them something positive to focus on instead.
- Enrichment activities are a good way to give your pet more control over its environment.
- Even the best pets can be destructive at some times, but this type of activity is designed to utilize that energy in a positive, constructive way.
- It aids in building a bond between you and your pet, helping to encourage proper behavior as a result.
- It stimulates mental health but also can be beneficial to dogs who may not get a lot of exercise otherwise for physical health.
Dog enrichment is certainly beneficial for most dogs, but how do you do it? There are a wide range of ways to encourage this type of activity, and the more methods you use, the better.
Dog Enrichment Activities to Incorporate into Your Dog’s Day
The use of a variety of dog enrichment activities can help your pet to engage more fully with the reward around them, adding value and interest to their lives. Contrary to what many believe, even older dogs can learn new skills and improve their overall mental wellbeing. Here are some of the most effective strategies for stimulating your dog’s life.
Rotate the Dog’s Toys
Your dog does not need to have dozens of toys available to them on a constant basis. That's overstimulation, and chances are good, it will not keep your dog satisfied. Instead, rotate a couple of toys on a regular basis. That way, the dog is starting all over, learning how to play with that toy and engage in the world around them. Keep in mind that many dogs have a favorite toy that they end up using for comfort. Don’t take that one away from them.
Use Dog Treat Puzzles
Dogs are curious and smart animals. They can be an excellent problem solver, too. That is why dog treat puzzles work so well. Use dog stimulation treats in dog treat puzzles to encourage them to work at the puzzle to get to the reward inside. Use these treats just for puzzles so that they are a special item they want to seek out time and time again. You can purchase dog treat puzzles like this that have small areas where the dog has to break open the area or untangle the rope to get to the treat.
Another option is to create some DIY dog puzzles. Use dog treats that you know they will love and add them inside boxes or other items safe for the dog to get into. A simple DIY treat puzzle involves wrapping a few treats in various layers of a cloth towel. Then, tie several of these towels together into a big knot. The dog gets to work at getting the knot open to get to each of the treats within.
Play Tug of War
The simplest of DIY dog mental stimulation is the game of tug of war. It is simple and highly engaging for the dog. Though you should never pull too hard or in a jerk-like fashion, you will find that this type of game is a lot of fun. It is good exercise for the pet, too. You can purchase dog ropes for this that are less likely to hurt their mouths when playing.
Train Your Pet
Dog mental stimulation is critical to keeping their brain working at its best. Training your dog to do new tricks on a consistent basis is one of the best ways to do that. Use dog treats to help you to teach new tricks. Keep in mind that all new tasks and skills like this take time and patience, but most dogs will continue to build on tricks over their lifetime as long as you are willing to work with them. Here are some great tricks that are perfect for mental stimulation for dogs.
- Clicker responding you can purchase a clicker and work with the dog to respond with a dog treat every time the clicker is pressed.
- Basic commands like "come" and "release" are critical to your dog's ability to communicate with you. It's also wise to teach "heel," "stay," and "leave it," as they can be valuable in communicating with the pet over time.
- Teach your dog to ring a bell that is on the door. You can design this trick to encourage them to ring the bell when they want to go outside.
- Dogs love to learn how to do "high five" and "paw," and they are sure to bring a smile to your face when you teach them to "shake hands."
- Did you know you can teach a dog to put away its own toys? Work with them, with the proper motivation in dog treats, and your dog can learn how to gather up all of their toys each night.
There are many other tricks to teach your pet. Work on just one at a time until they master it. Then, move on to another trick. The more you do this, the more your dog learns, but also, the more engaged it is.
Teach Your Dog to Monitor the Neighborhood
While many people don’t like when their dog takes off to bark at the mailperson, there are a lot of good things about teaching your dog to react when something changes in the neighborhood. It's called teaching your dog to neighborhood watch. This is one of the best ongoing forms of mental stimulation for dogs, especially dogs considered to be working dogs, those that have, throughout history, had a job to do. In short, they need a place to see their outside area. You can teach them, using treats, to respond when various things happen, such as when someone pulls into the driveway or when there's another animal in the area.
Keep in mind that they don’t have to bark, either. Often, just providing your pet with a way to watch the neighborhood, including all of the kids walking up and down the street, the wildlife in the area, and even that mailperson – without barking – is still giving your dog something meaningful to do.
Create an Obstacle Course
If you have extra boxes available and some fantastic dog treats, you can create an obstacle course in the backyard or living room that keeps your pet going. Create a path for the dog to follow to reach the treat or other reward at the end. You can also teach them to do various tasks within that obstacle course, such as crawl under something or jump over something.
Be sure to change up the course from time to time so they can continue to learn and explore. Add in a wood beam to climb over or an area for them to jump over water. Be as creative as you like and have some fun with it. These are great DIY dog mental stimulation activities, but they will keep you busy, too.
Let Them Smell
Another form of valuable dog mental stimulation comes from the scent. Dogs learn a great deal about their environment by smelling, and the more ways you can provide them with something interesting to smell, the better. A key component of that is to engage in dog enrichment activities like those mentioned here. You can tuck a dog treat into a toy, for example.
Yet, there are other ways that you can use smell to help encourage your pet's mental health. For example, many dogs love to go for walks that are slow, where they can smell the dirt, fences, and trees for other animals. You can also encourage your dog to walk around its own yard to smell the various wildlife in the area. Go to numerous public parks or along various walking trails to continue to change up what they are smelling.
There’s No Wrong Way to Engage Your Dog
Dog enrichment often comes from one-on-one play with their owner and other family members. Set up playdates with other dogs. Spend some time going for car rides. You can find a wide range of dog enrichment activities that they not only find beneficial for brain health but that they are also enjoying. Consider adding a few new ways to stimulate your pet. With a few new high-value dog treats, your dog is sure to have plenty of motivation, too.