Enrichment means meeting an animal’s needs. It’s less about keeping a dog busy or tiring him out and more about encouraging, enabling and empowering him to engage in species-specific behaviors. It keeps dogs emotionally, mentally and physically healthy and helps alleviate and prevent behavior issues.
Truly enriching activities effect positive, observable and measurable behavior change. Let’s say your dog goes bonkers over deliveries. But on days he’s had a sniffari beforehand he only barks for one minute instead of three. Or on mornings you scatter feed his breakfast he’s much calmer and lays down instead of pacing when you leave for work. Let’s paw through three easy dog enrichment ideas that will make a positive impact on your pup.
Dog enrichment idea 1: Scatter feeding
Mealtimes are a must, so why not make them enriching? Scatter feeding is a super easy way to tap into your dog’s innate desire to forage. It works best with kibble, but you can substitute other low-calorie dry foods such as Cheerios to mix it up.
- Measure out your dog’s meal and take him outside.
- Start small. Sprinkle the food in a 2-foot area, encouraging your dog to forage in the landscape for it.
- Increase the sprinkle space gradually to cover as large an area as you can.
If you free feed, scatter feeding probably won’t work. Just one more reason not to free feed your dog!
You can also do this indoors using snuffle mats, blankets, even newspaper if your dog doesn’t eat nonedible items.
And not to worry, scatter feeding doesn’t mean your dog will eat everything he finds outside.
Dog enrichment idea 2: Sniffaris
Dogs’ noses are their superpower. A short sniff walk, or sniffari, can do wonders for your dog’s mental state. Sniffing releases dopamine, the “feel good” chemical in the brain and encourages calmness. Meander wherever your dog’s nose leads you even if it means investigating the same spot for several minutes. Use a long lead so your dog can feel free to explore. And change it up: Walk your dog in different places, take different route, and encourage off-the-beaten-path experiences where new smells abound.
Dog enrichment idea 3: Digging
Yes, you should encourage your dog to dig! Digging is a species-specific behavior we unfortunately tend to punish rather than encourage. And by providing appropriate places for him to dig he’s way less likely to disrupt your garden!
- Build or buy a sandbox and set it up in a spot that gets some shade. Kiddie pools make great sandboxes, too.
- Most dogs don’t need much encouragement to start pawing at the soft sand, but you can always bury treats or a fave toy to get things moving.
- Mark/click when your dog digs.
- If he tries to dig elsewhere in the yard use a positive interrupt (such as “oopsie!” or “sorry” or “too bad”) and gently lure him over to his sandbox with a treat.
- You may need to repeat this several times, especially if your dog was already tearing up the turf.
Enrichment must also be sustainable for the human for the long haul. Figuring out what’s beneficial for your dog may take some time, but once you’ve got a repertoire of activities that benefit your individual dog you can easily provide at least a couple quick opportunities every day that support both your schedule and your dog’s needs.