A cockapoo licking frozen yoghurt from a licky mat

As devoted dog owners, we’re well aware of the physical needs of our furry companions – the daily walks, the playtime at the park. But what about their mental needs? Just like us, dogs require mental stimulation to thrive. Encouraging activities that engage their senses and intellect can do wonders for their overall happiness and wellbeing. In this guide, we’ll delve into the world of canine enrichment, exploring easy and affordable ideas that will not only keep your dog entertained but also foster their cognitive abilities and prevent boredom. From scent-based adventures to food puzzles, we’ve got you covered with a range of activities to try at home and on your outdoor excursions. Your dog’s tail will be wagging with gratitude!

Scent based enrichment

Getting your dog to use their nose and sniff out treats is a really simple, but effective enrichment idea. Sniffing is a natural behaviour for dogs and helps them to learn information about their environment. That’s why on walks, it’s likely your dog likes to stop and have a good sniff. Let them!

At home, one game I play with Schlappohr, and one that you can try too, is to hide lots of treats around the flat and get him to find them.

I start by getting him to “sit and stay” in the kitchen (his safe space) whilst I go around the flat and hide bite-sized training treats. I put them low down, high up (high for him anyway), behind things, under things, inside things.

Then I tell him to “go find” and he has great fun running around, using his nose (you can hear him properly sniffing) and finding all the treats that I’ve hidden for him. Sometimes he needs a little help to find the harder ones, so I’ll point him in the general direction. Each time we play this game, I’ll hide treats in different places so that he doesn’t get used to the hiding places and needs to work each time.

Food based enrichment

It’s easy for us to just put our dog’s food into a bowl, but that makes it equally as easy for them to eat it. So why not make it a bit harder for them to eat their food. It’s good for their digestion because they’ll be eating it slower, but is also a simple way to add an enrichment element.

I use different puzzle feeders and lick mats to feed Schlappohr his breakfast, lunch and dinner. It means he has to work that little bit harder to get his food, and use his brain. Here are some ideas. Some of these feeders only work with kibble, but there are plenty that you can use with wet food too.

In the summer, you can combine enrichment with a refreshing treat for your dog, by filling a Kong with something yummy (yoghurt, dog-friendly peanut butter, and fruits for example) and putting it in the freezer. These will keep your dog occupied for ages!

A cockapoo eating frozen treats from a Kong for enrichment purposes

Lots of us buy online these days, and what do you do with all the cardboard packaging that your delivered goods come in? Before recycling them, how about using them in an enrichment game. Take some kibble or treats, place them in the scrunched up paper that came in the box, put the paper back in the box and close it, and then let your dog dig around in the box until they’ve found all the treats. Admittedly, if your dog is anything like Schlappohr, you’ll probably end up with lots of ripped up pieces of cardboard, but it’s worth it for the fun your dog will have had!

Snuffle mats are another great way of hiding kibble and treats. I made one during lockdown (I know that seems like a lifetime ago), using pieces of felt and a shower mat with holes in it. It didn’t break the bank and is still going strong. I hide treats among the long bits of felt and Schlappohr sniffs and digs them out.

Homemade snuffle mat for dogs made with a plastic shower mat and colour pieces of felt

Environmental based enrichment

I mentioned above that sniffing is a natural behaviour for dogs. Whilst it’s easy to take them on the same walks each day, it can be really beneficial to vary the routes. For us humans, seeing the same sights each day can be boring, sniffing the same spots can be boring for our dogs too.

So maybe try a slightly different route in order to stimulate their senses. Allow them to walk on different surfaces, and give them new things to sniff. I vary Schlappohr’s morning and afternoon walks, and try different routes at the weekend. When we go somewhere new he spends a lot more time stopping and sniffing so I know he’s being stimulated and enjoying the “change of scenery”.

You may think that you live somewhere that doesn’t offer this opportunity. I live in London, and whilst it may feel that the environment is the same (built up and lots of concrete) no matter where you walk, it is still possible to give your dog new stimulus because dogs will “see” things that we can’t. A different dog will have walked along this particular pavement, or left their scent on this new patch of grass. Try walking along a different street and see how much more interested your dog is.

You can add some extra enrichment too buy scattering some treats on the grass for your dog to find. Or trying some training outside. Getting them to “sit and stay” outdoors will require more concentration from them than when you do this in the comfort of their home, because of the extra stimuli outdoors.

Training

Whilst physical exercise is tiring for dogs, so is training because it uses their brains. Try doing just 10 minutes of training a day – it will be really beneficial for your dog’s mental wellbeing.

There are lots of ideas online for new tricks to teach your dog. They may know the basics, like sit, down, stay. But what about training them to touch a target with their paw. Weave between your legs. Or jump into your arms. If they don’t know the basics, now is a great time to start – take a look at these three basic commands.

Schlappohr loves to please me, and I can see the joy in his face when we’re learning a new trick; knowing that there are plenty of treats coming his way when he gets it right! Here he is “sitting pretty” although admittedly he has a look of concentration on his face rather than joy (think he’s focussing on keeping his abs tight!)

A cockapoo sitting on his haunches

There are some great training tips and tricks by Kikopup here.

Rest

Don’t forget that enrichment can be tiring for your dog. So whilst it’s important to build enrichment into their daily lives, it’s equally important that they get enough rest. So allow your dog to have some down time too. After a game of hiding and finding treats, maybe it’s time for a cuddle on the sofa!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

LONDON DOG PHOTOGRAPHER CAPTURING TREASURED MEMORIES

07734 529710

Pawfect VIP

Become a Pawfect VIP to receive special offers via email.