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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Angevine

Six Ideas for Canine Enrichment to Improve your Dog’s Daily Life

Updated: Apr 4

To “enrich,” as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient.” When we talk about enrichment for our animals, this is the goal! We hope to fulfill their species or breed-specific needs through games, toys, and other various activities. But what are those needs? Luckily, we can make some pretty good inferences about the kind of activities that may help our dogs to feel fulfilled.

Our first focus with any animal is health and wellness. This includes veterinary care, hygiene, and diet, but also extends to security, safety, independence and problem solving! If something in one of these categories is amiss, we address those problems before progressing to actual  enrichment.

Physical and mental exercise, social interaction, sensory stimulation, species-typical behaviors, and even relaxation practice, are some of the key enrichment categories to take into account when you start to think about what kind of activities your dog may benefit from. While some of these may overlap, they are all important to consider. 

Please keep in mind: every dog will be different! Your childhood labrador may have loved to fetch, but that does not mean your new terrier will enjoy it. An activity is only enriching if your dog participates and enjoys it. Their preferences and needs may change over time or in new environments, so don’t be afraid to try something new if it seems like the activity is no longer fulfilling their needs. With that in mind, let’s break down some of the types of enrichment.

  1. Physical Exercise. This one is pretty standard.  All dogs need some kind of movement, in varying amounts. This can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood, (bonus points if you change up your walk to keep it interesting,) but walking is not the only way to meet your dog’s physical needs. Playing fetch, tug-of-war, climbing obstacles, using flirt poles, or playing hide-and-seek around the house are just some of the other ways we can keep exercise fun for your dog.

  2. Mental Exercise.  This category overlaps with many of the following categories. Mental exercise is imperative for your dog! Puzzle-games, foraging, and positive reinforcement training are a few of my favorites. Teaching new skills from tricks to relaxation and calming exercises can be game-changing when it comes to your dog’s mental health.

  3. Social Interaction. Dogs are a social species, but that doesn’t have to mean they all want the same kinds of socialization. I have met many dog-centric dogs, who thrive on supervised play dates with other friendly dogs, but that’s not the case for all dogs. Snuggle time or play with a people-centric dog is just as good, and even more rewarding for dogs that are happier with people, or even just their people! They don’t need to have doggie-BFFs to fulfill this need. The most well-socialized dogs don’t need to meet every other dog or person they see. Group classes are fantastic for this type of practice.

  4. Sensory Stimulation. This is a broad category. We want to make sure the sensory stimulation is enough for our dog, but not overwhelming. Introducing novel objects or experiences is important for a well-adjusted and confident dog. This can include new smells, sights, and sounds, to name a few. K9 Nose Work is an amazing way to do this, encouraging the natural dog behavior of sniffing. Taking a walk in a new area and introducing new toys and games can help a dog who needs more stimulation. Implementing visual barriers or playing music to drown out scary sounds (such as fireworks or the garbage truck) is beneficial for a dog who is overstimulated and needs a break.

  5. Species-Typical Behaviors. These are the normal canine behaviors that are specific to our dogs. Digging, sniffing, foraging, licking, shredding, and barking are just a few typical canine behaviors. It’s also good to consider the specific breed of your dog. Think about what your dog was bred to do. Terriers love to hunt and dig, huskies love to pull, and border collies love to herd. These behaviors are normal and healthy, but can be seen as “problem behaviors” for many people. It’s important to find healthy outlets for these behaviors to keep our dogs fulfilled and our homes intact. Try a sandpit for the diggers, hiding treats around the house for the foragers, a herding ball or flirt pole for those working breeds, or puzzle-feeders for rainy days with just about any breed who enjoys hunting for snacks!

  6. Relaxation Practice. While this can often fall into the “Mental Exercise” category, I want to give it space for its own detail. Teaching our pet dogs to relax is often overlooked and it shouldn’t be! Enrichment needs to be balanced with periods of calm. I like working on a “place” or “mat” behavior, giving my dogs a kennel or bed that we consider their “safe space,” and ensuring that between enrichment or play they have adequate time to take breaks. These are just a few of the ways practicing calm will help your dog learn to relax themselves after higher arousal and teach them to be a well-adjusted family member.

Providing enrichment activities for your dog doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment or require a lot of money. Start observing your dog to figure out how they spend time when they are left to their own devices. Try preference tests to determine what kinds of snacks or toys they are the most excited about. If you get stuck or can’t seem to nail down what makes your dog tick, give us a call. Our certified, experienced trainers can always help you find the best option for your dog’s specific wants and needs.


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