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Enrichment activity ideas

All dogs need daily enrichment to help them be as happy and fulfilled as they can be.

Here are some ideas of different activities you can try at home with your dog

Dog standing behind bubbles

Engage your dog's 5 senses

Sight, Smell, Sound, Touch and Taste, just like us our dogs senses are extremely important to how they explore the world. 

Finding ways to engage their senses helps dogs

  • relax
  • relieves stress
  • leaves them feeling emotionally and physically satisfied
  • lets them have some control over their environment
  • helps alleviate boredom which in turn reduces unwanted behaviours.

The main things to always remember are when you are trying out new enrichment activities are

  • It's meant to be fun. If your dog is showing signs of stress or discomfort, stop. Let them have a sniff around and relax, then next time make it easier for them.
  • Don't push them if they are not showing interest. It just means that you've not quite found what floats their boat yet.
  • Always keep it positive. It's meant to be fun! 
  • Let them get plenty of rest afterwards. Let them relax and processes what they have just learned and experienced.

Activities you can do with your dog covering their 5 senses

1. Sensory enrichment 

Sight - Finding activities that let our dogs natural ability track and find are great fun. 

Sound - Letting our dogs listen to dog tv or the radio give our dogs a chance to experience new sounds and vibrations. Remember to keep the volume low and

Smell - Scent games like 'Go Find', 'Muffin Tin Game', 'Box Hunt'

              - Create your dogs very own Sensory Garden by adding some dog safe herbs in places your dog can reach to sniff.

              - Scent Work - these games are great for dogs who were bread from their heightened sense of smell

  • Select a dog safe essential oil like birch, anise, clove, and or cypress.
  • To introduce your dog to the new scent, take whatever oil you choose, put 1 drop of it onto a cotton swab and put it into a glass jar.
  • Have the jar in one hand and treats in the other. When your dog sniffs/noses at the jar with the scent, praise and bring your treat over next to the jar and treat. In this way, you are helping to make the connection for your dog that you are rewarding at the source of the scent. Now, you can introduce a verbal cue like “search" or "Sniff"
  • When your dog is consistently alerting to the jar of scent, you can begin to create simple hides in boxes like the above box game.
  • Once your dog is consistently nose-bumping the jar of scent in your hand, you can move the jar to the floor. Ask your dog to “search,” and when they bump the jar with their nose, praise and reward with treats next to the jar. This helps reinforce the reward being connected to the scent.
  • You can even go as far as buying some animal scents and using them for these games too. I've not been brave enough to try this yet, but will let you know when I do!

Taste - there are so many dogs safe foods that we can share with our dogs in small amounts to see what they like and expose them to new flavours and textures.

  • Select 6 or 12 foods and chop them into tiny pieces, (the amount you use should be small because they are getting 6 or 12 to explore!)
  • Pop the pieces into the muffin tin and let your dog chose which one they want to have 1st, and watch as they sniff and taste new flavours.

Touch - Some dogs love snuggling in a soft blanket, some enjoy a gentle massage in the evening, and my little Daisy loves getting her paws rubbed before she goes to bed. 

Our dogs are different, and while some want as much physical contact they can get, for others just sitting next to you is enough.

Tellington TTouch can help dogs relax, reduces muscle tension and can help lower stress levels in dogs. Check out our Tellington TTouch guide

2. Nutritional enrichment - the food!

There are LOADS of food games and puzzles available in pet shops and online, but one thing to remember is that not all dogs like the same things. Some love a Kong, where they have to hold the rubber toy in their paws and pick the tasty filling out. Others prefer 'spill' toys, like the Busy Buddy Twist and treat that they have to knock around with their paws to get the treat/ dry food to fall out. 

Nutritional enrichment ideas- these are food based activities and games, and as well all know most dogs LOVE food!

Our favourites are - 

  • Lickimat Tuff & Lickimat Wobble -These are made from pet safe plastic and are perfect for coating in wet food or your dogs kibble that has been soaked in water for a bit. The action of licking is soothing to dogs, so while they are a great enrichment activity, they also help relax and calm dogs. Check out our Lickimat Topping Ideas article
  • Classic Kong and Puppy Kongs - These toys are made from durable pet safe rubber and come in different sizes and strengths. They have holes at the top and bottom with make them ideal for filling with loads of different dog safe foods. Your dog has to hold it with their paws and work to lick their way down to all the tasty filling, and freezing them make them last a bit longer too! Check out our guide to How to fill Enrichment Feeders and Our Favourite Kong Filling Recipes
  • Zogo Flex Toppl - My older girl Flame prefers this to a Kong, because she is too lazy to work hard enough with them! These are great because they have a wider opening at the top and are easier for my senior girl to manage. 
  • K9 Connectables - These are great for building up different pieces and adding to the puzzle to increase the difficulty. You fill the grooves and holes with dog safe food, and freeze them to make them last longer. These can also be used as fetch toys.
  • Snuffle Mats - We love these here at Tails, as we can pop dogs dry food deep into the fronds of the fabric, then they spend ages foraging for their lunch!

These are just a few of our favourites that we use here daily. As we try more out with our own dog and the day care crew I will add them to the list.

3. Physical enrichment 

Depending on your dogs age and physical health and personality will determine what kinds of physical activities they enjoy. 

Some dogs love a run around a field, a swim, or agility. 

Others may prefer playing with toys, enjoying a 'Sniffari' walk, a massage or Tellington TTouch

4. Social enrichment 

Dogs are generally social creatures and enjoy spending time with other dogs of similar temperaments and energy levels. 

Letting them socialise at the park (closely supervised), going out with a group on a dog walk or joining a day care can be great fun for a lot of dogs.

Other prefer their own company and their owner. Always listen to your dog when in social situations and observe how they are feeling. See our Dog Body Language Guide

Taking your dog to visit friends and family can also be an enjoyable experience for them. But remember - this isn't the case for every dog.

5. Occupational enrichment

This means tapping into your dogs breed characteristics and giving them a 'job' to do.

  • Shepherds like to herd so try 'Round up the toys' , agility, flyball 
  • Terriers like to hunt so try a favourite in our house - 'Go Find', - fill an empty cardboard box with some treats or dry food, let your terrier nose the box around to get the food out and then in true terrier style - shred the box! 
  • Retrievers like to retrieve so try playing 'Hide & Seek' or fetch

6. Cognitive enrichment

These activities involve problem solving, thinking and learning. This could be learning new puzzle games together or joining a trick or training class.

Please remember that all enrichment activities should be rewarding for our dogs, either through tasty treats, or enjoyment and satisfaction for them. 

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