6 Environmental Enrichment Tips for Dogs

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Environmental stimulation is extremely important to a dog’s physical and mental health.  Fortunately, there are a number of easy ways to provide a dog with environmental enrichment.

Exercise and training

Daily walks provide both exercise and environmental enrichment. Take some time during the walk to let your dog stop and smell. Try taking different routes to give your dog a change of scenery and smells.

Anything that makes your dog think and work is enrichment, so any type of positive training is a form of enrichment. Obedience training teaches you and your dog skills which enable you to have more enrichment opportunities. If you’ve mastered basic obedience, try a dog sport such as agility, rally, flyball or trieball. Learning tricks is another fun way to encourage your dog to think and problem solve.

Working for food

Food dispensing toys are designed so that a dog must interact with the toy in order to get the treats inside. Some dispense pieces of food when a dog rolls or knocks them around. Others are designed to be stuffed with soft food that a dog has to work to get out. Kongs can be stuffed with a mixture of kibble, treats, or raw vegetables and any type of soft food that is dog-friendly: peanut butter, cream cheese, canned dog food, cottage cheese, etc. You can also plug the bottom of a Kong with cheese and fill it with broth and freeze it, or provide treats frozen in ice cubes. You can provide all or a portion of a dog’s meal in a food dispensing toy, so he has to work for it.

Place some kibble in a brown paper lunch bag and roll up the end, or put some kibble in the middle of a plain piece of paper and ball it up. Hide treats under a box or inside an empty cereal box. Hide treats in various locations around your house so your dog must find them.

Variety is important. Don’t give your dog the same treat in the same way every day. Not all food dispensing toys work with all dogs, and some dogs should only be given certain toys under supervision.

Toys and chews 

It’s important to provide your dog with toys (balls of different sizes and textures, stuffed animals, squeaky things) as well as things he can chew (Nylabones, bully sticks, antlers). Know your dog and what he likes and what he will destroy. Put some toys away while leaving others out, then switch after a week.

Games with humans

Make time to play games with your dog. A game of fetch or keep away engages a dog’s prey drive, provides exercise, and is a fun bonding activity. Play hide and seek – put your dog in a stay and hide, then yell “okay” and have him come find you. Play tug.Try a puzzle designed for dogs.

Environmental

Leave the television or radio on while you’re away. If you have a yard, buy or make a sandbox for your dog and hide toys under the sand. If your dog enjoys water, set up a baby pool.

Social interaction

Dogs are social animals and many benefit from interaction with people outside the family and other dogs. (Interaction with strangers and other dogs may be stressful for some dogs. If that’s the case, don’t do it.) If possible, take your dog with you when you go places, and let him meet other people. Take your dog to dog daycare, go to the dog park, or arrange dog playtime or walks with friends.

Try some of these suggestions, or be creative and make up your own enrichment.  Your dog will appreciate it!

Rebecca Randolph is a blogger, writer, artist, and attorney, but most importantly, a dog mom. You can read about her lab Garth and their adventures at The World According to Garth Riley.

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