Canine enrichment takes many forms and means different things to different dogs (and owners!). We all want happy, stimulated, non-destructive dogs. Enrichment will help with that, and the options are almost endless! It’s not just for dogs, every animal, including humans, benefits from enrichment activities. If you watch any of the zoo or animal rescue shows you are likely to find someone creating a food puzzle for a lion, making a game out of feeding time with the bears, or making a food-stuffed toy for the otters. Not only is it fun and enjoyable for us to do this for our animals, but the benefits to our pets are enormous!
What is enrichment?
While dogs enjoy hanging out with us and spending time with us, they can still get bored and restless. A dog without entertainment is likely to create their OWN entertainment, and that’s when destruction tends to happen. Just like any other animal species, including humans, dogs need to be mentally and physically stimulated to lead healthy, happy lives.
So what IS canine enrichment? Simply put, it’s any activity your dog finds enriching. This will differ based on the dog’s breed, life stage, health, and personality. Feel free to experiment and add variety! It’s ok if your dog doesn’t love a particular activity: your dog determines what they find enriching, not you!
Types of Enrichment
Enrichment can be broken down into 5 categories. There is often overlap between what categories enrichment activities would fit into. Below are the 5 categories and a few examples of what types of activities might fit into each category:
- Social – interaction with dogs, people and other animals in safe environments (only if your dog is ready for it!)
- Cognitive – decision-making and problem-solving. This can involve games or puzzles
- Physical – games and other physical activities. Also includes dog sports and agility
- Sensory – anything that engages your dogs senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). Can include massage, scent games, taste testing, music, exposure to different materials
- Nutritional – feeding mats, puzzles, food-stuffed toys, food-based games
- Occupational – dog jobs! Training, playing, digging in their outdoor sand pit
Why is enrichment important?
Enrichment activities help relieve boredom and stress, decrease destructive behaviour and also strengthen your relationship with your dog. It helps to give your dog an outlet, allowing your dog to have a sense of control over their environment. Ultimately, enrichment makes for a happier, healthier dog and a better life partner!
How often do dogs need enrichment?
This will differ from dog to dog, and will also change over the dog’s lifetime based on their stage in life. For example, a puppy or teenager may need more stimulation and enrichment than an elderly dog. Regardless of the life stage, enrichment is still extremely important for your dog. Most experts recommend at least 20 minutes per day. On most days, that would be broken up into smaller activities throughout the day.
For example, your dog may get breakfast in a stuffed Kong. Then they may get a sniff walker that morning, followed by a quick game in the afternoon, and a lickimat for dinner, with a little massage and music in the evening. It is easy to reach at least 20 minutes when you think about it! Not every day will look the same. Variety is important so that activities don’t become monotonous and mundane.
Check out some of our enrichment suggestions below. We will be adding new activities regularly so check back often!