Enrichment Activities for Dogs – Including Clever Dog Enrichment Toys You Can Make Yourself!

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Last fall I wrote an article about decompression walks for dogs. People told me what a difference decompression walks made for their dog’s anxiety and reactivity and asked about other enrichment activities for dogs.

So today we’re going to look at cognitive enrichment for dogs, including how to make your own dog enrichment toys.

Canine enrichment ideas are a growing trend in the dog-owner world. Trainers are starting to understand that cognitive enrichment for dogs is a tool they can teach their clients that helps with numerous behavioral issues.

Enrichment for shelter dogs is another great application. Dogs in shelters are living in a very stressful environment with little mental or physical stimulation.

Shelter staff and volunteers are coming up with dog enrichment ideas to lessen shelter-induced stress and make shelter dogs more adoptable.

What are Enrichment Activities for Dogs?

Enrichment activities stimulate the dog’s mind. They might involve physical activity, they might not.

Some dog enrichment activities involve solving some sort of puzzle, i.e. problem solving in order to gain access to food or a toy. Others stimulate the dog’s senses, such as scent games.

How Enrichment Activities for Dogs Help

Cognitive enrichment activities engage and stimulate your dog’s mind. The problem solving mentally tires him out and increase his confidence.

Bottom line? Enrichment activities make your dog happy, more content, and better behaved.

DIY Enrichment Toys for Dogs

There are a ton of dog enrichment toys hitting the market. But if you’re on a budget like I am, you can’t afford to buy all the toys you want.

This list of DIY enrichment toys for dogs contains easy, inexpensive options that you can make for your dog.

Toilet roll tubes

Put some treats inside and squash the ends of the tube shut.

Toilet paper tube enrichment toys for dogs

Cardboard box of treasures

Surprise cardboard box dog enrichment toy

Fill a cardboard box with a mix of crumpled up newspaper, treats or kibble, and toys and let your dog dig out the hidden treasures!

Towel Food Dispenser

Hide treats or kibble in a rolled-up towel and let your dog figure out how to unroll it to get them out.

PVC food toy

Sheltermedicine.com posted these instructions for making an easy food dispensing toy from PVC pipe.

DIY dog enrichment toy made from PVC
shelter dog playing with dog enrichment toy

Stuffed ball

ball stuffed with fabric strips enrichment toys for dogs

This requires you to purchase the JW Pet Hol-Ee Roller ball, but it’s only about $5.

Cut some old t-shirts or other fabric into strips, then stuff the ball with your strips of fabric and some dog kibble here and there.

This one is great for stuffed animal shredders, they get the satisfaction of pulling the guts out of the toy, and you get the satisfaction of getting to stuff it again instead of throwing it away!

Spinning PVC toy

This idea is genius! Tracy Donaldson of the_bryis_dog_trainer posted this video on her Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B0ODBZphwIQ/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=embed_video_watch_again

Enrichment Activities for Dogs

In addition to enrichment toys for dogs, enrichment activities can also engage your dog’s brain and tire him out.

Scatter feeding

Instead of feeding your dog its kibble in a bowl, use meal time to provide your dog with a fun activity! You can scatter and hide your dog’s kibble around a room in the house, or scatter it around your yard.

Hide the toy or treat

This game is hands down my dog’s favorite.

Each night after dinner we go to his toy basket and he chooses one. Then I put him in a down stay, go to a different room, hide the toy, and release him to come and look.

Start with the toy in easy places then gradually get harder if the dog is doing well. I can hide it in really hard places now, it’s fascinating to watch him catch of whiff of the toy then start methodically sniffing the area to hone in on the location.

Trick Training

Clicker training your dog is a great enrichment activity.

Teach something fun that you can show your friends and family – like fetching the newspaper, picking up toys and putting them back in the toy basket, giving a high five, or sneezing! (Yes – sneezing. You sneeze and your dog sneezes back, it’s hilarious!)

Work for 5-10 minutes at a time, make sure you keep it fun and stop before your dog is bored or frustrated.

Free Shaping Clicker Game

This one is a little harder to learn, but really fun, especially if you have a crazy smart dog. The goal is to get the dog to guess what you want it to do by clicking successive approximations of the desired behavior.

When we taught this activity to our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (crazy smart dog), he started to know that when my daughter got out the clicker and waited that he had to guess what activity would earn him a reward.

Sometimes it was climbing on the couch, sometimes putting feet on a box – he would zoom all over the room trying to get a click and treat clue to help him figure out what behavior produced it.

Karen Pryor has an excellent article about it called Free Shaping With a Clicker, I would recommend reading it so you are doing it correctly, otherwise it may be frustrating for your dog.

Too Busy to Make Enrichment Toys for Dogs?

**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them! By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**

If you have some extra cash to spend, there are some really fun enrichment toys for dogs on the market. Here are a few to consider:

Snuffle mat

The snuffle mat is one of my staple enrichment/feeding toys. It slows down fast eaters, and mentally stimulates each dog that uses it.

snuffle mat enrichment toys for dogs

Trixie Windmill Mad Scientist Food Puzzle Toy

This one is a fun one, the dog has to spin the plastic bones to make food come out.

Interactive Spinning Food Dispenser

This is similar to the PVC do it yourself toy in the above section.

interactive dog food spinning toy enrichment toys for dogs

Idapet Rubber Food Ball

This is a great toy to keep your dog busy in a crate. They are about the size of a tennis ball, and the rubber is very flexible, just pull open the “jaws” and slide in the kibble.

Rubber food ball dog enrichment toys

Outward Hound Squirrel Hide and Seek Toy

The supersize interactive squirrel toy is great for dogs who love to de-stuff their toys. Mine learned to bring me the trunk once she had emptied all the squirrels out to get me to refill it!

squirrel hide and seek enrichment toys for dogs

Outward Hound Nina Ottosson Dog Puzzle Toy

This is a “level 3” toy, i.e. it’s more complex and really gives the dog a mental workout.

Nina Ottosson dog enrichment toys

Want to Learn More About Dog Enrichment Activities?

If you want to learn more about dog enrichment and why it’s so beneficial for your dog, or if you want to expand your dog enrichment activity list, here are 3 great resources:

1. Join the Facebook group Canine Enrichment

2. Brain Games for Dogs: Fun Ways to Build a Strong Bond with Your Dog and Provide It with Vital Mental Stimulation 

Brain Games For Dogs book about Enrichment Activities for Dogs

3. Canine Enrichment for the Real World: Making It a Part of Your Dog’s Daily Life

Canine Enrichment Book containing dog enrichment activities

Enrichment Activities for Dogs Will Strengthen Your Relationship and Help Calm & Balance Your Dog

Each night after I play Hide the Toy with my dog, he is so incredibly happy. Check out this grin:

Tico the dog smiling

If it’s one of those days when he’s being a pain in the butt, I will play a short game of it in the morning. It levels out his energy and gets his brain to stop bouncing all over.

Another person I know noticed that when she took her dog on a decompression walk that the dog didn’t obsessively lick his leg afterward (which he normally does). I would bet that adding some other enrichment activities and toys would also have a beneficial effect on his anxiety and obsessive licking.

Dog enrichment activities are clearly a great tool which helps high-energy dogs, anxious dogs, and dogs with compulsive behaviors. Plus they are just plain fun for any dog!

Want to see more dog enrichment toys? Check out this article about mentally stimulating activites for dogs article for a great variety of toy ideas, including one that will play a treat dispensing game with your dog while you’re not home!

Have fun playing with your dogs!

Naturally,

Karen

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Karen Pedersen Written by:

Karen is an independent copywriter who loves dogs and everything about them. She is married to Scott, has 4 kids, and likes to take a natural and holistic approach to living and pet ownership.

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