It may seem like dogs are happy to just play fetch, go for regular walks and chow down on tasty food twice a day, but dogs are smart cookies. Feeding your dog a healthy, balanced diet goes a long way in keeping them mentally nourished, but another way to boost your pooch’s mood as well as mental stimulation is with enrichment activities. Dogs love playtime, puzzles, games and toys - because just like us, when they problem-solve for a reward, it boosts their confidence and brain power.
There are so many ways to offer your clever pooch an enrichment game every day - read on as we dig further into doggy enrichment and tell you about our favourite enrichment games for dogs.
The verb ‘to enrich’ means to enhance or improve the quality of something; so when we talk about dog enrichment activities, we’re coming up with ways to enhance a dog’s life and wellbeing. Usually it refers to activities that trigger a dog’s natural instincts such as digging or foraging, stimulating brain activities like puzzles or training, or something fun like playing with games and toys.
Dog enrichment is vital to a dog’s quality of life and should be a big priority for you as a dog owner. You may not even realise your dog’s talents and skills without giving them the chance to challenge themselves! Enrichment can also boost a dog’s confidence, calm their nerves and improve the trusting bond between dog and owner.
So what activities can we do with our smart pooch to push their boredom aside and improve their lives each day? Here are a few of our favourite dog enrichment ideas to try out with you and your pooch…
1. Go fetch (classic)
What kind of enrichment list would this be without the all-time classic pastime for dogs? Throwing a ball or toy and having your dog bring it back to you is an easy way to appeal to your dog’s chase and return instincts, as well as great exercise. Play it on a large scale in a field, park or on the beach, or try a mini game in the garden or even indoors.
Sure, not all dogs can ‘fetch’ - some go after the ball then run away with it, others get distracted by dogs or birds while running to the ball, while others switch into tug-of-war mode when it comes to the return stage (see below).
If your pooch is one of those dogs who struggles with fetch, try using healthy dog treats to reward them once they complete one ‘fetch’.
Most pooches love a game of tug, there’s something so fun about trying to take an item from you when you won’t let them. Be gentle when playing tug, as getting too boisterous or vicious with it can cause more harm than good. To play it correctly, be sure your pooch is pulling on the toy or rope more than you are, keep the toy low to the ground, and don’t drag your dog around by the toy unless they are leading.
You could even make your own ‘rope’ by tying old t-shirts or rags together with big, chewable knots.
3. Upstairs, downstairs
Some dogs like to drop and chase a toy up and down stairs. To test this, throw a toy or ball up the stairs and ask your dog to fetch it, then when they’re at the top of the stairs, ask them to ‘stay’ and ‘drop’ the toy. When the ball or toy falls down the stairs, it’s likely your dog will follow the cue to chase after it, then run back up the stairs to do it again.
4. ‘Magic’ tricks
Playing magic tricks with your dog can be very entertaining. A funny game (popular on TikTok) is to get your dog’s attention, hold up a towel in front of yourself, then run behind a door as you drop the towel, giving the impression you’ve disappeared. Your dog will be baffled and try to look for you.
Another great game is to sit your dog at a small table, hide healthy dog treats under one of three upside-down cups, and move the cups around to test your dog’s reactions. You could even try asking them which cup the treat is under and lift the cups until they find the treat (note: only patient dogs will respond to this!).
5. Digging for gold
We all know dogs love to dig - where they are allowed to dig is a trickier conundrum. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, taking a dog to dig in the sand is a huge source of enjoyment for them, and causes less of a mess than letting them go mad in the garden. If your pooch hides treats by burying them in the garden, there’s a few reasons why that might be.
6. Toy changeover
If your dog has a collection of toys, it’s like some get more attention than others. Why not hide a few away for a couple of weeks, then swap them, so toys are always on rotation? Your pooch will feel like they’ve been treated to new toys and get some fresh mental stimulation from their differences. Tip: perhaps don’t try this with their favourite toy!
7. Train to win
Training your pooch new tricks is the perfect way to entertain them, build their confidence and create new neural pathways in their smart doggy brains. If they don’t know already, teaching them to give you a paw, sit, roll over, reach up on their hind legs or jump through hoops are great beginner tricks to learn. Be sure to reward them with a tasty doggy treat whenever they get it right.
8. Hunting for treats
Dogs have strong search instincts, especially breeds such as Basset Hounds, Beagles and Border Collies. Set up a scavenger hunt in the house or garden, with treats hidden in easy to reach places so they’ll follow their nose to seek the rewards. It helps if the dog treats are strongly scented - perhaps use natural beef jerky for dogs or make your dog treats juicier with a bit of warm water.
9. Interactive feeders
Another way for your dog to work for their treat is to use interactive feeders or puzzle toys. These gadgets usually require your pooch to spend some time using hatches, levers, balancing, nooks and crannies in order to release the treat hidden inside. It’s a smart way of encouraging slow feeding and it keeps them occupied - particularly if you’re going out for a few hours.
10. DIY doggy puzzles
As well as shop-bought enrichment toys, you can easily make your own using items around the house. Try the following:
11. Games in the garden
If you or your children are playing in the garden, your pooch will love to get involved and play, too! Singing and dancing games, popping bubbles, playing chase or kicking a football may seem like human games, but dogs can’t tell the difference and will only see a chance to play.
12. Play dates with doggy friends
Dogs are pack animals by nature, and even shy girls and boys should get a lot out of socialising with other dogs. If you have a friend with a dog, why not invite them around for a play date? If your dog isn’t the most confident around other pooches, it’s still advisable that you take them for walks in places where they can see other dogs around them.
Do you use other dog enrichment activities to boost your dog’s mood? We’d love to hear about them. Meanwhile, if you’re planning to set up some dog enrichment games for your pooch, try using Pooch & Mutt’s range of grain-free treats for dogs to give them a tasty reward.