Mental stimulation is essential whether your dog is a high-energy puppy or laid-back older dog. It doesn’t matter if they pick up on training quickly or need a little extra practice to learn new skills. New experiences and learning opportunities will always benefit their well-being.
The best part is, canine enrichment doesn’t need to be expensive or hard to organize. Dog owners have put their minds together to come up with clever ways to keep their pups happy, healthy, and entertained.
Here are a few of their best ideas.
#1 – Frozen Food-Storing Toys
Kongs are most popular, but there are several other types of toys perfect for enticing your dog’s appetite. Fill the toy with anything from peanut butter to yogurt and put it in the freezer. Some dog owners get creative with their recipes and add things like dry kibble, sardines, bully sticks, and mashed bananas. Dogs spend long periods of time with the frozen treat, and they have to use their bodies and minds to get every last lick.
#2 – Spin the Bottle
There are several variations of this fun game, and it’s easy to make your own set-up at home. Dog owner, Mila Vujovic used a tension rod and an empty two-liter bottle with holes cut into it to create an enrichment activity for her two dogs. The goal of the game is to spin the bottle to make treats drop out onto the floor. It can be modified for big dogs and little dogs, and you can make it harder or easier depending on how many holes you cut in the bottle. Mila told iHeartDogs:
“My older dog has shown an increased interest in food and gained confidence while my young pup has shown better problem solving over time and much more patience with food rewards.”
#3 – Hide and Treat
Hide the treat is a game you can play almost anywhere and with any kind of treat-containing equipment. The basis of the game is to hide treats and let your pup use their nose to sniff them out. Some dog owners put food in treat-dispensing toys and hide them in the yard. You can also use homemade pouches, plastic containers, and even Easter eggs. Some of the containers can be easy for your dog to open, but it adds another dynamic to the game if they have to bring their found treasure back to you for their reward.
#4 – Doggy Tether Ball
For dogs that love to chase and play with balls, tether ball is an active way to release energy. The schoolyard game comes with its own set of rules, but your dog will have fun trying to catch the ball as it swings on the rope. They can also use their paws and nose to hit it back to their opponent. Owners of active dogs love the game because it doesn’t involve treats that can interfere with the dog’s diet. Making your own tetherball game is relatively easy if you have a ball, a rope, a pole, and something to mount it all down with.
#5 – Find the Sound
The sense of smell is most often acclaimed as a dog’s best superpower, but their ears are pretty good too. You can engage this sense by having them seek out a sound instead of a smell. Use your phone or a durable Bluetooth speaker to play interesting noises like dogs barking and cats meowing, or you can record yourself saying your dog’s name. Hide the speaker somewhere it’s safe for your dog to find, and watch them follow the sound. Lizabeth and Nathan McCargo with Bellator Basenjis tried this game with their pack. Nathan told iHeartDogs:
“This activity has brought my dogs energy levels down in the evening. I’ve noticed that as I am getting ready for bed they are laying around waiting for me to say it’s bed time. Before they would be running up and down the hallway or getting into trouble.”
#6 – Snuffle Mats
A snuffle mat is a flat mat that looks almost like a shag carpet. It’s usually made from a plastic base and has long strips of fabric tied to it. It works a lot like long grass in that the strips of fabric at least partially obscure anything small you drop onto it. It works best for dogs who like to sniff and scratch as a way to find their food.
#7 – Bottle or Ball Pits
As another version of a snuffling activity, ball pits can be used to engage your dog’s love for digging and sniffing. All you have to do is sprinkle in a few treats with the balls. They’ll jump in and do the rest. If you don’t have dozens of plastic balls laying around, water bottles pulled out of the recycling bin will work just as well. Dump everything into a kiddie pool or large storage container and let your dog explore.
#8 – Bubbles!
Chasing and popping mysterious floating orbs can keep curious dogs active for several minutes at a time. They’ll have fun jumping up to get their prey before it floats away, and the satisfaction of popping a bubble will keep them focused on the game. Bubble machines spray dozens of bubbles a second, or you can use the old-school wand method to join in on your dog’s entertainment.
#9 – DIY Obstacle Courses
Getting your dog involved in agility competitions is great for exercise, socialization, and mental enrichment, but not every pup has access to a full course. If you’re not ready to start your dog in full-on agility competitions, try setting up your own DIY obstacle course. You can use many of the same skills featured in agility with materials you have around the house. Create a hurdle using two chairs and a broomstick. Set up chairs, boxes, cones, or any other kind of stationary object and teach your dog to weave around them. There are countless possibilities, and all you need is a little creativity.
If you’re ready to upgrade to authentic agility equipment, check out our buyer’s guide and favorite home obstacle course must-haves!
#10 – Shredding Fun
The dog toy known best as the “hol-ee roller” or snuffle ball is a durable plastic ball with large holes in it. It’s great for fetch and even tug, and dogs that love to shred their toys get special enjoyment from an easy to set up game. First, you’ll have to cut up a few old t-shirts or find other bits of fabric. Stuff them into the middle of the ball and watch you pup have fun ripping it all out. Unlike that adorable stuffed pig you bought from the store, this toy can be put back together so the fun doesn’t have to stop. For added motivation, stuff small treats into the fabric so your dog has to pull out all the material to get to the good stuff.
Dogs thrive when they have opportunities to use all their senses and natural instincts. The best enrichment activities encourage them to act confidently and think through problems to find a reward. If your dog could use more stimulation on a daily basis, start introducing them to these ideas.