How to provide environmental enrichment for dogs

Environmental Enrichment Definition

Environmental enrichment, also known as behavioral enrichment, is the process of making your dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. This concept originated in zoos. Zookeepers understood that animals’ psychological and mental health is just as important as their physical health.

This is just as true for your dog as it is for an animal in a zoo. When you compare the lives of animals in nature, there is a huge difference in their activity levels. Animals in nature fill their days with challenging activities such as hunting, scavenging, foraging, and gathering food.

Consequences of not providing environmental enrichment for your dog

Even with the best of intentions, our busy lifestyles seldom provide our dogs with the level of activity and mental enrichment they need. This is especially true when your dog is home alone a lot. To learn more about leaving a dog home alone while you are at work see here.

The main consequence of not providing your dog with ways to be stimulated and occupied is that it results in boredom. Boredom is one of the main causes of many dog behavior problems. This can include destructive behavior, nuisance barking, digging, and even escaping. By enriching your dog’s environment you will see an improvement in any behavior problems you may be experiencing.

It is crucial to ensure your dog gets sufficient physical exercise. For a guide to how much exercise your particular dog needs see here. However, mental stimulation can tire a dog just as much as physical activity.

Environmental Enrichment Ideas for Dogs

Providing environmental enrichment for your dog doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it is quite simple but does require a little creativity. It is also important to mix things up and vary the inputs you provide. If things never change your dog will sooner or later become bored.

Here are some suggested ideas to provide environmental enrichment you may wish to try.

Dog enrichment box

To make an enrichment box you simply need a larger cardboard box, some smaller boxes, empty toilet rolls, and newspaper. Put treats in the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap them in a newspaper and fill the box up. You can also put in a chew toy or stuffed Kong so they have something to settle down with when they are finished.

You may have a mess of shredded paper to clean up. But what are a few minutes of tidying for hours of fun and enrichment for your dog?

Watch the video to see how to make an enrichment box for your dog.

Mirror

Provide a mirror for your dog to engage with. Every dog reacts differently to seeing their reflection in a mirror usually thinking it is another dog. This can be quite funny to watch. If your dog is scared of the reflection in the mirror or even shows aggression it is probably not for them.

This funny video shows the reactions of some dogs.

Provide Chew Toys

Dalmatian chewingChewing is a natural instinctive behavior for a dog and has many benefits. This can include dental health and redirects them from the destructive chewing of your household items. It also has psychological benefits by providing mental stimulation and providing stress relief.

When a dog chews they release endorphins to their brain giving a feel-good and relaxing feeling. For more on the benefits of chewing and the best chew toys see here.

Digging

Digging is also a natural instinctive behavior for a dog. Dogs dig when trying to get warm or stay cool, to relieve boredom, to bury valued resources such as bones, and as a means of escape from the yard. Many breeds also dig naturally such as earth dogs like terriers and Dachshunds when hunting ground-dwelling vermin.

Westie digging toysThis digging behavior can become a problem if they are digging up your yard or even your carpet and furniture. You can’t really train an instinctive behavior out of a dog, but you can redirect it.

If your dog has a habit of digging up your yard, try a dig box for them. This way they can provide for their nature digging instinct without ruining your garden. Check out the range of Sand Pits on Amazon.

Alternatively, consider the iDigg dog digging toy. This is the first dog toy that has been specially designed to cater to your dog’s natural digging instinct. You simply hide their favorite toy or treats in the flaps and let them dig away to uncover the hidden treasure.

Not only will the action of digging help burn off pent-up energy, but the mental challenge of working out how to get to the goodies will help to tire them also.

Check out the video to see how this works or view the iDig Go on Amazon.

For more dog toys for diggers see here.

Puzzle and food stuffing toys

Interactive puzzle toys are one of the best ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog. These generally involve your dog having to work out how to get a treat or food stuffed inside out and can keep your dog busy for a long time. For the best puzzle toys for dogs see here.

toy enrichmentThe Kong for dogs is probably one of the best food stuffing toys for dogs. They have multiple uses such as stuffing with food or treats giving your dog a challenge to get to the goodies. They also double as the perfect chew toy for dogs. Kongs are also great for a fun game of fetch when you are home as their unique shape means they bounce in unpredictable directions.

To learn more about how to use a Kongs for dogs see here.

Licks Mats

Lick mats are a great enrichment mat for your dog. Perfect for dogs that eat too quickly or who get bored easily, just fill with tasty food to keep your dog entertained. These mats can be used as a boredom buster, to make smaller meals last longer, and can be used to encourage calm behavior in stressful situations such as fireworks. The mats are non-slip and easy to use.

To use the Lickmats, all you have to do is spread soft food on the top surface of the mat. We recommend using, peanut butter, mashed-up dog food, or natural yogurt.
You can even freeze the Lick mat for a cooling treat on a hot day and to make the treats last even longer.

View Lick Mats on Amazon.

Scenting games

A dog’s sense of smell is one of their main senses. By stimulating the nose you are stimulating the brain. There are a number of ways a dog can do scenting activities when they are home alone. If your dog is outside in the backyard while you are out, try splashing a small amount of beef or chicken stock around the section. You only need to splash a small amount of the stock in various places. This will keep your dog intrigued and occupied for a long time.

Another scenting game whether your dog is inside or outside is to hide treats and chews for them to find. You can also do this with a stuffed Kong or puzzle toy. This way they get the fun of locating the toy and then get to work on the challenge. The first time you do this show your dog that you have hidden the goodies so they know to look for them.

Self-playing dog toys

Provide your dog with toys they can play and entertain themselves with. Some of these self-entertaining dog toys are only suitable for outside use. These are great for when your dog is alone in the backyard. Many others are fine for inside or outside use.

This type of toy range from a tug of war toy like a spring pole to interactive toys like the Wicked ball. For more suggested self-playing dog toys see here.

Wicked Ball

If your dog is ball mad then the Wicked Ball is the ultimate moving dog toy for them. The magic ball runs and bounces all by itself and the LED light adds another level of engagement for your dog. No App or remote controller required.

It has several settings such as the Intelligent Companion mode. In this mode, the Wicked ball has 10 minutes of play and 30 minutes of rest. If your dog pushes or hits the ball it starts the play cycle again. It also has three reaction modes (gentle, normal, active) so you can set it to suit your dog’s mood.  Due to its obstacle avoidance system (collision sensor), it doesn’t get stuck in tight spots.

The Wicked ball is durable and dog safe and is also waterproof so can be played with when swimming. It also has a treat hole for dogs that are food motivated.

View the Wicked Ball on Amazon.

 Automatic moving chase toys

An ideal way to stimulate your dog both mentally and physically is to use self-moving dog toys. This type of toy works with your dog’s natural prey drive and chase instinct. There are a number of different dog toys that move on their own including some that have a phone app so you can activate them even when you are not home.

Varram Pet Robot

The Varram Pet Fitness Robot is the newest automatic chase toy for dogs and cats. This device is super smart and ideal to keep your dog active when home alone. Using an app on your iPhone or Android you can schedule when to activate or have it in sleep mode. It also can sense when your pet is near wanting to play. It also has an obstacle avoidance ability and can learn where obstacles are.

The Varram Pet Robot has a few more functions than the other smart chase toys shown below, and as a result, is a little more expensive. It has a built-in treat dispenser to reward your dog for playing. It also provides all the stats and reports on the smartphone app such as monitoring your dog’s activity and how many treats were dispensed.

View the Varram Pet Fitness Robot on Amazon.

Treat dispensing dog camera

A treat-dispensing camera is a great way to engage with your dog even when your not home. These not only allow you to check up on what your dog is up to home alone.

They allow you to give them a treat and some even have two-way communication so you can speak to your dog. With the built-in microphone, they can even send an alert to your phone if your dog is barking.

For more on treat dispensing dog cameras see here.

Environmental enrichment for dogs summary

Environmental enrichment, also known as behavioral enrichment, is the process of making your dog’s living space more engaging and interesting.

Providing environmental enrichment for your dog doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it is quite simple but does require a little creativity. It is also important to mix things up and vary the inputs you provide. If things never change your dog will sooner or later become bored.

Hopefully, there are some ideas here that you can use to enrich your dog’s home environment. Let us know in the comments any environmental enrichment ideas you use.

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