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Dog with a toy

Enrichment Ideas

Go Find

'Go Find' is a really easy enrichment activity that can incorporate almost any stage of the PMP. This can be started with a basic scattering of food and the instruction for your dog to 'go find'! When your dog understands the concept, you can start hiding their meals/treats in different kinds of containers - I like to use toilet roll tubes (with the ends folded in) as they are always in plentiful supply, and can be 'dissected' for my dog to retrieve her food. As you introduce a new container, show your dog the hiding place and then tell them to 'go find'! As they get better at the game, begin increasing the space used to hide the food (start with a corner of a room, then half the room, then the full room, until you can have them search the whole house!). 'Go Find' can also be played with your dog's favourite toy, a rope that has been sitting in catnip for a week, or anything else your dog loves to play with. If your dog is searching for a toy, make sure you have a good game with it when they find it!

Dogs are natural sniffers, and giving them a fun outlet to use their nose will wear them out much more than a walk around the block. This is the perfect game for a rainy day, and ten minutes of focused sniffing uses more energy than a 30-minute walk!

You can also play 'Go Find' in the garden or at the local park to keep your dog entertained and focused on you if you worry about them straying too far.

White Dog

Enrichment Feeders

Enrichment feeders are great for stimulating your dog's mind and slowing them down or making their mealtime interesting. These include puzzle bowls, Kongs, Licki-mats, snuffle mats and scatter feeding. Depending on the type of feeder, you can fill these with your dog's meals, or give them as a treat for upcoming stressful times or when you need to keep your dog occupied. Items such as the Kong can be frozen with some chopped (dog safe) vegetables, yoghurt, peanut butter, or wet food, and given when your dog needs some quiet time, or if your pup is teething!

Shopping in Pet Store

Hide & Seek

Hide & Seek is a brilliant game for recall practice, and makes finding you tons of fun for your pup! Ideally, start with two (or more!) people standing just a few metres apart, and take it in turns to play 'recall roulette'. Each person should take a turn saying the dog's name, followed by 'come!' and then give your pup loads of fuss and a little game when they come. Gradually extend this game to having one person hold the dog while the other person 'hides' (at first in the room, and then extend to other parts of the house) and have the 'hidden' person shout the dog's name, 'Come!' and then give tons of fuss and games when your dog finds you! As your pup gets good at this game, you can take it into the garden and then the local park to practice recall (but don't hide where you can't see your pup unless there's a second person with your dog!).

Dog Run

Sniffari

A 'Sniffari' is a walk in which your dog's nose leads the way. Many people take their dogs for daily walks only to drag them along at the person's pace without allowing them adequate time to take in the world around them. A dog's nose is their equivalent to our eyes (although much more sensitive!), and dragging them along on a walk is like taking a trip to the Lakes and never bothering to look up from your shoes!

On a Sniffari walk, we take our dogs to a safe place (ideally the woods or somewhere of particular interest and safety away from roads) with no agenda other than to allow our dogs to explore. We follow them wherever they wish to go, letting their noses lead the way. Often our dogs will explore the same small area for half an hour or more, or will follow a particular scent they find especially interesting. These walks will be far more enjoyable for your dog and will give them far more mental stimulation than just chasing a ball a dozen times over.

Dog on a hike

Freework

Freework allows your dog to investigate a variety of different materials, objects, and toys at their own pace, and decide for themselves what they want to focus on. Freework usually includes a variety of enrichment feeders (see Enrichment Feeders on this page), as well as ball pits, steps, bowls, yoga mats, hula hoops, tunnels, sticks/leaves from outside and anything else you have to hand! You can set up your area differently each time, using just some or all of your objects. It's a good idea to start with just 5 or 6 different items, and add in an extra item each time so it doesn't become overwhelming. Scatter a few treats amongst the different items to encourage investigation, and let your dog explore!

This is a great way to introduce different experiences to puppies, especially before they're old enough to go out and see the world! It's also a great way to introduce agility equipment or any specialist equipment you might want to use if you have an activity in mind for your dog. Freework is also excellent for older dogs, or dogs with limited mobility as they can explore novel items at their own pace, without having to walk far.

Golden Retriever

Tearing things up!

While it's common knowledge that dogs need an outlet for chewing, for dogs that are natural dissectors, soft toys are a harmless way for your dog to practise pulling the 'innards' out of an animal. In addition to soft toys, dogs that enjoy tearing things apart can also garner great enjoyment from unwanted cardboard boxes, tissue paper, newspapers, and old socks. 

If your dog needs more of a challenge, you can put a treat inside a toilet paper roll or egg carton, wrap that in newspaper, place it inside a small box, wrap that box up, place it inside a larger box and continue to build that up as your dog gets good at dissecting several layers to get to that treat (or toy!) inside.

Dog in a Box

Calming Activities

Natural calming behaviours for dogs include sniffing, licking, and chewing. If your dog is over-excited and you want to try to settle them down, incorporate one (or all) of these activities. You can try some scatter feeding to encourage your dog to sniff through the grass or around the house, you can give them an antler to chew, a stuffed Kong to lick or chew, or a Licki-mat to lick some plain yoghurt off of. You can be creative and hide a Licki-mat or Kong inside a box so they have to sniff, chew, and then lick!

Smart Dog

While most of our dogs enjoy a good laze on their comfy beds, dogs have a wide variety of needs that aren't met in a typical human lifestyle. It may seem far-fetched when we look at some of our dogs, but their ancestors were hunters, as such, they have evolved to be predators. All dogs follow what is called the Predatory Motor Pattern (PMP), and different dogs favour different stages of this pattern.

The full PMP can be displayed as: ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE > KILL-BITE > DISSECT > CONSUME.

Some dogs (like sighthounds) have been selectively bred to have a high chase drive, while others (like terriers) have been bred for a kill-bite. While we don't want to unleash our dogs on unsuspecting wildlife (or even suspecting wildlife, for that matter!) we can support them to practise these natural behaviours in the safety of their own home - with no animal harmed in the process!

Enrichment activities are something that should be done with you and your dog to build a bond and have a great time together. While puppy classes are a great way to spend time learning together and enjoying each other's company, there are also plenty of activities you can do at home. Please remember that dogs should always be supervised when given something to chew, dissect or eat; if your dog swallows something you will be left with a poorly dog and a costly vet bill! 

Which enrichment games your dog enjoys will likely depend on their breed, or mix of breeds, but is also very much down to individual preference. Offer a variety of enrichment activities to your dog and you can discover together what your dog find most interesting. The suggestions below tend to be enjoyed by most dogs, and are cheap and easy for their humans to implement.

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