To feel fulfilled and happy, humans require more than the bare necessities. In addition to the basics for survival, we seek out relationships, hobbies, entertainment, and even challenges to enrich our lives.
The same is true for dogs. Like us, our pups need physical, mental, and social stimulation to thrive. But unlike us, they can’t simply register for a yoga class or meet friends for dinner.
“Our dogs completely rely on us for their quality of life,” says Beke Lubeach, general manager for DOGTV and proud dog parent to Peyton and Walter. “That’s why daily enrichment is so important. When our dogs’ minds and bodies are working, they’re happy. And when they’re happy, we’re happy.”
Simple Activities to Enrich Your Dog’s Life
Ready to perk up your pup’s day? Consider the following easy enrichment ideas.
Go for a Walk
While walks may sound obvious, many dogs don’t enjoy regular strolls. In fact, a study on dog owners in the United States and Australia found that up to 40 percent of people don’t routinely walk their dogs.
Basic as they may be, walks provide numerous physical and mental enrichment opportunities. “A really good walk is fantastic for dogs,” says Lubeach. “They’re getting good exercise, they’re encountering new sights and smells, and you’re strengthening that human-animal bond.”
While every dog is different, a simple trot around the block isn’t enough for most dogs, notes Lubeach. To make the most of the experience, switch up your routes and seek out new environments. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate walking routine based on your dog’s breed, age, and health.
Try Agility Exercises
Backyards can offer valuable enrichment for dogs, but only when used correctly.
“As a dog trainer, I do not actually consider letting the dog out in the yard to be any form of exercise,” says Steffi Trott, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of SpiritDog. “Dogs need mentally and physically stimulating experiences—and neither will be found in a yard that is always the same old, same old.”
For an enriching backyard activity, try agility training, suggests Trott. Home equipment including weave poles, tunnels, and jumps are readily available online. Get started by enrolling at a local agility training school, or cue up some training videos on YouTube.
Use Food Puzzles
Of course, we’re not always available for walks and play sessions. For those times when your dog is home alone, consider offering a food puzzle to keep his brain busy.
“Food puzzles are great mental stimulation,” says Lubeach. “As dogs work to get out the treats, they practice problem solving.”
A DIY food puzzle can be as simple as hiding some kibble in an empty paper towel roll and stuffing the ends closed with washcloths. Store-bought puzzles can be more elaborate, offering multiple levels for experienced treat hackers.
Serve Dinner Differently
For creative pet parents, even mealtime can provide mental enrichment. Instead of serving your dog’s dinner in a bowl, try using a snuffle mat, which requires dogs to “hunt” through the fibers for their kibble.
Or, for a DIY approach, simply scatter the kibble in tall grass, suggests Trott. “Scatter feeding challenges the mind and makes eating a fun, new experience,” she says.
Train, Train, Train
Dogs of all ages benefit from training. A 2018 study by researchers in Vienna found that when taught even one simple trick, senior dogs showed increased cognitive function and improved engagement.
Puppy training classes are a great introduction, says Trott, but learning should be a lifelong pursuit. After your dog graduates, continue to work on his skills and introduce new exercises to provide daily mental stimulation. Try YouTube for fun, easy tricks, suggests Trott.
Play a Scent Game
Dog noses are natural wonders. Uniquely structured and extremely sensitive, these super sniffers can pick up the faintest of scents. In addition to tracking smells, a recent study found that dogs can actually detect heat thanks to infrared sensors in their snouts.
For an easy enrichment activity, try engaging your pup’s sophisticated sense of smell with a “scenting” game, suggests Trott. To begin, keep things simple: Hide smelly treats under cardboard boxes, and let your dog discover them. As your pup becomes better at the game, try hiding the boxes or covering them with blankets for an added challenge.
Toys are fun—but they’re more fun when you have a playmate. “Being home alone with a few toys isn’t very fun,” says Lubeach. “Toys are best when they provide an opportunity to play interactively.”
One of Lubeach’s favorite forms of enrichment? A good old-fashioned game of fetch. Use whatever your pup prefers—a durable ball, Frisbee, or rope toy—and reap the rewards.
“Fetch is simple, but it’s so beneficial,” says Lubeach. “It’s really good exercise, and allows dogs to use their instincts and practice body awareness.”
Meet New Friends
Like us, dogs benefit from active social lives. “Dogs are social beings and like to interact with—or at least watch—other dogs and people,” says Trott.
To expand your dog’s social circle, consider doggie daycare, suggests Trott. If you have friends or neighbors with dogs, plan safe, pup-friendly gatherings to enrich your dog’s day, as well as yours.
Even errands present an opportunity to introduce your dog to new friends and experiences. “Whenever you go to a pet-friendly place such as a hardware store, pet store, or restaurant patio, bring your dog along and let him meet-and-greet other patrons,” says Trott.
Turn on the TV
According to a recent survey of pet parents, many people worry that their dogs will be lonely when they leave home. Up to 88 percent said they take measures to provide “company,” including leaving on the TV or radio.
Programmed specifically for pooches, DOGTV features content designed to reduce stress, provide stimulation, and enrich a dog’s environment both mentally and visually.
“All dogs watch differently,” says Lubeach. “My older dog likes to interact with the other dogs on DOGTV, while my younger one prefers to watch and relax. We make sure there’s something for every dog.”