Updated: May 20
Dog behaviour problems are often caused by boredom and our dogs' unmet needs.
If our dogs have nothing to do, they will often find an outlet for their boredom, unfortunately not always one that we appreciate.
Digging, restlessness, humping, urinating, unwanted barking and whining, escaping our house or garden, and destroying furniture and walls, are all behavioural issues that can occur as a result of our dogs having nothing meaningful to do. By providing our dogs with enrichment, we can avoid struggling against challenging problem behaviours, our dogs will feel a lot less frustrated, and our lives a lot less stressful.
I'm a dog lover, a dog sports enthusiast and a dog trainer based in Surrey, UK. Also, I started this blog as I love sharing relevant, practical puppy and dog training tips. I am the founder of Dogitivity Positive Puppy and Dog Training, Surrey, UK.
The core of enrichment is not only to provide our dogs with an outlet but also to meet their innate needs which are behaviours passed down through generations from wolf ancestors.
Why teaching a "No" or a "Leave it" aren't sufficient in Effective dog Training
When you ask your dog to stop an unwanted or destructive behaviour you are not providing your dog with an alternative outlet nor teaching appropriate alternative behaviour. Let me share an example with you. I am often asked: "How to keep dog from digging holes in yard? The truth is that we can stop the dog from digging, but we haven't met their need for digging or provided them with an outlet for their boredom or lack of exercise.
We can easily fix the digging problem by teaching our dog where it is appropriate to dig, we can set up a sand pitch where we can hide treats and toys in the sand to encourage digging.
It is not fair (or animal welfare) to stop a problem behaviour without substituting it with a more appropriate opportunity to meet our dog's needs but let’s save that discussion for another blog post.
Table of Contents
You might wonder what I mean when I use the words dog enrichment. A google search suggests that to enrich is to:
"To improve the quality of something by adding something else"
which is spot on. We improve the lives of our dogs significantly by adding a little extra and simply letting our dogs be dogs.
Dog food bowl
In our busy lives, we often leave our dogs alone at home for many hours a day with no job to fill. It is very far from what their natural purpose were.
Dogs are scavengers and are spending a great part of their lives in the wild searching for food.
My first advice to all clients is to get rid of the dog food bowls and instead start using their dog’s food as enrichment and for dog training throughout the day.
Often, I see full food bowls and hear dog owners complain about their dogs being picky eaters funny enough their dogs always start eating with enthusiasm when the food is used for dog training and when the dogs are engaging in an activity to get access to the food. Several scientific papers describe that dogs if given the choice, show a preference to work for their food in the presence of identical freely available food. The concept is identified as contra-free loading. Read more about picky eaters here. We can easily help your dog find a purpose by making a few changes in our daily lives.
Ten minutes a day is all Dog enrichment takes
Ten minutes is all it takes. The saying “go big or go home” but the strategy is not very useful when we want to change our habits. My advice is to keep the enrichment initiative as simple and easy to achieve as possible, especially in the beginning.
Top 5 dog enrichment ideas
Throw away your pup’s food bowl
Bring your pup’s breakfast on the morning walk, find a peaceful place, scatter the food for your pup to find.
Enroll in an dog training group class, get inspiration, support, and cheering from fellow dog lovers and trainers.
Use a part of your pup’s daily food as rewards throughout the day.
Let your dog take you for a sniff safari. Don't plan a route but let your dog lead.
Boredom is the root of all evil – the despairing refusal to be oneself. – Soren Kierkegaard
Your dog’s preference for enrichment will soon show and trying to accommodate these preferences will keep your dog engaged. When searching for enrichment favorites for your dog, keep these 5 key elements in mind and remember that some dogs get bored easily, so variety can be exactly the answer for your dog.
Social enrichment: Interactions with the human family and furry friends, meeting new people, going to new places. Occupational enrichment: Training, taking part in daily life, doing breed-specific work. Physical enrichment: Daily walks, a game of tug, playing fetch, agility, park or off-leash runs. Sensory enrichment: Sound stimulation, sniffing, nose work, a massage, walking on different surfaces. Nutritional enrichment: Food games, raw bones, dog enrichment feeding toys. Are you looking for recipes for healthy high-value dog treats, this blog might be useful for you.
One month dog enrichment calendar
Are you ready to do more with your dog? We have collected many enrichment ideas and produced an enrichment calendar with YouTube examples to help you get into the habit of improving your dog’s life. To download your free sample, click here.
Frozen Kong Dog Toy
Soak your dog’s dry food in chicken stock, stuff a Kong and put it in the freezer overnight. Licking and chewing is a calming activity.
Show me the way
Let your dog lead the way on one of your daily walks, your dogs decide the pace and direction, allow your dog to sniff.
Use an old cardboard box stuff it with newspaper and hide treats or dry food in the
box and close it.
04 Bring your dog’s food on the walk, choose a peaceful place, scatter the food, and let your dog use its nose to find food.
Back to School
Teach your dog a new behavior, you can find Free Dogitivity training tutorials at our Facebook page, Dogitivity Are you looking for trainig inspiration? Then this blog might be helpful Clicker training for dogs a beginner's guide.
Spend time with your dog, if your dog is not entering the furniture move to the floor or ground make it comfortable for both of you, place a mat and bring a coffee.
Get your dog a raw bone, for more information on what bones to choose, click here.
Hide 15 treats around the house, if your dog is not very accustomed to searching for treats start by hiding treats in one room only, initially, all treats should be visible and at ground level, as your dog progresses you can make the treat search harder, by hiding the treats, using more rooms and different height levels.
Hide and Seek
Ask your children, a family member, or a friend to help you. Take your dog to a safe place, your “assistant” holds your dog while you show your dog some of its favorite treats, runoff and hide, count to 10, and call your dog.
On your daily walk find some natural obstacles, rocks, benches, low walls where you can train balance work, jumping, or crawling. Bring delicious treats and reinforce your dog for any cooperation. Are you interested in learning more about dog parkour check out this awesome organization https://www.dogparkour.org/
Collect a bag full of leaves, grass, and sticks from an unfamiliar area and bring it home for your dog to sniff.
Puppy Social - Friendly meet-up
Arrange a meetup and give your dog the possibility to hang out with friends. If you are introducing new friends be aware to choose a neutral location and initially when you let the dogs off-leash make sure to move around as standing still can often create tension among the dogs. For more information on safe dog introductions, Click
Grab an old towel, place some treats on it and roll it up, let your dog solve how to get the treats out.
Take a cup of...
Old plastic cups are perfect for this game, but the cups on the floor upside down and hide treats under a few of them. The more cups the more fun.
Balls in a tin
Put treats in a muffin tin and put tennis or baseballs on top. Let your dog work out how to get the treats by pushing or grabbing the tennis balls.
Discovering New Places
Take your dog to a new location, make sure that you have plenty of time, be patient, and let your dog sniff all the new exciting odors.
Toy on a Whip
The DIY solution: use a long stick similar to a long horsewhip attach a piece of string and in the end, your dog’s favorite toy. The more expensive solution is to buy a flirt pole. The game is a great way for your dog to let out steam chasing its favorite toy.
Use an old cardboard box stuff it with newspaper and hide treats or dry food in the box and close it. Shred an old t-shirt and roll treats into the strips. Stuff old toilet or kitchen roll tubes.
T-shirt in a bottle
Shred an old t-shirt, and tie the ends of the strips together. Grab an old plastic bottle and stuff it with the now long strip add treats as you go. Click here
Cut small holes (dry food sized) in a used plastic bottle, put dry food in the bottle, and let your dog roll it to get the dry food out. To make it a bit easier for your dog you can initially make the holes a bit bigger.
Are you interested in getting further inspiration? I recommend you to read the blog, The Life-Changing Power of Decompression Walks by the great dog trainer Jenny Efimova, Shay Kelly’s book Canine Enrichment, or join one of the numerous canine enrichment groups on Facebook.
* Dogitivity is an Amazon affiliate, I earn a small percentage of the sales prices of the products linked to with no additional cost for you. I only recommend my favourite dog training products that I use and like.