By Guest Blogger Laura Nativo
DOGTV is in the midst of Canine Enrichment Week! My girls, Penelope & Delilah, love enrichment, and it’s especially important as we live in a tiny apartment by the sea without a yard. It definitely helps them get more enjoyment in their life, in a unique way.
But regardless of your setup or situation, all dogs can benefit from enrichment. Quality enrichment can help dogs increase their confidence and sharpen their problem-solving skills, and be a healthy and safe alternative to other ways a dog might try to entertain themselves if they get bored. It can help strengthen your bond with your dog too!
Of course, you will want to consider your dog’s age, personality, and their chew style. Are they a strong chewer, or are they a senior or puppy who needs something less strong for their sensitive teeth? Does your dog have a propensity to ingest items they chew? Always supervise your dog whenever you offer new enrichment to make sure they stay safe!
It’s also good to start off with easier versions of enrichment activities before building in their size and complexity. If it’s too hard the dog may get frustrated or give up. By testing smaller versions, you can also keep your dog safer too, if you’re unsure if they would ingest something that is part of the toy itself.
As the pandemic drags on, many of us have limited incomes. One of the best things about canine enrichment is how you can create free and affordable games using items you have around your house!
Here are my Top 10 favorite DIY enrichment activities:
- Snuffle Mats. You can make your own snuffle mat or there are plenty you can buy from Etsy. You can make your own very easily by just using repurposed bath mats or small rugs, especially if they have extra fabric or are a shaggy style, or find some at your local thrift stores. You can definitely get creative here! The way snuffle mats work is the food or treats you are giving to your dog will need to be sniffed for and hunted out of the fabric. It is a great way to use your dog’s amazing sense of smell for meal time or just as a fun way to break up a long day.
- Muffin Tin Game. Using a muffin tin or other piece of bakeware, you can place treats or a lickable treat like peanut butter to cover the bottom of the muffin spots, and then take tennis balls or other small toys your dog likes to cover them up. Then you can allow your dog to have fun removing the toys, playing with them, and ultimately getting the treats. If you have a small dog, senior dog, or particularly fearful dog, you can use paper muffin cups to make it an easier or less scary activity. Think of how you can adapt this for your dog. If you have a really smart dog or want to increase the challenge, you could also arrange several bakeware tins to have a “tower,” and perhaps not place treats in ALL the spots. It can become a puzzle that increases in difficulty!
- Toilet Paper Roll Party. By using empty cardboard rolls from paper towels or toilet paper, fold the ends in, and fill them with treats.You can do several improvisations to expand on this. For instance, perhaps you decide to use a long paper towel roll and cut a hole or two throughout its length before adding the treats and then allowing your dog to roll it around so the treats fall out of it. This can be great for dogs who are more sensitive in demeanor and sensitive teeth (puppies and seniors), and those dogs who like to use their noses to move objects.
For dogs who love to shred and destroy, you can use it more like a confetti popper toy–even combining wrapping them with tissue paper, or placing several of these in a larger box they can first open. As you can see, you can also vary the difficulty level in time, and in how you approach it. Be careful if you have a dog that may ingest this. Safety should always come first and you should always supervise first.
- Cardboard Castle. Supersize your cardboard up-cycled fun! Collect all of your Amazon and delivery boxes to create a super-fun scent game. For puppies and small dogs, you can use small boxes, place treats, toys or scent items inside, and leave them partially open, for your dog to explore. Make sure the boxes are facing up as your dog starts out with this activity, and then you can increase the challenge by using larger boxes, or even partially taping them.
You can also make puzzles out of the boxes: for example, placing a ball in a box that is then partially covered by another box, and so forth. Some dogs love having completely closed-up boxes that they can shred apart, which is a great physical component to this type of idea. This is Delilah’s favorite game! Twenty minutes of destroying cardboard and she is happily passed out for hours!
- Treasure Bowls. One of my favorite games is to ration my dog’s meals into tiny silicone food prep bowls, and then hide them around the house like Easter eggs for her to find. You can send your dog on a treasure hunt for their meal!! What I love is that you’re not hiding food on the ground–which avoids crumbs–and if you count how many bowls you have, cleaning up will be easy! You can even freeze your dog’s meal into these tiny bowls. As your dog improves, you can place a towel or cardboard box over the bowl(s) to make it even more challenging.
- Towel Burrito. By taking a washcloth, towel, or even a small blanket, you can roll food or treats in like a burrito or origami piece that your dog has to unroll in order to discover yummy little presents as they sniff around. Much like the treasure bowls concept, you could use several towels or cloths to have several layers to your burrito, and even slightly hide them in several batches or one large plunder!
- Frozen Enrichment. Forget the Kong, no need for a Toppl! Create enrichment feeder licky toys with things like a silicon dish holder, a silicon cake pan, or even within fruits (like cored apples) or vegetables (like sweet potatoes). You can use things like plain Greek yogurt, baby food, peanut butter, wet or raw dog food, and favorite treats to create a yummy duration snack to chew or lick. This activity is best for dogs who know how to lick out of such objects without ingesting them, and as a longer lasting activity for helping dogs settle and relax.
- Ruff Mudder. Create an indoor agility course using furniture and objects from around the house. Run your dog through a hallway, onto an ottoman, off onto a cushioned rug, up onto the sofa. You can also use a broomstick or series of sticks for either jumping or for them to walk over, have your dog crawl under a coffee table, or place paws through boxes–there are so many possibilities.
Be mindful of your dog’s age and physical capacities. Young puppies shouldn’t be doing high jumps (wait until your vet advises, usually not before 12 to 15 months of age), just as seniors may be unable. Less confident dogs will need easier obstacles first, and may need generous luring to start.
Also, you can also incorporate practicing other behaviors throughout your course, like a 10-second down-stay, before releasing your dog to another hallway. Finish it all with a kiss or your favorite trick, and a delicious treat to reward their effort!
- Ball Pit. Who says these are just for human kids? Dogs love balls–and you can buy a variety of ball pits for whatever size dog you have. Or maybe your small dog loves balls and you want to get him a large one so he can just go crazy! Or maybe you have a small one inside your home, and a large one for the backyard! Besides the obvious fun of the balls themselves, you could hide other toys and objects for your dog to find in the ball pit. So many possibilities for so much fun!
- Dig Box. Many dogs have a natural desire to dig. A great way to address this and allow your dog the outlet without wrecking your yard is to have a designated dig box. But even if your dog doesn’t want to dig holes, or if you don’t have a yard, you can, much like with the ball pit, adapt to you and your dog’s needs. You can buy a kiddie pool and fill it with dirt for outside, or you can get a perfect cardboard or plastic box for inside. You can fill the box with dirt, sand or even shredded paper–or toys–or balls. Again, think of what your dog would like and what you can do for your home setup, and have fun!
Indoor Movie Theatre. After a fun marathon of enrichment, help your dog settle with some auditory and visual enrichment, by turning on DOGTV! Set up a cozy bed for them to relax and enjoy DogTV as they settle in for a nap.
I hope these ideas inspire you to think outside the cardboard box, and realize you don’t have to spend a fortune on dog toys to keep your furry friend happy. Let us know how you’ve best entertained your dogs with these or other ideas you have by commenting below!
Laura Nativo, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP