If you've ever found yourself wondering what to do with your dog when you're home, you're not alone. Dogs are social creatures who need plenty of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy. Fortunately, there are tons of easy and fun ways to enrich your dog's life, even within the four walls of your home. Here are 9 ideas to get you started:
1) Interactive Feeders
Interactive feeders are one of the best and easiest ways to keep your dog's mind active. There are a variety of interactive feeders available, from simple treat dispensers to more complex puzzle toys.
Some great treat dispensing toys are:
- The Grenade Chew Toy & Treat Dispenser
- The Coffee Cup Chew Toy & Treat Dispenser
- The Bull Frog Treat Dispenser
Another style of interactive feeders is a slow feeder bowl. These bowls are set up in a way where your dog has to work more to get their kibble. As opposed to being able to scarf it down in minutes with a regular bowl. Not only are these great for their mind but also help food driven dogs not eat too quickly.
There are also puzzle toys that are considered more challenging and are perfect if your dog is a smarty pants. These toys require your dog to think and figure out how to get the treat(s) inside.
2) Frozen/Stuffed Snowman
A rubber snowman chew toy is a cute little toy that can keep your dog occupied for hours. They're great for stuffing tasty human food in (that's safe for dogs) as well as freezing them to provide a cool, interesting texture for your pup. They’re also great for teething puppies!
Some of our favorite Snowman toy fillings include:
- Peanut butter
- Bits of banana
- Chicken broth
- Wet food
You can stuff them with any of these things and then freeze them for a fun and challenging treat.
*These fillings are also great for the interactive feeder toys mentioned above.*
3) Training New Tricks & Behaviors
One of the best ways to keep your dog's mind challenged is to teach them new tricks and behaviors. Not only is this a great bonding activity, but it's also a great way to keep their minds sharp.
There are a ton of tricks you can teach your dog, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Touch (targeting with their nose or paw)
- Take a bow
- High five/wave
- Play dead
Of course, you'll want to start with the basics first (sit, down, stay, etc.) but if your dog knows these already, teaching them more challenging tricks is a great way to simulate their mind.
4) Lick Mats
Similar to slow feeders are lick mats. The major difference between the two is slow feeders are for solid food and lick mats are for soft food. As the name suggests, these enrichment toys are a mat with various patterns on them that create an interesting texture and challenge for dogs as they lick up the food.
Some of our favorite lick mats are:
- Difficulty: Easy - The Bones Design Lick Mat
- Difficulty: Medium - The Honeycomb Design Lick Mat
- Difficulty: High - The Jigsaw Design Lick Mat
The best soft food or treat to spread across lick mats are peanut butter, wet or canned dog food, or anything that would need to be licked out as opposed to being easily picked up (like dry food or treats).
5) Scattered Feeding
Another enrichment idea is called scattered feeding. Though, you may call it a mess, it's a fun and interesting way (for them) to feed your dog.
You first get them to sit and stay in the room where you plan to scatter their food.
Then, once they're still, you grab a handful of their dog food (this works best with solid food like their regular kibble or freeze dried food) and throw it on the floor to spread it out.
Or, simply dump some into a pile then spread it out.
Once you have their food spread out nicely you can give them the go ahead to begin eating. This slows down how fast they're able to eat and helps stimulate their mind as they have to sniff around for all the pieces.
6) Game Of Chase
Many dogs love nothing more than to chase or be chased. I know my dog loves to grab a sock and run away with it. Not because he wants to rip it to shreds, but because he knows it gets my attention.
If you have the space, having a fun little game of chase or be chased with your dog can be a great pastime. You can use a toy or even a treat to get your dog to chase you around. This is a great way to get some energy out and have some fun!
Some dogs get a little too excited doing this and have difficulties calming down so if that's your dog you may want to skip this one. But if they're generally fine, this is a fun little activity you and your dog can do.
7) Hide & Treat Or Seek
Scavenger hunts are another great way to keep your dog's mind active. Hide small treats or toys around your yard or house and let them search for their prize. For an added challenge, try hiding the treats in different locations each time.
You can start by hiding the treats in easy to find places and then gradually make it more challenging as they get better at finding them.
You can also do this where one person holds your dog and the other goes to hide. When you’re in a good hiding spot simply call their name and let them search for you. If they’re having trouble finding you, you can always give them help by making additional noise.
This is an especially great activity to do on rainy days when you can't go outside but also on evenings or weekends when you have time.
8) Designated Dig Pit
For dogs who love to dig, set up a sandbox or kiddie pool filled with sand or dirt. This way, they can dig to their heart's content without destroying your yard or flower beds. You can even bury treats in the sand for them to find.
Setting up a place in your backyard that's okay for your dog to dig in can be a great activity for them to do to burn off some steam fast. The only thing you need to watch out for when doing this is that they don't accidentally learn it's okay to dig elsewhere.
9) Bottle Spin
This is another great one for dogs who are food motivated (which most are with the right food/treats). To set this up you'll need an empty 2L soda bottle, scissors and a string.
Simply cut a hole in two sides of the bottle to put the string through, then, tie one end of the string to a sturdy object while you hold the other end.
Make sure to have your dog's attention and show them you're putting treats or food in the bottle. Once that’s done, let them paw and bite at it to figure out how to get the food out of the bottle.
Some may need a little guidance in the beginning to give them an idea of how to get the food out. But once they have the hang of it they should be eager to flip the bottle upside down to get their food.
To see how this looks you can take a quick look at the video below:
Enrichment games are super important for keeping your dog's mind active and helping prevent them from becoming bored and potentially destructive.
There are a ton of different games and activities you can do to keep your dog's mind challenged. The above are just a few examples but hopefully, it gives you some ideas to get started.About the author: Alec Littlejohn grew up in a family of vets where pet care and pet training were discussed on a daily basis. He’s also a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association Of America and now the lead editor at Pawscessories.
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