Years ago when I started volunteering at a local animal shelter I would walk dogs and get them out of their kennels to stretch their legs. When we would return to the kennels they seemed to be content and tired.

One day I met a dog who was literally jumping at the door to get outside and I would walk him and take him back to his room and he would still be bouncing around. After weeks of his bouncing, I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t tired. I read through my volunteer manual and saw something about Enrichment and made an appointment to see the Shelter’s Specialist.

She explained that Enrichment is mental exercise and animals need to work their brains as much as their muscles and she showed me some activities to do with the dogs. She said studies show 15 minutes of mental exercise is the equivalent of 60 minutes of physical exercise. I was skeptical but on a cold November day, I couldn’t walk the dogs too long outside for safety reasons so I did 15-minute enrichment sessions with the dogs I walked that day including the bouncing dog and what a difference! Those dogs went back to their kennels and went to sleep. I was hooked! I dedicated my volunteer visits to include enrichment sessions in every dog I walked and I eventually adopted that bouncing dog.

Seeing the difference in those dogs proved to me that Enrichment is so important in a dog’s day. Enrichment activities break up a dog’s daily routine giving them the opportunity to use their senses and discover. Just think how tired you are after sitting and looking at your phone or computer. You didn’t do anything physical and you’re tired. That’s the same principle with Enrichment for dogs. All activities can be done with treats or kibble and can be done for a 15-minute session or as a way for your dog to work for his meal.

Here are some examples of Enrichment Activities with items you can find around your house.

  • A Towel Puzzle – lay out a towel, put food inside towel, roll and twist up or fold towel adding food to the folds. Let your dog figure out how to unfold that towel to earn the food rewards.
  • Muffin tin – place food in some or all of the cups and cover with tennis balls. Let your dog go to work figuring out how to uncover the hidden food.
  • Take lunch bags or paper grocery bags and throw in some food and fold close the top and give to the dog to tear and dig or rip open.
  • Take a paper towel roll and fold in one end, add food, fold in the other end to create a puzzle for your dog to figure out how to open and get the rewards inside.
  • Fill a shoebox with shipping material, towels, newspaper and toss food inside for your dog to hunt and forage through.
  • Store-bought toys like Kongs, JW Toys, or Redbarn Filled Bones that can be found at Wagsburgh are also great ways to keep your dog mentally entertained.

Enrichment is powerful and meaningful to your dog’s life. Dogs enjoy opportunities to think and learn. A simple activity can offer stress relief, develop coping skills, and provide a little fun. I personally have seen a lot of success with Enrichment and enjoy the connection it creates with dogs. I have seen dogs transform from Shy to Confident, from Bored to Satisfied, from Busy to Tired. I continue to do Enrichment activities with my own dogs at home and with dogs through my job as a Pet Service Provider.

This is a perfect time to try Enrichment Activities with your dog. With the upcoming cold months, you may not be able to physically exercise your dog safely. And the holiday season is fast approaching as well which can be stressful for your dog. Try doing a 15-minute Enrichment session prior to holiday gatherings or leaving home for holiday plans so your dog is tired and less stressed! Just remember to supervise your dog during activities. Best of all you and your dog will have fun bonding together and you will have a happy and fulfilled dog…and a tired one!

Have fun!

Article published by Lisa Bartel – Enrichment Enthusiast