Treat dispensing balls. Puzzle toys. Snuffle mats. Stuffable frozen toys. These days, it seems like everywhere we look, there are more things we are supposed to buy for our dogs to enjoy. We love our pups and want the best for them, but while canine enrichment is important, it doesn’t have to cost you a thing!
When we talk about “canine enrichment”, a term popularized by trainers like Shay Kelly, we really just mean giving our dogs outlets to use their instincts to do things like dig, sniff, shred, jump and chew. Luckily, there are many ways to give our dogs enrichment without breaking the bank. Here are 6 ideas for free enrichment activities you can do with your dog. Good luck, have fun, and of course, don’t forget the treats.
1) Sniffy walk
What’s needed: leash or long line, harness or collar, treats
Sniffy walks, also called decompression walks or “sniffaris” are one of the simplest ways you can offer enrichment for your dog. Plus, they're completely free!
Dogs’ strongest sense by far is scent, and they use sniffing to relax, to explore their environment, and to get information about other species in the area. Whether they were bred for scent or not, dogs have ridiculously powerful noses: they have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, and we have only 6 million. The area of their brains devoted to analyzing smells is 40% larger than ours.
So how can you give your dog an opportunity to use that supersniffer? Just allow your dog to stop and sniff along your walk. Taking your dog for a walk in an uncrowded area where they can be on a long line or off leash is also helpful to encourage sniffing. Dogs are less likely to stop and sniff when they are anxious or overwhelmed, but if they feel comfortable enough to sniff, it can be very calming for them. Dogs may sniff things we wouldn't have expected to have many scents, like a patch of grass or a curb. Chances are, there’s a scent there that we can’t detect.
To encourage sniffing as a behavior, you can bring treats or your dog's food along on your walk and toss them on the ground for your dog to find (the “go find it” game).
2) Scatter feeding
What’s needed: treats or food
You might be surprised to know our dogs’ ancestors didn’t eat from bowls! They used their noses to sniff out food, and if we can recreate that experience for them when they have their meals, it provides mental stimulation...and slows down those vacuum cleaner eaters too! Of course, putting some food in a bowl and walking away is convenient, but scatter feeding is an easy enrichment activity that won’t take more than a few minutes.
Simply scatter your dog’s normal food on the floor or in your backyard for them to find! For raw feeders, this activity might be easiest with frozen food or raw treats like Kono’s.
3) Muffin tin puzzle
What’s needed: muffin tin, treats or food
If you’re a baker, you’ll love this free enrichment activity. All you need is a muffin tin, some food or treats, and toys (tennis balls are easy). Place your treats into the muffin tin, and cover them with toys. Let your dog use their nose and paws to find their treats!
If your dog is having difficulty getting their treats (it may be a bigger challenge for smaller dogs), you can help them out by moving the toys out of the way for them. Enrichment should be fun, not frustrating, so if your dog is starting to bark or whine, it might be time to step in! Make it a positive experience so they're more likely to enjoy it in the future.
Making a yummy homemade treat afterwards with your muffin tin is not required, but your pup wouldn't mind some dog friendly muffins to go with their activity. Just sayin'.
4) Toilet paper roll puzzle
What’s needed: a paper towel or toilet paper roll, treats or food
There’s nothing worse than reaching for toilet paper and a paper towel and realizing the roll is empty. The good news is that an empty roll makes for a great activity for your dog! Like sniffing, shredding is a natural activity for dogs, as anyone who has ever seen a dog systematically disembowel a stuffy toy knows. Shredding a paper towel roll allows your dog to use their instincts in a healthy, nondestructive way. To do it, fold the bottom of a toilet paper roll over to make a container. Fill it up with food or treats, and then fold the top over to seal. For an extra challenge, you can tape the container shut. Let your dog pull it apart to their heart’s content!
Make sure that when you give your dog any enrichment activity, especially one that involves shredding, you keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t eating anything that’s not food, like paper or tape.
5) Bath mat snuffle game
What’s needed: bath mat, treats or food
You may have seen photos on Instagram or other social media platforms of dogs using “snuffle mats” to find food or treats. Snuffle mats are mats with strips of fleece where you can hide treats for dogs to sniff out. If you don’t have a snuffle mat, though, there’s a household replacement that works just as well: a bath mat! The fluffier the better, but any bath mat will work. Hide some treats in the mat and let them go to town! Just make sure they don’t rip your bathmat to shreds in the process.
6) Indoor agility
What’s needed: furniture, treats or food
Have you ever seen a video of a dog competing in agility, leaping through hoops and over bars with grace as their handler runs beside them? It’s pretty inspiring to watch, but it might leave you thinking, “Wow, my dog couldn’t do THAT.” Not every dog is destined to be an agility star, but most dogs actually love to use agility-like skills: jumping up and over things, going under things, running around in circles.
The best part? You don’t need fancy equipment or training to have fun doing agility activities with your dog! You can create an “obstacle course” in your house or yard using furniture like chairs and tables. Use cues like “Up”, and “Through” to guide your dog through the course. These are easy cues to teach, but if your dog doesn’t know them it’s also easy to simply lure them through using treats. They will have a blast and you just might get a fun video to show your friends!
Enrichment Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
There is so much pressure on dog parents to buy fancy toys for their dogs. We want what’s best for them, even when it’s hard on our wallets. Luckily, though, dogs don’t need complicated puzzle toys to have fun. You can give your dog enrichment activities with things around your house, like bath mats or muffin tins, or even your recycling!
If you do an enrichment on the cheap activity with your pup’s Kono’s treats, feel free to tag us on social media @itskonoskitchen! We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
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