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Fun Enrichment for Your Dog

Your dog was bred to do a job, and chances are, she was bred to exert a lot of physical and mental energy performing that duty. In today’s modern world dogs don’t have jobs to do, or their work is much reduced.


At LECA, our trainers and coaches integrate these and many other activities into our enrichment program and we are excited to share some of these here. It's hard to know exactly how your dog will react to each of these activities, but one thing is clear: Giving your dog activities to engage her mind and body will allow her to reach her full potential, as well as being a calm, confident, and happy family pet.

Activities for your dog can be divided into Enrichment Games and Brain Games.

Both can provide positive experiences for your dog and give her jobs to do. Enrichment Games call on your dog’s natural instincts. These activities give your dog the opportunity to express deeply rooted instincts that are rarely stimulated in today’ modern society.

Brain Games challenge your dog to use creativity and problem-solving skills to get treats or food. Dogs are very able to engage their active minds with new and different problems than the ones they were bred to solve.


A combination of Enrichment and Brain Games provide your dog with a varied mental workout that balances satisfying instincts with developing creative problem solving skills.


Here are some great enrichment activities to give your dog outlets for her instincts. Read our follow-up post about Brain Games for your dog for more great activities.


Nose work

Best For: Develops confidence in shy or nervous dogs and helps rambunctious dogs calm down and focus.


What You’ll Need

  • Treats or toys that motivate your dog

  • Novel smells to train with

  • Somewhere to lay a track

Nose work is a great way to encourage your dog to use one of her most finely tuned senses. Most of the activities that we do with our dogs rely on their sense of sight, but when left to their own devices, dogs are most likely to follow their nose. It isn’t at all difficult to teach your dog to follow her nose. Teach your dog to track a particular smell and lay a trail for her to follow, or put her skills to use on the field by asking her to find particular wildlife. If your dog is very good at this activity, you can even join a local search and rescue club and join missing person searches in your area.


Foraging

Best For: All dogs, but especially those who are highly food motivated.


What You’ll Need

  • A natural delicacy like berries, ripe carrots that are ready to dig, etc.

  • Plenty of water

In the wild, dogs would spend much of their time foraging for tender leaves and greens, bugs, and berries, as well as hunting for small game. Dogs still have strong instincts to dig and search for food, even though their daily kibble generally comes from a bowl or food toy. Encouraging your dog to seek out goodies like wild raspberries or blueberries is a great way to occupy her mind, add nutrients to her diet, and satisfy her instinct to search for food all at once. Be sure that you can identify what is safe for your dog to eat, don’t let her eat too much, and have fun letting your dog explore a natural environment in a fun new way.


Flirt pole

Best For: All dogs, but especially jumpers, tuggers, and chasers.


What You’ll Need

  • Rigid PVC, generally from 4’ to 6’, wide enough for your line

  • Line long enough to go through PVC and tie to toy

  • Toy or rag to serve as a lure

Treats or other high-value toy for rewards

The flirt pole is basically a giant cat toy for dogs. It is a great way to engage your dog’s prey drive and encourage her to practice self-control skills in a fun way. You can bring your dog into a high-intensity state with the fun of chasing the lure, then ask her to stay and drop or leave the toy before rewarding her with more fun. This activity teaches your dog to hear and obey your commands even when she is in an intense state of mind. You can use the flirt pole indoors or outside, making it highly versatile. This can also be a great tool to get and keep your dog’s attention around distractions.


Dig Pit / Sandbox

Best For: All dogs, but especially terriers, dachshunds, and other diggers.


What You’ll Need

  • Box to hold the sand

  • Porous drainage layer so that water can drain out without taking sand with it. You can use weed fabric or other porous material

  • Sand. Choose a heavier grit so that dust doesn’t get in your dog’s eyes or nose

  • Cover to keep out critters and debris

Whether your dog is prone to digging or not, a sandbox can be a fun and enriching activity for her. You can bury toys or treats to dig up or set up tunnels to run through and dig around. If your older dog is bored inside but not up to much activity, a sandbox can be a great way to let her do something new without stressing her joints. Even if she doesn’t want to dig, your dog will love rolling around and scratching in the sand. Scratching and digging is a very natural activity for dogs which they rarely are allowed to enjoy. Rolling in sand will also help to naturally clean your dog’s coat, distributing oils and shedding loose hair.


Treibball

Best For: Energetic dogs with herding drive


What You’ll Need

  • Some kind of goal similar to a soccer goal

  • Balls, ideally too big to be picked up so they must be bounced along

  • Treats or toys for reward

  • Clickers or whistles can be useful to get your dog’s attention and mark desired behavior in training

Dogs with herding breed heritage are often highly intelligent and tuned to their owners. This makes them amazing pets, but without anything to herd, they can become bored and frustrated or turn their herding on household pets or children. Treibball is a brilliant way to let dog get out a lot of energy while responding continuously to their owner's commands and satisfying the instinct to herd. Livestock is replaced with balls, with the aim being to move all of the balls into a goal by bouncing the balls along with nose and paws. Dogs with strong herding instincts will get the hang of this game very quickly, and may even play by themselves.


Earthdog

Best For: Terriers and other dogs bred to go underground after prey


What You’ll Need

  • Wood or PVC to construct maze. When constructing, allow for changes to vary the maze

  • Rat in secure, covered cage

Dogs follow the smell of a rat through an underground maze. This activity requires very little training, since dogs bred to hunt rats have very high drive and tend to be extremely brave. If your dog goes crazy over the smell of a rat or the sight of a squirrel, Earthdog might be just the thing to let her express those instincts safely.


Lure Coursing

Best For: Sighthounds and other dogs that hunt by sight


What You’ll Need

  • Line and stakes to lay track

  • Motor to pull line

  • Lure to attach to line

There is little training required for lure coursing. As long as your dog shows interest in the moving lure, chances are she’ll run to catch it. This is a great way to let your dog run full out and really blow off some energy while satisfying her desire to chase. Several dogs can run at once, making it a fun social activity.


Conclusion

Diverse enrichment empowers your dog to use their senses, instincts, and get the most out of the day.


When your dog is allowed to spend time at an enrichment activity as part of her regular routine, you’ll find her to be more calm and relaxed during down times. She is willing to strive to overcome challenges and more confident in whatever she does. Mental stimulation that encourages positive, creative problem solving and can go a long way towards eliminating problem behavior like anxiety, overexcitement, and reactivity. Since she has had the opportunity to express her instincts, she may be less reactive to stimuli that previously triggered strong instinctual reactions.


Don’t forget to read next week’s blog, Brain Games, in which we share brain games that let your dog develop her creative problem solving and use her mind in new ways.