Learn how adding more enrichment to your pet's life will increase your pet's happiness, reduce boredom-related behaviors and improve your pet's quality of life!
In this article you will:
Learn about mental enrichment and why it's so important for our pets
Discover easy, DIY enrichment activities you can implement with your pets today
Gain access to specific product recommendations
What is Enrichment? Why Is It Important?
'Enrichment' refers to the act of providing our pets with outlets to engage in the species-specific activities they instinctually find enjoyable. For dogs, these instinctual pleasures include things like digging, chewing, foraging, shredding, sniffing, chasing, etc. For cats, these instinctual pleasures include things like hunting, climbing, scratching, running, etc. These behaviors are natural for our pets and their happiness and quality of life become greatly enhanced when they are given regular opportunities to engage in these behaviors.
Note: Enrichment activities often involve offering our pets access to some sort of tool, material or toy. It's important to always supervise your pets with these items to ensure they interact with them safely.
Enrichment Activities for Dogs
Give Your Dog Opportunities to SNIFF
Sniffing is beneficial for our dogs in many ways. Sniffing engages a dog's brain in a way that provides incredible mental stimulation, contributes to global decompression and even promotes relaxation by lowering a dog's heart rate! When a dog explores with sniffs, the brain kicks into high gear, analyzing every aspect of the scent - who/what left the scent, the intention behind the scent and so much more! And if a dog is using their nose to find something - to locate a treat, for example - their brain and nose are hard at work, passing information back and forth to get closer and closer to their prize! This kind of mental exercise has powerful anxiety-reducing effects for our dogs, much like the calming effects of human brain-focused activities like sudoko and meditation. Help your dog access relaxation by providing plenty of opportunities to sniff, sniff, sniff!
Some of our favorite sniff enrichment activities include:
Sniffy Walk: There is a common misconception that the faster your dog moves while out on a walk, the more tired he'll be. In reality, it's the opposite! The more your dog is able to explore his surroundings with his nose while out on a walk, the more tired he'll be! To see this for yourself, we encourage you to make your next walk with your dog a 'Sniffy Walk' - also known as a 'Sniff-ari". A sniffy walk is not about how far you can go, but rather how many sniff opportunities your dog can get! Allow your dog to lead the way, letting his nose choose the path. and when he pauses to sniff, allow him to sniff for as long as he'd like until he chooses to move on. Try this style of walk for a minimum of 15 minutes, and explore the difference in your dog's behavior upon your return home.
Snuffle Mat: A 'Snuffle Mat' combines a dog's love for sniffing with their natural desire to forage by providing a sniff-and-seek food game. Snuffle mats are typically made out of fabric, with tons of nooks and crannies for pieces of food to be tucked away into. While sniffing out the food, the dog has to maneuver through the material with his snout and paws to access his yummy prizes! Access an example of a snuffle mat here.
Give Your Dog Opportunities to LICK
Did you know that licking is a naturally soothing behavior that releases a calming hormone for dogs? Providing our dogs with lick-based enrichment activities is an easy way to promote relaxed behavior through self-soothing! There are many tools and toys available on the market that make it quite simple to incorporate licking into your dog's daily routine.
Pro tip: once filled, place these toys in the freezer for extra long-lasting enrichment!
Give Your Dog Opportunities to SHRED
Shredding is a natural behavior that brings most dogs quite a bit of joy, and yet when shredding occurs, it's usually a source of frustration for many dog parents. Because our dogs rarely get purposeful shredding opportunities given to them, they tend to create their own, usually involving items that we humans would prefer to remain in one piece. To minimize your dog's urge for inappropriate shredding shenanigans, try offering your dogs structured opportunities to shred, using items you don't mind saying goodbye to. Some great shredding material options include paper bags, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls and cardboard boxes. You will be amazed at how much fun your dog has simply shredding these to bits! Elevate their fun by hiding treats in some of these items prior to the shredding! Many dogs also really love to shred toys, which can be frustrating if the toy was expensive. If you have a toy-shredder, consider grabbing a couple toys out of the dollar bin the next time you're at the pet store. It will be easier for you to see these inexpensive toys torn to bits and your dog will thank you!
*Be sure to supervise your dog's shredding endeavors and remove the material if your dog shows interest in ingesting the material.
Enrichment Activities for Cats
Give Your Cat Opportunities to Hunt
Cats are natural hunters and enjoy the chase of searching out a prize. Engage your cat's brain by giving them opportunities to seek out their food, rather than getting it served to them in a bowl. The Doc & Phoebe Hunting Snacker is a great food-based hunting game.
Food-dispensing toys can be another great way to enhance your cat's mealtimes, adding a bit of excitement and challenge to their feeding routine. Some of our favorite food-dispensing toys for cats include the Egg-Cersizer, the Fundamentally Feline food puzzles and Nina Ottosson's food puzzles.
Give Your Cat Unique Scratching Opportunities
Scratching is an instinctual behavior that serves many important purposes for cats including scent marking, emotion expression, grooming and stretching. Providing your cat with novel scratching outlets that are specific to their scratching preferences will provide high quality enrichment. Scratching variations to consider: texture and material, horizontal or vertical orientation, placement and location, scent, etc.
Texture/Material: cardboard, carpet - plush and flat, sisal, rope, fabric, woof
Orientation: horizontal, vertical, ramp/angled, curved, fixed/stationary, free-moving
Location: in a private/quiet space, high-trafficked room, next to an exciting window, near an inappropriate scratching outlet (a couch your cat scratches, etc.), hidden, in the open
Offer Your Cat Access to Vertical Space
Cats love to climb and will naturally choose height when given the opportunity. Try increasing the vertical spaces your cat has throughout your home and watch how quickly s/he gravitates to these new perches. Some height-based additions to consider include: shelving, tall cat trees, window shelves, hammocks, etc. Bonus if you can create opportunities for your cat to jump from one high space to another!
Note: There is inherent risk when offering your cat access to new vertical space. It's important to test the safety and security of any new installation prior to allowing your cat access.