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Dog Enrichment Ideas

What Is Dog Enrichment?

Enrichment is providing animals with needed environmental stimuli that satisfy their natural instincts, which promotes physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. It's not just for our pets either!


Enrichment provides an outlet for instincts such as chewing, digging, hunting, herding, or scent tracking. Each breed was created to perform very specific tasks, most of which involve a large amount of physical and mental stamina. Without appropriate ways to use their natural gifts, dogs will often exhibit problem behaviors, boredom, or become stressed and anxious.

Why is Enrichment Important for Your Dog?

  • Enrichments Helps with Puppy Socialization

  • Enrichment Helps Reduce Canine Anxiety and Stress

  • Enrichment Prevents Your Dog From Getting Bored

  • Enrichment Provides Physical and Mental Exercise for Your Dog

Different Types of Dog Enrichment

Enrichment for the Canine Senses (Sensory Enrichment)

There are different kinds of enrichment to consider — it's not only about the latest treat or toy. When considering ways to enrich your dog's environment, think about the five senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste. Variety is key when it comes to enrichment for your dog. Mix it up from one day to the next.

  • Use different kinds of materials when making your dog puzzles, as these smell, feel, taste, look and sound different while your dog is tossing them around trying to get their food out. Switch out different types of toys to provide variety.

  • Walking on different kinds of surfaces, and letting your dog roll around in the grass or dirt is giving them some excellent tactile enrichment.

  • Play different sounds or types of music for your dog for sound enrichment. Hang up a wind chime every so often, or introduce the sounds of different birds or animals they don't usually hear

  • Create a scent garden by spritzing diluted and dog-friendly smells on various surfaces and letting them explore.


Environmental enrichment is especially important for young puppies in their initial imprint period (between 7 to 16 weeks of age). If you have a young puppy, download our FREE Pupstanding App for an interactive socialization checklist to work through different enrichment experiences.

Cognitive Enrichment for Dogs

From puzzles to training sessions, problem-solving is also considered an enrichment activity because it expends both physical and mental energy. "Cognitive enrichment can wear out a dog as much as a run in the park. Training sessions and brain games can be equated to crosswords or sudoku puzzles for humans," Paulik explains.

Sign up for a dog training class that goes beyond just the basic obedience behaviors, such as trick training or nose work classes. There are lots of dog sports you can get involved in as well, many of which build on a dog's natural breed tendencies.

If your dog is a herding breed or mix, a sport like Treibball (Urban Herding) is a great way to work their skills. Earthdog or Barn Hunt gives terriers an opportunity to dig and track rodents. From dock diving to Flyball, there's a sport for every dog and their person! And just because a dog might not be genetically predisposed to a particular activity, it's still fun to try it out and see if they enjoy it.

Even if you live in an area without nearby dog sports clubs or training classes, there are online options to get you started, such as the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy.

Social Enrichment for Dogs

Beyond just environmental enrichment, dogs also need social enrichment such as play and interaction. "Dogs are incredibly social creatures and isolation can cause them large amounts of stress," says Paulik.

If your dog enjoys and does well playing with other dogs, consider regular playdates or trips to the dog park (Learn more about What You Should Know Before Taking Your Puppy to the Dog Park here).

Dog daycare is another great option to give your dog social interaction with other dogs. If you're not sure if your dog would like going to daycare, read our article "Will Your Dog Enjoy and Do Well in Daycare."

Age-Appropriate Enrichment

Enrichment should be tailored to each individual dog’s preferences, needs, and abilities. Senior dogs have different needs and physical abilities than adolescent dogs and puppies need different things than adult dogs.

If your dog is hard of hearing or sight-impaired, adjust the enrichment to really engage the senses they do still have, like smell or touch. If they have a harder time moving around or have arthritis, choose enrichment activities that they can enjoy while staying comfortable in a small area. Consider putting down a mat to give them some traction while they work on a puzzle.

When asked if there is any kind of enrichment activity or toy to avoid with a dog, Paulik made an excellent point: "This really depends on the dog. If they are very insecure or tend to give up easily, you want to avoid any toy or activity that frustrates them or causes them stress.

Watch the dog’s body language as they are engaging in the activity. If they appear to be stressed or uninterested, try something easier so they can build confidence knowing that this is something that they can succeed in."

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