Canine Enrichment and Engagement

Article by Jen Martin at Wildhunde.

Dogs are a smart and interactive species that spend every day using their keen senses and instinctual drives to learn, explore and play. They use their nose to sniff out and explore the world around them, keeping themselves aware of potential dangers and hunting for food. A keen sense of hearing allows them to track even the lightest movement, or the sound of a chip packet opening 4 rooms away if you happen to be a Labrador Retriever.

Many of our domesticated breeds have been purpose bred to do certain jobs that utilise these senses. With their instinctual drives such as prey drive and hunt drive playing a big part in the natural behaviours that we see every day. Chasing animals like birds or rabbits for example is a natural use of prey drive whereas playing with family members utilises more social and play drives.

We take this curious and clever creature, made to run all-day or sniff out every scrap of food, and we place them in a relatively boring domestic environment. Then we take all the most potentially interesting or engaging things in their environment and we spend all our time telling them not to interact with them.

“No, don’t chase that car/bird/cat/possum!”

“Don’t you dig up the yard or chew those plants!”

“Don’t nip the kids!”

“Don’t steal food off the counter!”

We deny them access to all the ways they can use their senses and naturally satisfy their drives. For the reasons of keeping them safe in our world, keeping our houses in one piece and teaching them to be a proper member of society. But this is when we see problems.

This is where canine enrichment enters the picture.

What is Canine Enrichment?

“Environmental or behavioural enrichment is the process of manipulating an animal’s environment to increase physical activity and normal species typical behaviour that satisfies the animal’s physical and psychological needs.” – Ohio State University of Veterinary Medicine.

Just like we have Netflix, books, video games, and many other ways to keep ourselves entertained and mentally stimulated, dogs also need their own forms of entertainment. Providing this will make them happier and more stable companions. Utilising canine enrichment is about bringing back these activities that utilise all our dog’s natural abilities to leave them feeling happy and fulfilled, but in a safe way that works within our society.

Why do we need it?

When you take away all the things a dog can naturally satisfy themselves on, such as hunting, chasing or even social interaction. Your dog will invent their own fun, and that fun usually comes out in ways that the owner does not like.

  • Barking in the yard
  • Chasing cars/planes/bikes/skateboards
  • Digging
  • Chewing
  • Barking on leash
  • Whining
  • Pacing

All these behaviours and more can be linked to a lack of natural drive satisfaction in dogs. By providing enrichment we are keeping our dogs mentally happy and satisfied. If we do not, they will invent their own ways to have fun. We are also making our own lives easier by avoiding all the problems that can arise from this lack of proper stimulation

Types of Enrichment

Enrichment falls into 5 main categories,

Food based enrichment

Do not bother with plain dog bowls anymore! A range of dog food toys filled with your dog’s daily meal will keep them far happier than quickly eating out of a boring bowl.

Recommended brands: WestPaw, SodaPup, USAK9, KONG, Planet Dog

Sensory enrichment (sight, smell, touch, hear, taste)

We can utilise our dog’s senses in a range of ways. Think about the environment and locations you are taking them to, make sure it is a new place and give them the chance to explore. Introduce food in new and different ways such as rotating a range of food toys. Hide them in the yard so your dog must use their nose to find them. Take your walks along different routes and encourage sniffing and exploration.

Novel objects

Utilise found objects around the home and turn them into new and exciting games. Scrap paper, packing materials, cardboard and cardboard rolls are all useful. Take your dog’s food toy and hide it inside a carboard box. Take a handful of treats, scatter them throughout a bunch of scrunched up paper and stash these around their yard. Get some toilet paper rolls and fill them with some kibble.

Social enrichment

Play with your dog! Playing games daily with your dog, from throwing a ball, tugging on a toy or get down on the ground and roll around. Dogs are a family animal and we are their family. Appropriate play dates with other dogs is another great way to gain social enrichment, but remember it is dependent on if your dog finds this rewarding.


One of the best ways to enrich your dog’s daily life is training. Introducing clicker training and shaping games, we give our dogs a mental workout. Pick a range of fun party tricks, such as spinning, or shaking paw. Or expand into more complex tricks.

So where do I start?

Start wherever you can start. It can feel a little overwhelming so just look at taking small steps. Every step no matter how small is a step in the right direction, when it comes to introducing enrichment into your dogs life.

This article was written by Jen Martin at Wildhunde.

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