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7 Easy DIY Enrichment Activities For Dogs

7 Easy DIY Enrichment Activities For Dogs

When you’re short on time or the weather is uninviting, enrichment activities are a great way to give your dog some mental stimulation when you can’t give them physical activity.

The enrichment activities below are all super simple, take just a few minutes to prepare, and use items that you already have in your house.

The best part?

Your dog will love these games and they will tire your dog out just as much as, if not more than, a walk will.

That’s because mental work is tiring work! This is why a structured walk tires your dog more than an hour-long stroll.

Why do Dogs Need Mental Stimulation?

Mental stimulation for dogs is just as important as physical activity.

How many times have you heard an owner joke that they need to run their dog 10 miles every day in order to tire them out?

All they’re doing is creating an endurance athlete. If you’re an ultrarunner, like I am, then that’s what you want. If you’re not, then you’d better become one so you can keep up with your dog.

Mental stimulation is more tiring than physical activity and will help prevent boredom and destructive behaviors, like incessant barking and chewing on items they shouldn’t.

Think about driving in the snow versus driving on a nice sunny day. Even a short drive in the snow will leave you mentally drained by the time you reach your destination.

What counts as mental stimulation? In addition to the enrichment activities you’ll see listed below, here are a few more that you can incorporate into your regular routine:

Will Enrichment Games Promote Destructive Behavior?

They can, but they shouldn’t. They should have the opposite effect. 

However, if you have not established boundaries and structure at home, then there is a chance that your dog can become destructive or demanding when they see the enrichment activity appear in a non-play setting.

For example, my dog believes that every cardboard box is for him, so every time I receive a package, I have to let him know that we’re not playing at the moment.

I can leave out cardboard boxes for recycling and Sitka will leave them alone. He’s learned that we can play with them when I initiate the play.

The easiest way to curb destructive behavior if your dog is getting excited every time they see the toy, is to put the toys away after use. That signifies that playtime is over.

Easy Enrichment Activities for Dogs

All of the enrichment activities below take just minutes to set up and utilize items you probably already have lying around at home. Aside from the item, you’ll just need your dog’s food.

When you are first introducing your dog to these games, start out very easy the first few times, until your dog understands the concept. Once, they get it, then you can increase the level of difficulty.

Egg Carton 

I don’t eat eggs myself, but I give them to Sitka a few times per week. I save the egg carton for the easiest enrichment activity ever.

Take your dog’s meal and fill the egg slots with a few pieces each, close the box, and voila, instant dog enrichment game!

Once your dog understands the game, here are a few ways you can make it more challenging:

  • Hide the egg carton and ask your dog to find it
  • Put the egg carton inside of your busy box (see below)
  • Tie the egg carton together with ribbon (make sure it’s something your dog won’t ingest)

Towel

This is one of my go-to enrichment activities for my dog when I want him to work a little for his food, but I don’t have time to work on training drills or new tricks.

Take a bath towel and lay it out flat. Scatter a handful or two of your dog’s food over the towel. Next, roll it up, fold it randomly, or even just scrunch it up into a ball, then let your dog have at it.

Want to increase the difficulty? Here’s how:

  • Fold the towel in half lengthwise, then add more treats, then fold it again lengthwise and roll up from the short end.
  • After you’ve added the treats and rolled up the towel lengthwise, tie it into a knot (this is most advanced)
  • With the towel fully open, twist from the center until you’ve twisted the entire towel, add more treats in the crevices
  • Fold and twist the towel several times, adding more treats to each fold and twist

Muffin Tin + Tennis Balls

This enrichment activity couldn’t be easier!

Simply take a muffin tin, add food to each compartment, then cover each one with tennis balls. To up the challenge, you can use smaller balls that your dog has to physically remove from the compartment.

You can also add food to pieces of paper, crumple it up and add to each compartment.

Tip: If you don’t want to use your muffin tin for dog games, Goodwill is a great place to find an inexpensive used one, just for the dog.

Hide n’ Seek

I love this game for travel days or when we’re staying in a hotel room. It’s super easy and a lot of fun! 

It doubles as an impulse control training exercise and puts their nose to work.

Take your dog’s food and hide it in small piles in five to 10 different locations in the room. I like to do several rounds of this game, so each pile has just a few pieces to it.

While you’re hiding your dog’s food, put them in place or have them lie down. It’s ok if they watch you, especially when you’re first starting out.

Once you’ve hidden all of their food, release them, using a cue like “find it!” and watch them sniff out their meal.

It’s ok to help them if they get stuck. You can tap the ground by the food, stand near the area where it’s hidden. 

Sometimes, I play “hot or cold” with my dog and he seems to understand that he’s close when I say “hot, hot, hot!”

If your dog is having trouble understanding the game, hide the food in very obvious spots, like the ground. Once they get the concept, you can start hiding the food in more obscure places.

Here are a few of my favorite hiding spots:

  • Under rugs
  • Behind doors
  • Inside my shoe
  • On shelves
  • Chair cross bars

Cardboard Box Game

This one is another favorite enrichment activity for dogs. I get My dog gets a lot of packages, so I save larger boxes and any paper packaging materials for this very activity.

This enrichment activity couldn’t be simpler. Ready?

Take the box, toss in a handful of your dog’s food, seal up the box so it doesn’t open on it’s own and let your dog go to town!

The bonus of this game is that it not only works as scentwork, but it also gives dogs a safe rip and tear outlet. Once he’s fished out all of the treats, Sitka will spend the next several minutes just ripping up the cardboard.

I love getting involved with this part by taking big pieces and playing with Sitka to help him rip and tear each piece. Just be mindful of your fingers!

Yes, it’s messy to clean up afterward, but it’s worth it to see how much fun your dog has with this enrichment activity.

Cardboard boxes have infinite possibilities for enrichment. Here are a few more ways you can get creative:

  • Crumple up paper inside the box so your dog has to root around
  • Toss in water bottles
  • Add treats to treat dispensing toys and put those inside the box
  • Put a towel or egg carton inside the box
  • Add multiple boxes inside the box

Water Bottle Treat Dispenser

If you drink bottled water, keep those bottles and use them as a fun DIY enrichment activity.

Simply fill them up with some of your dog’s food, seal the lid, and let your dog have at it.

If your dog’s food is on the larger side, you can leave the bottle unsealed and then it becomes a treat dispensing toy. You can also use an exacto knife to cut holes in the sides of the water bottle.

Toilet Paper Rolls

Don’t toss that empty toilet paper roll! Save it for your dog. (paper towel rolls work great, as well). 

Simply cut 4-6 slits into each end, fold down one end, toss in a handful of food, then fold up the other end. Instant dog toy!

You can hide these around the house and ask your dog to search for them to create more of a challenge. They’re also great to toss inside cardboard boxes.

Always supervise your dog with any ingestible items, like plastic and cardboard. Make sure that they have a good “out” command and remove the toy once they have eaten all of the treats or start to engage in chewing behavior.

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[…] On rest days, Sitka and I go for short walks, or we do more enrichment activities. […]