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By Cathryn Adolph, LVT, CCRP, CCFT

Canine Enrichment Games for Our Dogs

Labor day marks the end of summer and the start of the new school year.  With the start of busy after school schedules, our pets often see a large decrease in the amount of quality time.  We can help the transition and keep our dogs mentally stimulated by providing canine enrichment games and toys!

Meal Times

Simple things such as switching out your dog’s food bowls or taking 5 minutes to train a trick can make meal times an event!   In the morning, I use their breakfast to work on their fitness exercises and/or other training projects.  On average, it is 5-15 minute per dog.  In the evening, I give my dogs their supplements, and I am unable feed their meals by hand.  So, I have three different “slow feed” bowls that I rotate between my two dogs. What originally took them 30 seconds to eat now takes over 5 minutes.

Nose Games

It is currently estimated that over 40% of a dog’s brain is dedicated to scent.  Using canine enrichment games that rely of scent can be mentally exhausting for our dogs.   Snuffle mats are made of fleece strands tied to a rubber mat.  The food falls between the strands and my dogs have to really search for each piece. The snorting and snuffling noises are quite hilarious!

Teaching a toy-driven dog to find a hidden toy is another fun game!  Start by letting your dog see you hide their dog in an “easy” spot.  Ask them to get their toy and have a good play session when they find it.  Slowly work up to having your dog outside the room and the toy hidden in a harder, but still accessible spot.

Puzzle Games and Food Toys

Puzzle games and food toys can be considered nose games, but instead of just hunting for the food they have to interact to get the food.  Food toys can be as simple as a stuffed kong.  More complex food toys require the dog to roll toys around to work food out of the holes in the toy.  Some examples include the Kong Wobbler, Pet Safe Busy Buddy, and Buster Cube.

There are also specialty made puzzle in which the dog can smell the hidden food/treats but have to slide or open compartments to open.  Outward Hound has a large selection of these complex toys developed by Nina Ottoson for a challenge.

Trick Training

Trick training is near and dear to my heart.  Tricks are a fun way to engage our dog’s brain, teach concepts that carry over to “real life”, and they’re fun!  Using a portion of my dog’s meals, I will train a trick for 5-10 minutes each.  There are some tricks I start and never finish or it might be too advanced at the time.

Rehabilitation and Enrichment

While trick training, may not be appropriate while recovering from surgery, food toys and slow-feeding bowls are a great way to help recovery.  Rehabilitation exercises prescribed by your rehabilitation veterinary team are a great way to also allow your dog to burn off some energy.

Canine Enrichment Made Easy

There are many more tools on the market that make adding regular enrichment to your dog’s life easier.  Regularly finding new things to add or rotating the old will keep your dog’s mind engaged.