What's the Point of Enrichment?

By Faith McCloy
December 15, 2023

Imagine a world where dogs weren’t domesticated. What would their lives look like? If you’re picturing a world where dogs can explore, hunt, and sniff to their heart's content, then you might be on the right track. In their natural habitat, dogs would be able to provide themselves with mental stimulation and would always have something to do to stave off boredom. 


In the modern age, dogs spend more time inside and rely on their owners to have activities to do. Your dog can get bored without mental stimulation which might lead to behavioral issues if left unchecked. Interacting with your dog regularly can also help you notice abnormal behaviors or issues before they get serious. Enrichment is a necessary part of dog ownership and can provide your dog with a happy and fulfilling life!

What Is Enrichment?

The literal definition of enrichment is the act of enhancing the value or quality of something. For dogs, it means stimulating their minds. Dogs are just like humans regarding the necessity of mental stimulation for a good quality of life. You might already be instilling routines and behaviors in your dog that are considered enrichment without knowing it. 


Without mental stimulation, your dog can get very bored and it can lead to stress and anxiety as they attempt to fill their time. Excessive licking, an increase in vocalization like barking and whining, digging in or escaping from your yard, abnormal repetitive behaviors, and eating poop can all be signs that your dog lacks stimulation. It is important to recognize that a stressed dog might be feeling that way because of reasons aside from a lack of enrichment. You can read our blog on understanding your dog’s body language for more information about signs of stress and anxiety in your pup. 


Mental stimulation can solve many things in a dog’s life. Enrichment is a key aspect of dog ownership and is not a plus; it is a requirement for a happy life for your dog. The benefits you can expect are vast but might include:


  • Reduction in stress
  • Less unwanted behaviors
  • Better appetite
  • Less depression
  • Lower frequency of barking or whining
  • Improved happiness and well-being

There are many types of enrichment that you could try for your dog. Not everything is one size fits all, so try as much as you can to see what works best for them! 

Social

Two golden retrievers, one standard coloring and the other white, are both holding a monkey stuffed toy. The white dog is laying on grass with the other standing above.
Dogs are pack animals. They thrive in a setting where another dog or animal is present. Socializing your dog is an important part of dog ownership; dogs need to know how to interact with others to become well-behaved animals. Dogs that aren’t socialized when they’re younger are more likely to be aggressive towards others or display problematic behaviors. 

 

Socializing can include playing with other dogs or simply exploring new environments. Dogs are more likely to be well-rounded if they have experienced a variety of environments or dogs. It is a good idea to introduce them to chaotic, slow, loud, and quiet environments so they’re prepared for any situation they might be in. Having multiple dogs can decrease the need for socializing, but it is still a good idea to provide this. 


The best way to socialize your pup is to take them to various dog-friendly places to get them used to new sensations and experiences. Taking them to a dog park is also a good idea, as long as your dog is comfortable around other dogs. Dog parks can be risky and unpredictable with large amounts of animals in one area; more dogs in one area can potentially lead to injuries or fights. A better alternative is to make friends with other dog owners and have a smaller, supervised group. 

Physical

A physical version of enrichment entails manipulating and enhancing the quality of your dog’s environment. Improving the complexity of their space by introducing new activities or objects they can freely navigate is a good hands-off option. Any of the following changes can be a great start at enrichment. 


Enclosure: Having a personal space is extremely beneficial to dogs as it provides them with a space where they know they can escape any potential triggers or anxieties.  These could be crates or personal rooms in your home. 


Points of Interest: Mixing up materials and objects throughout your home is a great way to give your dog variety. You can increase pillows, blankets, platforms, doors, and other barriers to allow your dog to explore a new arrangement.


Breed-specific activities: Enrichment is not the same for every dog. Creating breed-specific play outlets is a great way to lessen unwanted behaviors that might originate from their working past. A dog that likes to dig would benefit from a sandbox or ball pit mixed with treats. 


Toys: Some dogs might not be fans of playing with toys, but it is a great way to provide your dog with enrichment. You can give your dog as many or as few toys as you want but you should rotate the toys to make sure your dog stays interested and doesn’t have too many options. Mix up the toy materials for more variation in their toys.

Nutritional

Every dog is driven by a certain type of motivator, whether that be food, attention, or toys. Food is one of the most common drivers for motivation in dogs. Nutritional enrichment pokes at the natural intuition of a dog to search for its food. 


Nutritional enrichment can be done in numerous ways. Scavenger hunt, where you rub a treat in various areas of your home and then hide it for your dog to find, is a great option for dogs that love sniffing and have strong noses. Food puzzles come in many different styles and difficulty levels for even the smartest of dogs. If you choose to use their meals as a form of enrichment, you can buy snuffle mats or roll food up in a towel to work their brains. 


It is important to not overfeed with nutritional enrichment. If you notice your dog putting on weight, try splitting up their meals to provide nutritional enrichment. You should limit how often you use this method if you don’t utilize meals as additional enrichment. 

Cognitive

We all need a mental workout after a day of mind-numbing work. Your dog needs the same thing! Cognitive enrichment is all about helping your dog learn how to do new things and challenging them to think before acting. All forms of training are examples of cognitive enrichment.


Training is a very cost-effective way to work your dog’s brain as all you need is a little research and some small treats for positive reinforcement. Leash training is a great skill for dogs and combines cognitive enrichment and exercise.


Patience is a virtue and your dog is a very impulsive being. Many owners have opted to train a “release” command for their dog’s feeding routine. Teaching your dog to be patient and wait for your command or permission can help in the future during escalated situations; they might be more inclined to obey you if you’ve trained them to wait for you. 

Sensory

The senses are important to both dogs and humans. Sensory enrichment aims to stimulate many aspects of a dog’s senses. It includes olfactory (smell), visual, auditory, kinesthetic (touch), and gustatory (taste) enrichment.

Olfactory

Olfactory enrichment can work best for those dogs that love to sniff. Nosework training or activities are a great option for breeds like labs, hounds, and terriers. Enrichment can also be done by using essential oils (check out our blog on safe essential oils) that aim to provide calm and relaxation; lavender is perfect for this. 

Visual

Visual enrichment involves your dog viewing things that might pique their interest. Combining this with the idea of your dog having a safe space, viewing things from inside a covered kennel can help ease stress. Dog TV is another option that often has small animals of prey that your dog might find intriguing to watch.

Auditory

Auditory enrichment is all about what your dog might hear around them and how to get them thinking about it. Playing genres of music like classical or jazz could provide a sense of calm if they suffer from separation anxiety while you’re gone. These sounds should be under 70 decibels and should be tailored based on what your dog enjoys (maybe they love Drake over Bach). 

Kinesthetic

A tan-skinned man is holding the head of an Akita dog that has its tongue sticking out.

Touch can be very comforting. Lovingly petting your dog helps destress them and gives them company. Kinesthetic enrichment can also be represented by predatory play, fetch, obstacles, and games. If you do choose to play games with your dog, you should let them win every once in a while.

Gustatory

As mentioned above, food is a substantial motivator for dogs. Giving your dog human foods that aren’t toxic can stave off any disinterest in eating perpetrated by having the same food every day. Bully sticks and yak chews are great options to keep your chew-happy dog busy for hours. You should never give your dog rawhides as it can cause blockages in their digestive tract. 

Put It Into Practice

Enrichment doesn’t have to be expensive, either. So many methods and objects are common in a household and can be used to better your dog’s life. Enrichment can be done in conjunction with exercise or as an added time spent with your dog. It should never replace regular exercise but should instead supplement it. Listed below are a few budget-friendly options for enrichment!


  • Shred a cabbage: Dogs that like to destroy things will enjoy a large red cabbage to destroy. You can also use cereal boxes if they’re interested in them.
  • Lick Mats: A lick mat can run anywhere between 5 and 20 dollars. Load these up with broth, greek yogurt, pumpkin, and other human foods, pop them into the freezer, and let your dog lick and bite them. This can also be done with Kong toys. 
  • Bubbles: Many dogs find bubbles intriguing. Some companies make bacon or other dog-focused flavorings to enhance the experience. 
  • Scent walks: You can learn more about scent walks here, but these are a great way for your dog to learn more about their surroundings and give them a sense of control. 

Try many different methods of enrichment and see what works best for your dog!

Share:
Ahiflower® Omega Oil

Daily essential you and your dog will love

Boost your dog’s diet with a complete and balanced blend of plant-based omega fatty acids (3, 6 & 9) derived from ahiflower to promote healthy skin, coat, and joints. Made with both dog and planetary health in mind, this sustainable, all-in-one omega solution is the essential complement to your dog’s daily diet.