Six Enrichment Activities to Improve Your Dog’s Mental Health & make your dogs life better (and Improve Behaviour). Dog Enrichment Toys are so expensive - make your own for nothing!
As most of you know we have 4 mini Dachshunds and they rule our home. They entertain each other, play & for the most part enjoy each others company. But, they are incredibly smart, driven by instinct & need more mental stimulation and entertainment than just each others company in between outings..
For all those reading this who have grown up with siblings - baby bro or big sis were great - but you needed your own thing right? And my guys all LURVE food so it’s a no-brainer in our house, food equals fun - but with four brains to stimulate and four mouths to feed it can get pricey, right? We got you read on!
I think you all know about Kong Enrichment Toys, and have walked up and down your local pet store checking out the HUGE range of enrichment toys that you can hide, stuff or smear with food. Good grief! They are SO EXPENSIVE! Your average small Kong-like toy will set you back between $30 and $70 dollars. Times that by four for our pack. $280 on enrichment toys is not they way I choose to spend my money!
Why do dogs need Enrichment Toys?
Just like us, dogs can get bored, frustrated, anxious and depressed due to lack of mental stimulation. All those naughty behaviours & chronic anxiety can be managed, just give them an entertaining job to do!
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of social contacts and variety in our lives. Staying home and following the same routine day in and day out, with few social interactions, has left many people feeling bored, frustrated, anxious and depressed. Our dogs can feel the same way when they lack social activities, new experiences, an occupation, or the opportunity to engage in normal canine behaviours.
In fact, many canine behaviour problems are caused by boredom or a lack of mental stimulation. We now know that mental enrichment is just as important for dogs as physical exercise. Research has shown that increased mental activity results in improved mental health and cognitive function in dogs. It builds confidence, releases stress, and strengthens your mutual bond. In short, your dog will live a happier life.
Let’s look at some easy ways to incorporate Mental Enrichment into your dog’s life - that won't cost a fortune
Our top 6 (cheap!) ways we use food to stimulate our dogs brains through their natural instincts - their sense of smell and their desire to hunt.
1. Snuffle Mats
2. Frozen Stand and Stuff Cheweees
3. Rolled Towels
4. The Easter Egg Hunt
5. Plastic Bottles
6. The Destructo Box
1. Snuffle Mats
Snuffle Mats are fantastic to stimulate your dogs sense of smell. They literally encourage your dog to smell out food - snuffle away & stimulate their instinctive behaviours! But Snuffle Mats are expensive, and when your dog destroys it - and they will trust me - you’ll be out of pocket quite a lot of money. There is a much cheaper & equally as good option - a shaggy bathmat or small cheap carpet rug. A bathmat from Kmart (that’s Walmart in the US) will set you back $8. I use these as non-slip mats in the bath as well - check out our hilarious video of bath time with our pack here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69nKkUiwgvA&t=337s
All you need to do is sprinkle your high value snacks of choice in them. A word of advice - use dry treats as is reduces the mess and need to wash the snuffle mat after every use. This was the main reason we created PUPCORN NIBBLES. We needed the perfect enrichment food that could be crumbled up small enough to get into the snuffle mat and really give the dogs a challenge as well as being clean and dry - no mess, no fuss!. And at eight bucks a pop - it doesn’t hurt so much if they go to town and destroy the mat!
2. Frozen Cheweees
Cheweees are the best ALL NATURAL KONG TOY FOR YOU DOG! Our Cheweees are made from Trachea - the throat - of a cow. They are simply dehydrated and they are the most awesome tube just asking to be stuffed! We call them our stand & stuff.
Fun fact - They are really high in Glucosamine so great for joint health.
All you need to do is stuff them with whatever wet food you feed you dog - cooked vegies, raw mince, premade raw meals - you get the idea - and freeze them. BOOM! An entire meal, fabulous teeth cleaning tool and mental stimulation. But, they can make a mess so do not feed inside trust me our white leather sofa as never been the same since!
3. Rolled Towels
Cheap Tea towels are the winner here - go to your $2 dollar store and grab a handful. Cheap & cheerful, you can do this cheap hack 2 ways, wet or dry. The way my guys like is wet - that is I soak the clean tea towel in Bone Broth. While its wet I lay it flat and sprinkle the Puppy Crack (yup, my customers call it that - it’s just super crunchy chicken breast pieces!) over & roll and tie in a knot. Pop it in your freezer overnight. Give it to your dog and watch him live his best life! Added bonus here is they get a cool refreshing challenge on those summer days. The second way you can do this is dry - simply sprinkle the Pupcorn Nibbles and roll and tie into a tight knot
4. The Easter Egg Hunt - Dog Environmental Enrichment
This literally is the quickest and easiest way to give your dog a task that may last him hours to complete. And it’s free! If you live in an apartment this probably isn’t an option for you - but you can adapt it to the space you have. Simply grab a handful or two of Pupcorn Nibbles and crush them up even smaller in your hand. I like to let my dogs look at me through the glass sliding door when I am casting all those delish little pieces of chicken all over the back yard’s grassed area- they get really excited, and this focus is what I will use to enable me to leave the house with the minimum of fuss. It’s the last thing I do before I grab my keys & leave. They all pile on through the doggy door to be the first to find the most ‘Easter eggs’!
A word of advice here - only cast the Pupcorn on the grassed areas otherwise you will have trampled garden beds or sneaky little holes dug in your petunia patch!
5. Plastic Bottles
This one costs literally NOTHING!
Wash out your plastic soft drink bottle including the cap. Allow to dry & add some PUPCORN NIBBLES. Grab a Knife and punch random holes in the side of the bottle. Make sure they are big enough to let the Pupcorn escape. Screw on the cap and make it a game - multiple bottles for multiple dogs in our house - one each they don’t like to share! Make sure you throw away the bottles once they’ve secured the loot - otherwise you’ll end up with chewed plastic bottles everywhere!. Supervise this one, you don't want them to eat the bottles!
6. The Destructo Box
Again, this one costs literally NOTHING!
Simply grab a couple of cardboard boxes, use different sized ones that will fit inside each other. Use your empty cereal boxes or any other type of cardboard box you have. The idea is kind of like stacking Russian Dolls.
Pop in a couple of high-value treats into each box, think Pupcorn, Fish Fingers, Pumpkin Pie Bites or Moo Chews - mix it up as all the different smells really encourage them to work harder to get the food. Close the boxes - if you want to make the game last even longer use tape to close the boxes. You can make it even harder by adding crumpled up newspapers or junk-mail.
This game makes a bit of a mess - the idea is the dog literally destroys the boxes to get to the rewards. So, if you don’t mind picking up shredded cardboard this one’s a winner for you!
So there you have it - mental stimulation, boredom busting, nose-work & fun all wrapped into super easy, cheap (or FREE) enrichment games for your dog.
Get to it humans your dogs will thank you for it - and so will your neighbours as it will stop all that bored random barking!