When people start talking about enrichment, it sounds expensive. You hear about all these amazing toys and brain games you can buy for your dog, which sound great - but if you buy a few you could soon be spending into the hundreds of pounds. And you wonder, does your dog really NEED all this enrichment? After all, they have a walk every day, right?
Well, that’s a bit like saying humans don’t need to do anything else because they leave the house to go to work each day. Ok, you're getting a change of scenery, but let’s face it, if that’s all we ever did, life would be pretty boring!
Enrichment is one of the best things you can do to give your dog a happy, fulfilled life. It can tire them out more than a walk (FUN FACT - 10 minutes of sniffing or brain games is equivalent to an hour’s walk), and the added bonus is that if for any reason you CAN’T walk them, for example after they’ve been neutered or if you’re unwell, you’ve got a whole box of enrichment activities up your sleeve to keep them occupied.
And here’s the thing - it doesn’t have to be expensive!
With my friends from Potter Paws Dog Training, I’ve put together a great resource for you with 13 ways you can enrich your dog’s life WITHOUT breaking the bank!
NB: for the purposes of this blog, I have not included the costs of everyday treats which you would normally have in the house.
Go on a Sniffari - FREE
This is one of my favourite ways to enrich your dog’s life, and the great thing is it’s absolutely free!
How often do we think of our dog walk as a task to tick off our list rather than an experience to enjoy? Do we hurry our dog along and pull them away from smells rather than letting them enjoy the moment?
With a Sniffari, let your dog’s nose lead the way! Have a bumble about your local area and let your dog sniff as much as they want - discovering all the different smells on your route. It doesn’t have to be a long walk - but your dog will end up completely pooped after all the enrichment and information they’ve discovered through their nose.
Chews - £4 to £25
Many people make the mistake of thinking chewing is a bad thing - and it can be, if they are chewing things they’re not supposed to be, such as your favourite slippers! But chewing is a super natural behaviour for your dog and has many benefits including stress relief, soothing sore gums when teething and busting the boredom.
Give your dog plenty of opportunities to chew the right things to give them daily enrichment - I recommend a selection of natural chews such as pizzles, pigs ears, tendons, ostrich bone or yak, which can be bought individually or in packs from any natural chew provider.
You may find your dog has one or two favourites from the natural chews on offer. If you’re not sure which they’ll like, a great option is to order a Pawsome Parcel from Potter Paws, available as a one-off purchase or monthly subscription.
Magic Cups Game - FREE
A fun way to test out your dog’s problem-solving skills! Grab a stack of plastic cups or beakers, turn them upside down and hide a treat under each one, then invite your dog to find the treats (using your usual cue for searching or taking food).
Your dog has to work out how to move or knock over the beakers in order to get to the treats - once they’ve got the idea, you could try only hiding treats under some of the beakers instead of all of them as well!
Don’t have beakers? - You can use whatever you have to hand to create a variation of this game - you could also try treats in each hole of a cupcake tray and cover them with tennis balls. The aim of the variation is for your dog to move the tennis balls to get to the treats!
Classic Kong £10-£15
Another great option to provide enrichment for your dog is to use a Kong for some of their daily food allowance.
A Kong is a plastic cone-shaped object with a hole through the middle, which can be stuffed with food. The idea is that your dog will lick or push out the food from the central hole, which slows down speedy eaters, makes them think about what they’re doing and gives them enjoyment. Once they have the idea, you can also freeze filled Kongs to add an extra challenge.
Kongs come in different colours: red is standard/adult dogs, pink and blue are for puppies and black is for strong-jawed chewers, so it’s important to choose the right Kong for your dog.
You can stuff your Kong with a variety of different foods - check out this blog for some great Kong recipe ideas.
Play Hide & Seek - FREE to £3
Let’s channel your dog’s energy! Teaching your dog to play hide and seek is a fab way to combine a problem-solving brain game with a little gentle exercise around your home or out and about on a walk.
It can be as simple as teaching your dog to fetch their favourite toy and asking them to bring it back to you - and if your dog is a retrieving breed such as a labrador or a spaniel, you’re already onto a winner as this will be wired into their genetic makeup.
Once they get the idea, you can make it more challenging by hiding the toy without them seeing it and asking them to search for it.
If you’re not sure how to teach your dog to find something and bring it back to you, check out this quick tutorial from Potter Paws: https://www.potterpaws.co.uk/pyoskills/find-it/#
Lickimats and other slow feeders - FREE to £15
One of the easiest ways to introduce enrichment into your dog’s life is to give them their daily food allowance using slow feeding bowls or lickimats. This has a double benefit - having to work the food out of the feeder provides enrichment by making them use their brains to problem-solve, AND makes them eat more slowly which can help to reduce the risk of developing bloat.
There are a variety of different slow feeder bowls available to buy, or if you want a homemade version, rescue an empty egg box from the recycling bin and spoon some of their food allowance into each egg cup for them to enjoy!
Scatter Feed (carpet or grass) - FREE
Super simple but a great technique for helping your dog to de-stress! All you need to do is take a handful of treats and scatter them over your floor, then let your dog snuffle them out. You can scatter feed in a variety of scenarios including the garden or at the pub, if you want your dog to settle while you enjoy a quiet pint!
TOP TIP - don’t be afraid to break down your treats into smaller pieces if you are concerned about the quantity. In this case, size doesn’t matter!
Practise parkour - FREE
To add a little variety into your walks, why not try a little doggy parkour? Using natural features such as tree-stumps and stiles, you can teach your dog skills such as:
- Paws up (two front paws on an obstacle)
- Four Paws (all four paws on an obstacle)
- Round (send them around a tree or post and ask them to return to you)
- Over (stepping or jumping over a low obstacle)
- Through (going under a stile or bridge)
IMPORTANT - make sure that any parkour is carried out SAFELY and within your dog’s capabilities - do not ask them to tackle obstacles which are too big / too small / too unstable
To find out more about Parkour, check out this five day Parkour Fun Challenge from Potter Paws Dog Training and learn the basics with a new skill each day!
Rolled up towel treat dispenser - FREE
This is probably THE simplest way to provide enrichment for your dog. Simply take an old towel, scatter some treats over it, and roll it up! That’s it!
Again, this is encouraging your dog to use their problem-solving skills to work out how to get the treats - perhaps by nudging the towel with their nose until it unrolls. To make it easier to begin with, you can leave the end slightly unrolled with a few of the treats visible until they get the idea.
To make it a little more challenging, you could roll up a couple of towels together or try some different folds so that your dog needs to think a bit more to get their treats!
Hol-EE-roller ball - £10-15
The Hol-EE-roller is so simple yet so awesome! It is a plastic ball with an open honeycomb design and is ideal for turning into a treat dispensing toy to keep your dog amused for absolutely ages.
Simply cut an old blanket or piece of material into strips - a slightly thicker material like fleece is best - then wrap up one or two treats in each strip of fabric and stuff inside the ball. You can leave some of the ends hanging outside the ball until your dog gets the idea if you want to.
The great thing about this is that the ball will naturally dispense treats as it rolls across the ground, as well as when your dog figures out that they need to pull the material out of the ball to get at others. You could also add larger treats such as pizzles if you wish.
When they’re done, simply collect up the fabric strips and refill for more fun!
TOP TIP - I recommend the 19cm (XL) roller for medium to large dogs e.g. labradors - as with any toy, if in doubt, go larger to prevent choking hazards.
Learn new trick - FREE to under a fiver
Dogs love to learn - so why not teach them a new trick?
Dave & Remus think their Auntie S is THE BEST THING EVER, because when we see each other they know it means trick time. I grab a handful of treats and we have 10 minutes playing together, running through all their favourite tricks - from Touch, Down and Peekaboo to High-Five, Spin and doing a Leg Weave.
Believe me you certainly know it when you have two labradors trying to do a Peekaboo at the same time!
So next time you have a few minutes spare, why not teach your dog some new tricks? Potter Paws have a library of one-off trick tutorials you can try with your dog - all under a fiver!
Snuffle mat - £5 - £20
Last but not least, let’s talk about snuffle mats! These are absolutely amazing fun for your dog and, as always, are encouraging sniffing and problem-solving skills. A snuffle mat consists of long strips of material or pockets that you hide treats in, and invite your dog to find.
There are a variety of different style available to buy, from simple “hedgehog” designs (with all the material sticking up like hedgehog spikes) to those that resemble a toddler’s play mat with many different styles of flaps and pockets to explore. They are fairly inexpensive to buy, or you can make one yourself!
All you need is a sink mat with open holes and an old fleece blanket which you are happy to cut up (and which you can also use to stuff your Hol-EE Roller!) - you can probably pick up what you need from the local Poundland if necessary.
Then, to assemble your snuffle mat:
- Cut your fleece blanket into strips approximately 6-8 inches long
- Starting at the corner of your sink mat:
- fold each fleece strip in half
- loop the folded end of the fleece strip through one hole of the sink mat from front to back, and then back through the hole next to it
- feed the ends through the fleece loop and pull tight
- repeat until the sink mat is completely covered with fleece tassels (add extras to any gaps if needed)
- Fill with treats and let your dog enjoy their snuffle mat!