5 simple and cheap enrichment games to make your dog calm and confident

Looking for some ways to keep your dog happy, healthy and busy? If so try adding in a few mentally stimulating canine enrichment games & activities to your dog’s daily routine.

Mental stimulation enriches our dogs lives by giving them something meaningful and challenging to do. And because these activities alleviate boredom they decrease the likelihood of our dogs developing behavioural issues such as excessive chewing or barking.

1. Snuffle Mat 

enrichment snuffle mat

A snuffle mat is basically a rubber mat with lots of fabric strips (usually fleece) tied to it. They’re designed to mimic grass, and they’re used to give your dog a fun yet challenging way to sniff out food and treats. They encourage your dog to use their natural sniffing and scavenging abilities, and they’re a fun way to have your dog work for their food.

2. Training  

The mental exercise of training can be just as tiring as physical exercise for our dogs. So, teach your dog new tricks using reward based training. Not only will they learn new skills, but it will also help improve your relationship and boost their confidence.

You could teach your dog to:

  • Give you their paw, one at a time (or high five)
  • Do a figure of eight
  • Tidy up their toys
  • Put their paws up
  • Run through a tunnel

As well as teaching your pup tricks, you can also do other basic training including teaching them useful life skills. This could be fun loose-lead walking with puppies before they can go outside. You can also teach them to settle and do recall training/ As well as providing enrichment this will also help with future situations.

3. Scent-based enrichment

Smell is very important to our dogs. Sniffing is a natural behaviour and is a key way our dogs gain information about their environment. 

On walks, allow your dog plenty of opportunity and time to sniff. Make sure you go to different places and mix up the route that you take. This will give them new experiences and of course, new smells.

Back at home, you could buy dog-safe plants and herbs for them to smell. Some plants are toxic to dogs, so be very careful to avoid these.

You could also swap treats for toys and hide their favourite one for them to sniff out.

4. Games with toys

Playing games with toys is beneficial to your pup physically as well as mentally. It also helps to build their confidence and will help to strengthen the bond between the two of you.

Here’s our top tips when playing games with toys:

Tip one: Rotate your dog’s toys weekly. This will keep them excited and interested in them.

Tip two: Let your pup win games. Your dog will enjoy it if you take it in turns and both win a few games each.

Tip three: Your dog may rip soft toys up – this is natural behaviour. Just make sure you are always supervising when they are playing with these toys. You don’t want them to swallow any small parts. If you do need to take away a part of the toy, swap this for a treat or two. 

Tip four: Dogs will naturally hold, tug and shake toys with their mouths. If you feel their teeth on you, stay calm, still and quiet to end the game. Then, calmly move away, if necessary. Take a short break and continue playing so they learn that the fun continues when their teeth stay on the toy.

5. Environmental enrichment

Make sure your dog is getting to visit and explore brand new places. Most dogs will find experiencing a range of environments enjoyable and it will be incredibly beneficial too. That is because the different sights, sounds and smells will stimulate their senses.

Give them the opportunity to walk on different surfaces, smell and even taste (as long as they are safe and dog-friendly, of course) new things.

Consider the type of places your dog seems to enjoy the most. Perhaps it is the woods or at a dog-friendly beach?

Top tip: it's important to provide access to fresh water. You should also prevent your dog from drinking salt water, which can cause severe illness in dogs, and sometimes even be fatal.

Speaking of the beach, water can be great fun for your pooch – as long as it is safe and suitable for your dog, and they feel comfortable in it. You could always start off with a shallow paddling pool in the garden. This will give them a new experience and is great for playtime. Plus, it’s the ideal way to cool off on a hot summer’s day.  Check out our fab adventure days with your pup here!

Need to know: Just make sure they’re always enjoying themselves. If they ever show any sign of becoming worried by something they see, hear or smell, calmly lead them away. You should also ensure that your pup is comfortable travelling in the car before heading off for an adventure in a new place.

While it’s important to take pup on new routes and to experience different places, you can make the most of their regular walks by making them interactive. As well as stretching their legs and having a sniff you could include activities such as:

  • Playing with toys
  • Throw or scatter their food / treats for them to search for
  • Practise tricks in the park
  • Lay a treat trail for them to follow
  • Encourage them to place their paws on objects (provided it’s safe for them to do so) …
  • … or get them to walk along fallen trees (just make sure they don’t fall or lose balance). 

Don’t forget: As important as it is to provide enrichment for your dog, it’s equally as important that you incorporate time to rest into their daily routine – especially while they are still a puppy.