Enrichment toys for dogs can build confidence, reduce undesirable behaviour and prevent your dog from going into destruction mode!
When your dog is mentally stimulated, they are more likely to relax and feel happier, meaning they’ll be a joy to live with.
Discover your complete guide to enrichment toys for dogs, which will help you decide which toys are best for your dog. Plus, learn how to encourage your dog to get stuck in!
What is enrichment for dogs?
Enrichment is defined as the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.
When it comes to dogs this often means using the mind or body to stay active, exercise or engage the brain.
There are lots of different types of enrichment games and activities you can do with your dog, and one of the easiest is using puzzle feeders and enrichment toys.
At the Canine Learning Academy, enrichment feeders are one of the very first things we implement as part of a healthy training plan for dogs of all ages.
Why? Well, because a dog that uses its brain daily is often wiped out and less likely to be destructive.
Why is canine enrichment important?
Mental stimulation is just as important, if not more important than walking your dog. A bored dog will often find their own entertainment, but this is preventable with some simple enrichment activities each day.
Most people think that if you want to tire your puppy out, you must take them for a long walk. However, the more exercise your puppy gets, the more fit they become.
Before you know it, your 20-minute walks are an hour and a half, and your puppy is still not tired. Aaargh!
If you make mealtime fun, then your dog will be mentally and physically satisfied. It’s as easy as ditching the typical dog bowl and using your dog’s daily food portions to fill enrichment toys and puzzle feeders. You can also hold a bit back to use for short training sessions each day.
While your puppy works on their enrichment project, you can take some time to catch up on your to-do list, guilt-free and undisturbed.
Ditch the bowl with puzzle feeders and enrichment toys
Ditching the bowl is accessible to everyone; raw feeders, dogs that require medication, puppies, and senior dogs.
There are so many ways to incorporate enrichment into your dog’s daily routine, and with a bit of planning, the preparation doesn’t take long.
There are many different types of enrichment feeders, and you can even make your own with things you have in your home!
The type you end up using all depends on what kind of fun motivates your dog.
Every moment is a learning opportunity, yet we miss so many of those moments when we put food into simple dog bowls.
Read on for a list of the best enrichment toys for dogs, and ditch the bowl!
Choosing the right kinds of enrichment for your dog
Our dogs are all different so take some time to observe your dog and determine what types of enrichment activities they will enjoy.
You can use enrichment to help boost your dog’s confidence, so take note of the things that make your dog a little cautious and slowly introduce enrichment that allows them to explore and build resilience.
How to introduce enrichment toys to your dog
Whatever kind of enrichment you are trying with your dog, always start off easy and progress at your dog’s pace to more challenging activities.
Some enrichment toys for dogs are noisy. For example, plastic interactive feeders which need to be rolled or flipped to get the food out can startle a nervous dog. Put your feeder on a towel or blanket to reduce the noise while your dog grows in confidence.
Some puzzle feeders are very challenging. Start with easier toys so that your dog doesn’t become frustrated and give up. Once your dog has mastered the art of using puzzle feeders, you can progress to trickier toys.
A Snuffle mat is a great introduction to enrichment feeders, as it’s stationary, makes no noise and gets your dog used to searching for rewards.
Top tips for using enrichment toys for dogs
- If the movement or noise of the feeder is scary, use a towel beneath it to muffle the noise. Or, move the feeder around and drop some treats near it when your dog hears the noise.
- Make each feeder exciting by presenting it to your dog like a present, and help them get started if they are confused or nervous about what to do.
- Batch stuff and fill your interactive feeders so they’re ready to go whenever you need them.
- Measure your dog’s meal for the day so that you don’t end up overfeeding.
- If you want to make the feeder last a bit longer, then freeze it. This is also great for teething puppies.
- Use a muffin tray to stop your wobbly feeders from making a mess in your fridge or freezer.
- Be sure to put all toys away when your dog’s done.
12 of the best enrichment toys for dogs
We’ve tried a lot of different enrichment toys for dogs here at The Canine Learning Academy. So we’ve rounded up a list of our favorites for you to save you some browsing time!
This interactive feeder can be spread with wet food or spreadables such as xylitol-free peanut butter, yogurt or pureed pumpkin. You can even wedge kibble or treats between the gaps, which will take your dog longer to get out.
It has a whistle effect when your dog plays with it to get the food out, so it can help increase your dog’s confidence around noise too.
This puzzle feeder is robust, so a brilliant choice for strong chewers. Fill it with kibble or treats and watch your dog bounce it around to retrieve their rewards.
If your dog’s uncertain, start with smaller bits of food that are easy to get out and spread something yummy on the outside to encourage them.
You can put food or treats in the grooves on the outside of this interactive puzzle feeder, and you can also play fetch with it too! This doubles up as great play enrichment and food enrichment for your dog.
The Lickimat is great for helping your dog to calm down. Licking naturally reduces stress and excitement for dogs, so this is a great enrichment toy. Put it in the freezer, and it’ll last even longer.
Plus, it’s dishwasher safe, so super easy to clean when your dog’s through with it.
This textured ball is brilliant for aggressive chewers and helps keep your dog’s mouth clean too. You can put food or treats both inside the ball and in the sides, which will keep your dog entertained for ages.
This one also bounces and is excellent for playing fetch with your dog too.
Kongs are always very popular. They’re robust and a lot of fun.
This one has a hole in the side and a round weighted base, so your dog has to nudge and paw at it to make it wobble, so the food falls out.
It’s dishwasher safe, and the top screws off for easy loading.
This dishwasher safe, interactive feeding bowl is brilliant for slowing your dog’s eating down and providing a challenge. You can use it with kibble, wet or raw food.
Please note – this is not a good choice for brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs or Shih Tzu as they will find it difficult to get to the food.
This enrichment toy gives you two levels of difficulty. Use it as standard, and your dog will need to paw, play and roll it to get their food out. Once they’ve mastered that, you can add a Nook ball inside to level up the challenge!
The much loved standard stuffable Kong is popular for a reason! Fill with treats or dry food, then put a spreadable to seal and watch your pup go to town.
These are also freezable, so once your pup has the hang of it, you can make them more challenging with ease.
This puzzle feeder offers great cognitive enrichment. Your dog will have to spin the treat dispensers to get their food to fall out.
This is more challenging than some but a brilliant enrichment toy for dogs who have found their feet with simpler activities.
A snuffle mat is a brilliant enrichment toy for beginners and more experienced dogs alike. Made of a rubber mat with fleece strips, you scatter or bury dry food or treats for your dog to sniff out.
This naturally helps your dog to calm and acts as an awesome way to pass some time putting their nose to work.
You can fit your dog’s entire meal in this treat dispenser. It’s awesome! Simply unscrew the bottom cap and fill it with your dog’s dry food or treats, and watch your dog go.
What’s really great about the Bob-A-Lot, is that it’s adjustable, which means you can change the outlets for different sized foods and to alter the difficulty.
Different types of enrichment for dogs
Enrichment isn’t just about puzzle feeders and stuffed Kongs, although we think they’re fantastic! There are various ways you can enrich your dog’s day and give them enjoyable experiences to partake in.
- Food-based (puzzle feeders, stuffable enrichment toys and DIY enrichment games)
- Toy-based or Play (tug, fetch, toys that encourage your dog to nudge, paw, pull or play to get rewards)
- Sensory (Activities that include sight, sound, smell, taste and touch)
- Social (Interaction with you, other people and other dogs if your dog enjoys it)
- Cognitive (training, games, puzzle feeders, or hide and seek)
- Physical (parkour, agility, digging, swimming, climbing and exploring)
Enrichment comes in many forms. It’s a great way to boost your dog’s confidence and encourage curiosity. Plus, it’s fun!
For some simple ways to make enrichment for your dog a habit, why not try out our 5-day enrichment challenge?
The 5-day Enrichment Challenge
We’ve got five days of enrichment activities for you to try with your dog. We’ve ensured that you will incorporate all six of the different types of enrichment for dogs over the five days.
Are you in?! Your dog will thank you for it!
Toy-based or Play Enrichment can involve using toys to encourage interaction between you or toys your dog can self entertain with.
Toys come in all shapes, sizes and textures. Your dog may enjoy playing tug, chasing, pouncing, de-stuffing, searching or parading with their favorite toy.
Activity time: Play with your dog today.
Physical Enrichment gets your dog’s body moving and can include activities such as canine parkour, climbing, swimming, digging and exploring.
Activity time: Explore somewhere new together and have an adventure.
Food enrichment can incorporate lots of different kinds of enrichment. For example, when your dog is working out how to get treats out of a toy, they are using their brain and moving their body to do so. They’re likely also hearing different noises and feeling vibrations and textures that are out of the ordinary.
You can make an easy DIY enrichment toy using a plastic bottle with treats or kibble. Simply take the lid off, fill and present it to your dog!
Alternatively, you can take a cardboard tube like a toilet roll, fold it at one end, fill it with treats and fold the other end. Then give it to your dog. You can find more DIY enrichment ideas here. <link to DIY enrichment toys blog>
Activity Time: Get creative and make a DIY enrichment toy. See how many ways it enriches your dog’s day.
Cognitive Enrichment gets your dog thinking and using their brain. This can be trick training, clicker training, puzzle feeders, food puzzles or scentwork.
Activity Time: Teach your dog something new today.
Sensory Enrichment includes anything that stimulates your dog’s senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.) This could be exploring somewhere new, playing with a toy of a different texture, or walking and exploring new surfaces.
Activity Time: Build an obstacle course, scatter some food over it and watch your dog explore with all their senses.
Hopefully, you’re now enthusiastic about introducing enrichment to your dog’s daily routine.