DIY Mental Enrichment For Dogs - A survival guide!
with Melissa Dallier of ACanineAffinity, Training Advocate

If you haven't joined in on the mental enrichment craze with your dogs you're missing out on a great thing for both you and your dog! Never fear, I'm here to help you. Just head on over to your recycle bin with this post, I promise your dog will thank you!


What is enrichment? Anything that allows your dog to behave naturally in a way that enhances their daily life. This usually involves things like: sniffing, shredding, ripping, licking, chewing, digging, running, climbing, barking - generally being a dog!


Providing ways for your dog to mentally enrich their lives outside of the home they live in can be extremely rewarding, stress relieving, tiring and generally exciting for most dogs!


Dogs thrive on routine and that is changed in last several months for most, this can cause all sorts of changes in them, things like sleeping less or more. Eating habits changing, walking schedules changing. While they may not seem to mind outwardly - stress can build and you may start to see behaviors you don’t like crop up. Things like "random" barking - well there are more noises outside, people are walking more and you aren’t normally home all day, so is this really surprising? Sudden bursts of energy - well they are usually sleeping most of the day and you just went for your 3rd walk and had lots of treats, every had an overtired child? When we change our routine we know that it can send us out of wack - our dogs are no different. I have some suggestions to help you and your dogs make it through this together. 


  1. Keep a routine: I know all of the self help blogs are already telling you this - but it’s important! Try to stick to a somewhat similar routine daily for your dogs, this means walks and feeding times for your dogs should be fairly predictable so they can know what to expect. This will help regulate their behaviors.


  1. Allow for rest: Us being home more means our dogs want to spend time with us. We may need to close doors, quite the TV, take calls in a different room or put he headphones on the kids to ensure that our dogs are still getting the rest they need daily. On average dogs should be sleeping about 15 hours. I know what happens to me when I don’t get enough sleep! 
  2. Use enrichment toys for meals and other feeding! Enrichment is a wonderful way to help your dog release stress, energy and tap into natural instincts. It can prevent problem behaviors from popping up and can be a wonderful way to keep dogs busy when you need a little time to yourself. There are a TON of puzzle toys and enrichment toys on the market - but it can be a little difficult in todays climate to get things quickly and efficiently so here is my DIY enrichment guide using items from around the house. The video included in this post is just some of hundreds if ideas! 


Items to collect: 


Paper Towel / Toilet Paper Rolls 

Packing Paper 

Cardboard Boxes 

Egg Cartons 

Plastic Bottles of various sixes 

Milk Cartons 

Socks 

T-Shirts 

Towels 

Muffin Tin 

Foods to use: 

Kibble 

Stinky Treats (liver/fish/etc) - Its easier to sniff out 

Bully sticks - for extra duration chewing 

Any small treat your dog enjoys 


If you are adding treats - be sure to account for the extra calories in your dogs diet so weight gain doesn't get added to the list of changes! 



  • Paper Towel / TP Roll : Close one end by folding it over - toss a few pieces of food inside and fold the other end over so both sides are closed lightly. Give to your dog and encourage them to find a way to open to find the food! 

**Tip - As they get better, make it more challenging to get open by folding the corners in and hiding them around the house 


  • Packing Paper: Roll food into “paper presents” allow dog to shred paper to find food surprise


**For extra challenge - place paper presents into cardboard box while your dog is out of the room and let them in to find it!  

**Extra Extra challenge - close box and watch them figure out the puzzle! 

Tip - increase challenge as your dog is successful - too much too soon can cause frustration and thats no fun!


  • Place kibble/treats into plastic bottles and encourage your dog to use their paws/nose to get out -

**Tip if this is difficult for your dog, cut a hole into the side of the bottle or use a bottle with a large opening like gatorade. 


  • Take your dog into the yard and toss some food into the grass - homemade snuffle mat! 


  • Take an old towel or t-shirt and roll some treats or kibble inside, let your dog unroll and find the surprise - OR - twist the item into a ball with the treats hidden inside and the dog will need to use their nose and paws to dig and find the treasure!


If you're just starting out with enrichment - you many need to encourage your dog, or show them how to use the items. Play with them, help them or make the game easier so they can be successful! Don't just assume they aren't interested.


Starting to get it? Hide food, encourage you dog to seek it out - destroy, shred, forage. 



Disclaimer*** If your dog intentionally eats/swallows fabric /cardboard /paper etc - supervise closely. It is natural that small amounts may be ingested but most dogs will naturally spit non edible objects out while searching for the food. 


Hope you find ways to enjoy with your dogs! If you need more ideas, reach out or join my direct support community to set up a Zoom call with me for tons of ideas and tutorials on how to make the best enrichment for your personal dog.