Why Enrichment Matters More Than Dog Training in the First Week with Your New Dog
Step 9 of 15 in the Dogly New Pet Channel
with Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals, Training Advocate

Giving your new dog or new puppy enrichment activities seems pretty straightforward, right? Give your dog a puzzle feeder or a fun enrichment game, and let your dog jump in and enjoy.

But it's not always that simple. And for first time dog owners you may be wondering...

What is enrichment

Enrichment is any activity, environment or object you give your dog that provides your dog with mental and physical stimulation. Enrichment is about increasing the quality of his or her life by providing your dog with different activities and experiences.

It’s important to provide an enriched environment for your dog, as it can help your dog stay happy and is extremely beneficial for your dog's health. It can also help with behavioral issues such as fear, aggression, or excessive barking since enrichment provides something to do instead of acting out.

When your dog arrives at home, it’s best to start with small, manageable enrichment activities. You should introduce new things gradually so your new dog can get used to them.


Examples of enrichment activities

There are many different enrichment activities for your new dog and it’s important to find the ones that work best for you. Enrichment activities are beneficial for adult dogs and puppies alike.

Some examples of fun, enriching activities for your new pet include:

• Sniff walks - allowing your dog some freedom to explore and follow his/her nose on dog walks instead of leash training

• Play time - running around with a toy or playing fetch

• Interactive toys - puzzle feeders or interactive games

By introducing these enrichment activities gradually into your dog’s life, you as a responsible dog owner will be providing your dog with the mental and physical stimulation needed for your new family member to stay healthy and have good behavior.

Why dog owners need to think differently about enrichment for new dogs

Many dogs aren't quite sure how to interact with enrichment in toys, games, or any kind of interactive challenge. Rescue dogs, for one example, come from all different backgrounds: strays, surrendered, rescued from neglect or abuse, or maybe born in a shelter or foster home - a range of possibilities, known or unknown.

New dog owners (especially if a first-time dog owner) are sometimes surprised to find when they bring their dog home, their new canine companion may have no experience with enrichment and doesn't quite know what to make of things like stuffable and interactive dog toys initially.


Keep it simple to start

In the first week with your rescue dog, keep it simple when it comes to enrichment.

Since your pup might be lacking previous exposure to enrichment, your dog could initially be wary of things like puzzle feeders, interactive toys, etc. That's why it always makes sense for pet owners to take it slow and keep it simple first so your dog can discover at his/her own pace how much fun and how rewarding enrichment toys can be.

It shouldn't take long since there are food rewards involved!

Try this

  • Use lick mats/pads smeared with peanut butter, pieces of chicken, part of your dog's meals, whatever kinds of truly yummy goodness you can spread to fill in the spaces on the mat. (A good option that's made with human-grade, healthful materials is this lick mat you can find here.)
  • Or snuffle mats sprinkled with great smelling treats. Pretty quickly and instinctively your dog learns to sniff and snuffle around in the fabric of the mat to get the rewards of finding dog treats or bits of dog foods. (Here's a favorite example of a high-quality, sturdy, and fun snuffle mat.)
  • Use treat trails and sprinkles/scatter feeds as enrichment around the house to create positive associations in your dog's new home and surrounding areas.
  • Use stuffable chew toys filled with easy-to-get, irresistible foods - even deliver your dog's meal in them if you want to slow down your pup's mealtime eating for better digestion or make mealtime more mentally engaging.

How to stuff a chew toy for enrichment not frustration

You'll want to prepare a stuffable chew toy at the beginner level to start so your dog won't get frustrated. Frustration is the opposite of enrichment - your dog will show disinterest and easily give up when presented with enrichment that's too complicated!

(We shared some good stuffable toys we recommend earlier in this channel - here's one favorite.)

Pro tip: If your dog tries to engage with a toy and walks away, that means it is too hard.

For now, you want your dog to be able to get to the reward in the stuffed chew toy immediately. As he or she continues to chew and lick and find food, the satisfaction and enrichment grows. But you do want a quick payoff upfront.

Try this

Beginner version for a stuffable chew toy:

  • Line it with peanut butter at the top opening.
  • Give to your dog!
  • If this is too easy, then line the toy inside with peanut butter and add some of your dog's daily food to increase the discovery & interactivity.

No-freezing daily food recipe for stuffing

1.    Put some good quality food - part of your dog's regular meal - into a bowl

2.    Add some water so it doesn't quite cover it

3.    Add some dry dog food or treats to add texture and crunch

4.    Add some meat, blueberries, carrots... for different textures & motivators

5.    Mix it up

6.    Fill the stuffable chew toys

7.    Give to your dog immediately or keep in the refrigerator and give to your dog while you eat (helps reduce begging!)

Later, once you're through these early days with your new dog and your pup is ready, you can freeze this mixture in the stuffable chew toy for longer-lasting enrichment that requires more effort on your dog's part.


And if you'd like to create some DIY enrichment...

Try this

You can put one of your extra cardboard boxes to good use by turning it into some easy, interactive fun. Take a cardboard box - with no tape or staples since these are safety hazards- and line it with dry dog food and different treats. Most dogs will love playing with this now great-smelling box that's capable of keeping a dog entertained with the simplest of materials you already have on hand.

(As with all enrichment materials involving edibles, keep an eye on your dog to make sure nothing gets ingested that shouldn't.)

Important safety note if you have other dogs in your family:

Food enrichment toys & games are often seen as quite a treasure, and it's natural for many, if not most, dogs to exhibit some resource guarding if other dogs (or small children) are around. Be sure to have dogs in separate spaces whenever you're using food-related enrichment. This is a good safety rule for any highly valued food including raw bones, for example.

Beyond food-engagement activities

While food is a natural for engaging dogs, not all enrichment has to be food-driven! Play calm music for your dog (classical is a good bet or specially designed-for-dogs relaxation music like Relax My Dog). Some dogs find nature documentaries to be both engaging and relaxing - although some bark up a storm at wild animals on a big screen, so watch your dog and do what works!


What science says about sniffing, chewing, & licking and your dog's stress


Go for sniffari walks since sniffing lowers the pulse rate and decreases stress! Sniffing is our dogs' number one way of taking in information, sizing up the world around them, and getting comfortable with it. Sniffing is also a joyful, soul-satisfying exercise of natural instinct for dogs.

Chewing & licking

Chewing is an instinctive behavior in dogs that also lowers the pulse rate, releases feel-good endorphins, and helps your dog calm down when agitated. (That's why your dog chews on your pillows, furniture or more when stressed or over the threshold).

Using lick mats and stuffable food toys are a great way to help your dog de-stress and relax in their new home. For a more active, out-in-the-world enrichment exercise, it's hard to beat a sniffari walk - whether in the first week, first few weeks, or throughout your dog's whole life.

Try this

For this first week, plan sniffari walks in spaces where your dog is totally comfortable. You can expand your turf as your dog adjusts and feels at home in the larger world.

  • For now, start with your front or back yard, letting your dog sniff as much and as long as he or she pleases.
  • Later when ready, find a quiet spot nearby, maybe in a park or on the sidewalk of a less-traveled block with minimal distractions, and enjoy your sniffari together.

The 3-step secret to supporting your new dog with enrichment

#1: Help your dog by keeping it simple

#2: Study your new dog and learn what he or she loves

#3: Then slowly, gradually make it harder - even more engaging and enriching!

These techniques for using enrichment to help your dog adjust to a new environment, settle in, and flourish can work for dogs of all ages whether a puppy, adult dog, or an older dog. It all comes down to: keep it simple, take it slow, and as in most everything, know your dog!

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Next up in the New Pet Channel on Dogly

For first time dog owners especially, now that you know how to set your new dog up for success with enrichment tools, continue on to the next guide to learn the 3 most important dog training tips to know before you bring your new puppy or dog home.

If you have any questions about acclimating your new dog as a happy member of your family, just ask in the community discussion in the New Pet Channel.

Or if you ever need more personalized dog training guidance, please reach out!

Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Ruby because she brings her rescue experiences to our dogs - to increase our bond, decrease behavior issues.

Ruby guides you

New Dogs - Manners - Enrichment - Reactivity - Barking - Walking

Ruby is certified

Low Stress Handling - Fear Free Veterinary Professional - Fear Free Shelters - Shelter Welfare - Enrichment - & Canine Behaviour