Make Your Dog Happy: The Best Ways to Provide Enrichment for Your Dog

Easy ways to provide enrichment for your dog.

Enrichment ideas for happy dogs like this cute Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Photo: Petr Lurch/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Although we love our canine friends, many dogs have a relatively boring life in which they spend a lot of time hanging around the house or yard, perhaps on their own. Dogs that are bored or under-exercised can easily find their own entertainment, which might not be so pleasing to their human companions. Luckily there are many easy ways to add enrichment to our dog’s lives.

Dog Walks

If you are one of those people who walks your dog whatever the weather, you may be surprised to learn that not everyone takes their pooch for walks. Estimates vary, but a recent meta-analysis found that only 59% of dog owners walk their dogs (Christian et al 2013). The obvious benefit is physical exercise for both dog and human. Remember to allow for sniffing time, because dogs like to spend time ‘reading’ all the local news with their nose. 

A less obvious reason to take your dog for walkies is that it provides ongoing socialization, as the dog has the chance to observe or interact with other people and dogs. It’s also been shown that walking the dog is a good way for people to make friends (Wood et al 2015).

If you like you can up the pace by taking your dog along when you go on a bike ride, or take up dog sledding, skijoring or canicross.

Easy ways to entertain your dog including food toys, walks and fetch

Food Toys

These are an easy way to make the provision of food more interesting for your canine friend. There are many excellent toys to choose from, including KONG Classic Dog Toy, KONG Wobbler, Nina Ottosson toys such as the Nina Ottoson Outward Hound Dog Brick Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Slo-Bowl Feeder, and many many more. Some are designed for treats while others are suitable for a whole ration of kibble. You can even go hi-tech and get a treat-dispensing gadget such as the treat-tossing Furbo Dog Camera 

A small study of feeding enrichment toys (the Kong Extreme) for dogs kept in kennels (Schipper et al 2008) found they increased exercise and appetitive behaviours, and decreased barking. 

See my guide to using food puzzle toys with your dog for my favourite toys and tips on how to introduce them. 

Chew toys

Dogs love to chew and if they don’t have chew toys available then they might decide to chew on some of your items instead. So it’s better to teach them to chew their own toys.

Dogs can lose interest in toys over time (Pullen, Merrill and Bradshaw 2012), so it’s a good idea to give them new toys from time to time, have toys out on rotation, or play with the toy yourself to make it seem more interesting again.

Hanging out with canine friends

Many dogs are social creatures, and enjoy spending time with their canine friends, or even making new friends. This can be as simple as going for walks with a friend who also has a dog, to going to the dog park or letting your dog spend time at doggy day care.  

However, not all dogs are social. If your dog prefers not to meet other canines, find ways for him or her to have nice times outdoors without having to interact with other dogs. 

Fetch, Frisbee etc

If you teach your dog to fetch you will soon find out if you have a fetch-mad dog or not. Some dogs love it so much they never want to stop! All that running is also great exercise.

Cute little dog loves fetch, one of many ways to entertain your dog


Some dogs love to swim, and again this is good for physical exercise too. There may be ponds or lakes near you that are safe and suitable for swimming, or you might have a canine swimming pool nearby where your dog can take swimming lessons or go for physical therapy. A recent study by Tavares et al (2015) found that some Labradors will choose to spend time in the water over interactions with another dog, and suggests that the opportunity to swim may even be important for their welfare.

Sports and hobbies for dogs

These days there are many options for classes to try with your dog, including agility, obedience, flyball, nose work, Triebball, dock diving, and so on. Many people say they find that dog sports improve their bond with their dog, and that they love meeting fellow dog-lovers through these activities (Farrell et al 2015).

Scent work can be a great choice for 'naughty' and 'reactive' dogs as it keeps them engaged and they do not have to meet other dogs.

Training for rewards 

Reward-based training is another way to engage your dog’s brain. It’s easy to get started and you can train on your own at home, or take your dog to class (make sure it is a class that uses positive reinforcement, as there are no standards in dog training). See our first post in the ‘Make your dog happy’ series for more information. 

Your dog probably also enjoys just spending quality time with you.

Enrichment is about finding things that your dog will enjoy. Some of the activities listed are also beneficial to the human, and to the human-animal bond. 

What does your dog like to do?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Useful links:

Christian HE, Westgarth C, Bauman A, Richards EA, Rhodes RE, Evenson KR, Mayer JA, & Thorpe RJ Jr (2013). Dog ownership and physical activity: a review of the evidence. Journal of physical activity & health, 10 (5), 750-9 PMID: 23006510  
Farrell, J., Hope, A., Hulstein, R., & Spaulding, S. (2015). Dog-Sport Competitors: What Motivates People to Participate with Their Dogs in Sporting Events? Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 28 (1), 61-71 DOI: 10.2752/089279315X1412935072201  
Pullen, A., Merrill, R., & Bradshaw, J. (2012). Habituation and dishabituation during object play in kennel-housed dogs Animal Cognition, 15 (6), 1143-1150 DOI: 10.1007/s10071-012-0538-2  
Schipper, L., Vinke, C., Schilder, M., & Spruijt, B. (2008). The effect of feeding enrichment toys on the behaviour of kennelled dogs (Canis familiaris) Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114 (1-2), 182-195 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.01.001  
Tavares, S., Magalhães, A., & de Sousa, L. (2015). Labrador retrievers are more attracted to water than to social stimuli: A pilot study Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.07.041  
Wood, L., Martin, K., Christian, H., Nathan, A., Lauritsen, C., Houghton, S., Kawachi, I., & McCune, S. (2015). The Pet Factor - Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to Know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support PLOS ONE, 10 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122085

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Dog training, animal welfare and the human-canine relationship

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