Fun Enrichment Ideas For Dogs

Dogs love to play, and most of us love to play with our dogs. Sadly, modern life means that we may not always have the time or energy to give them all of the attention that they deserve.

Dogs that don’t have enough enrichment can become frustrated and develop behavioral problems. So what are some things you can do as an owner to make sure that your pup is getting the most out of their time, and having some fun while they’re at it?

Person playing fetch with a dog using a stick

What Is Enrichment?

You may wonder what dog enrichment entails. 

The fact is, dogs get bored, enrichment is mostly about stimulating them mentally, which can involve exposing them to new and exciting things or giving them mental stimulation through puzzles or other tricky scenarios.

Veterinary Researchers at Purdue University confirm that dogs with enrichment tend to cope better with stress by allowing them a sense of control over their environment.[1] It also helps build confidence and can reduce things such as separation anxiety.

Simple Enrichment

Enrichment doesn't necessarily have to be very complex or expensive. A good place to start would be on your everyday schedule.

Physical Enrichment

Physical exercise is the base point of enrichment. Dogs need to blow off steam, and a dog with a lot of pent-up energy may become destructive and difficult to manage.

Start with your basic walks. Most adult dogs need around 1-2 hours of walking every day, and some working breeds may need even more. This is especially important for dogs that have no access to a backyard or play areas.

Walks can be made more engaging by switching things up. A new environment is a lot more enriching than the same old routine. Try taking your dog in the opposite direction you normally walk, or maybe try going around the neighboring block instead of your own. This will be more fun for both you and your dog.

Otherwise, looking into alternate exercise can also be a good choice. Taking your dogs to a pet-friendly beach or park can be a good idea. Some areas may also offer services such as obstacle courses, swimming, or other dog-based courses, this will force your dog to have to use their brains as well as their muscles and can be more fulfilling.


Dog wearing a hoodie


Social Enrichment

Dogs are pack animals. This means that they tend to both need and enjoy spending time with others.

Your canine companion wants your love. Take some time out of your day to pet, cuddle, play, and enjoy their company. You could also use this time to be productive, such as teaching your dog tricks, another form of mental stimulation, as well as getting some training done. 

Do not let something distract you, one-on-one attention is the most vital, and a dog may sense when your attention isn't really focused on them. However, be wary of overly clingy behavior, as it may indicate deeper issues.

Dogs also need to spend time with other dogs. This may be difficult for dogs with anxiety, but you can start off small. Once you are confident in your training, consider taking your dog to a doggy daycare, a dog park, or even training classes where they can interact with others.

Learning to play and interact with other dogs builds confidence, teaches communication skills, relieves stress, and can help to discourage aggressive behaviors.[2] Even if you own multiple dogs, meeting new faces can go a long way to teaching important lessons and good behavior.

Environmental Enrichment

Like humans, dogs get tired of seeing the old familiar places day in and day out.

If you trust your dog to behave in public…consider taking them somewhere new. Perhaps they could join you on a walk or hike in nature or along a beach, otherwise, maybe they would enjoy a walk in a new park or area, or even just visit a different human friend’s home

Caution: Do not show up to a house with another dog in it without consulting the owner. Some dogs may respond poorly and become aggressive if they feel their territory is being encroached on.

Man playing fetch with two dogs using a tennis ball at the beach

Occupational Enrichment

Put that dog to work! No more freeloading!

Jokes aside, giving your dog a ‘job’ to do can provide mental stimulation and combat boredom. This can be especially important if you have a ‘working breed’ such as sheepdogs or cattle dogs.

This is easy if you own a large property or farm where you can give them a ‘real’ job. However, even lap dogs can be given a task. It is about getting them to use cognitive thinking and problem-solving skills to get a task done.

An easy solution is training or getting your dog to perform tricks for a reward. Otherwise, having them work for meals could work. Consider hiding treats in puzzle toys, or even hiding their food somewhere out of sight and having your dog sniff around for it

Food Enrichment

Food is one of the biggest motivators in dog enrichment. Dogs are natural foragers and hunters, therefore they specifically get a lot of satisfaction in hunting around for their food.

If you have the money, consider purchasing puzzle toys that you can hide your dog’s food inside of. Otherwise, a lick-mat may force the dog to have to slow down and root around for their dinner.

If you are on a budget…do not worry. You can play hide-and-seek with your dog’s food via scent games. 

Method 1. Leave a breadcrumb trail. Drop a trail of kibble or other dry food, dispersing them every few feet or so, towards wherever you’ve hidden the food. Do not worry if the dog finds the food before completing the trail, they may turn around and sniff back along.

Method 2. In this game, grab a muffin tin and some balls or rolled-up cloth. Hide the kibble or treats inside the muffin tin and allow the dog to try and get it out. After they’ve succeeded once or twice, loosely cover up the holes in the muffin tin with the balls and have the dog try to remove them.

Method 3. The DIY snuffle mat. Empty your dog’s meals into a bunched-up towel, an old t-shirt, a crumbled-up cardboard box, or even all three! Make sure the food is evenly dispersed throughout and let the dog try and sniff out all the hidden gems. This can get a bit messy, so it's recommended to do it in an area that is easy to clean.


Dog looking ready to play with a tennis ball


Always supervise your dog when trying an enrichment game, especially if using extra objects like towels. Avoid getting involved too early if it seems like your dog is struggling. The point of the exercise is for them to figure it out. Only get involved when enough time has passed or if the dog is becoming frantic.

Be careful of overfeeding if you are using food-based enrichment. It's better to take the food out of their meal portions. Otherwise, try opting for some healthier treat options.

Toys and Games

Toys and games generally aren’t enough stimulation just by themselves, but they can still be very useful.

We’ve discussed many of the food and exercise-based games already, but there are still other things you can try.

Tug-of-war is one good example, it plays into your dog’s basic instinct and can help them build strong hind legs. Hide and seek is another choice, which involves making your dog sit before hiding somewhere in the house and calling them. Even good old-fashioned fetch can help alleviate boredom.[3]

Other games can include red light, green light, which involves calling and then asking a dog to sit or stay, or ‘cleanup’ which involves training a dog to be able to put away their own toys in a specific container.

Chewing is an excellent way to relieve stress, so making sure your dog has access to a good chew toy is a necessity. Toys such as balls or ‘flirt poles’, a pole with a lure stuck to the end that can be waved around, help with chase instinct.

Logical toys such as lick mats or toys that you can hide treats inside of are also good brain games that your dog may need to think about to be rewarded.


Playful pup digging the ground on the beach



Dogs are individuals, which means that some dogs respond better to some types of enrichment than other types. Enrichment is only as valuable as it is in your dog’s eyes, meaning that you can spend a lot of time setting up an activity for your dog to just hate doing it.

Some dog breeds, as well as individuals, are also more intelligent than others. Others might have different energy levels or ages. This means that you might need to set up a few levels of enrichment if you have a mixed pack at home.

Don’t get too discouraged. Take the time to experiment and find out what your dog personally enjoys doing. A task that ended poorly on one day might go down a bit better on a second try.

There are some things you should try to persevere through, such as training and socializing. Even a socially anxious dog can make big improvements with enough time and patience.

Experienced dog trainers stress the need for social skills in a dog’s development, but also state that it's ok to take things slow, keep a distance, and take frequent breaks. Socializing is an easier skill to learn for puppies, and a very vital one, but it's never too late to start trying.[4]

If you are worried about some aspects, such as training, or if you feel like you don’t have enough time or energy to dedicate to getting the level of enrichment your dog needs, then don’t hesitate to get in contact with a professional.

A qualified veterinarian may also help you find and choose enrichment opportunities that suit your dog’s specific age, breed, and individual needs. This might be especially important if your dog has special needs of some kind.

Dog holding a tennis ball in its mouth playing fetch


Enrichment is an important part of taking care of a dog. There are many types of enrichment, including physical, environmental, food-based, occupational, and social enrichment.

Physical - This can involve taking your dog on walks, playing ball games, swimming, running, obstacle courses, and anything that gets them moving.

Environmental - This means getting your dog out of the house and finding new sights and smells. This can include taking them on short trips, changing up your walk locations, going to new areas, or hiking through nature.

Food-based - Involves treat-based incentives in games, as well as tapping into that natural foraging instinct. This can include hiding food, using food as a reward, slowing eating using snuffle mats or lick mats, and having dogs solve puzzles or get treats out of containers.

Occupational - Is making the dog feel useful and engaged by giving them chores. This might involve having them complete training before they can eat, cleaning up dropped toys, or actual chores such as sheep herding (if you have access).

Social enrichment - Involves having your dog meet and play with new people and dogs, as well as learning how to deal with them.

At the end of the day, how you choose to enrich will be up to you and your dog’s individual tastes. 

If you would like to express some of that individuality in what they’re wearing to these fun activities, consider checking out Sparkpaws’ collection of Knit Dog Sweaters. They come in a variety of colors and patterns and can let that unique personality shine.

Whatever tasks you choose to do, we hope that you and your dog have fun together.

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