5 Ways You Can Engage Your Dog’s Nose and Brain Right Now!

dog eating treats from a muffin tray covered in kongs, cups and spoons

With many of us practising social distancing or working from home, our dogs are loving our company but might also have a little cabin fever or be trying to engage with you while you are working. If they are frustrated and confused, this might also consist of barking, pawing at you, bringing you toys, stealing items, counter surfing and more.

Animal enrichment activities and programs have been implemented in zoos and with captive animals for many years. It has been filtering down to the pet world and for good reason! Pets need engagement, they need to exercise their bodies and minds frequently and appropriately and they need the opportunity to participate in natural animal behaviours and activities in their daily life. Without this, their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing is not at their peak and in turn, can result in behavioural issues such as barking, digging, escaping, anxiety, reactivity, chewing, destruction, self mutilation, chronic health problems and more.

Even if your dog is not showing those issues, enrichment is a wonderful thing to give them. It helps to build confidence, problems solving skills and allows them to use their nose constructively. Sniffing and enrichment for dogs is like dining out, movies, day trips, shopping, markets, hobbies etc for us. It gives us enjoyment, it can be solo or social, reduces stress and promotes good sleep. If you are in lock down or social isolation right now, you would understand what it feels like to not have the freedom to engage in your normal activities and even feel anxious, bored or frustrated or overwhelmed. This is how our dogs can feel without enrichment and why its so important. There are studies to show how wonderful sniffing is too, but we can save that for another blog. In the meantime, here are some things you can do RIGHT NOW to enrich, entertain and keep boredom at bay with your dog.

If you have children, set them the task of creating these activities for the dog, so they can be part of the process – it will help keep boredom at bay for them too!

1. Scatter Feeding (Treat Bomb/Treat Party)

This is simple and has so many uses, not only for for boredom busting and enrichment, but also to help with jumping, barking, reactivity, burning energy and more.

Portion out a hand full of their daily food or create a fun mix with other treats (can include dehydrated meat treats, Ziwipeak, grated cheese, crushed dog cookies, little morsels of mince, meat or fish, cut up Prime100/sausage etc). We are raw/fresh feeders, so often use Ziwipeak, fish pellets, dehydrated meat, grated cheese etc. Don’t forget to take this amount into account with their daily meals, you may need to adjust that day or the next for weight maintenance.

Grab a handful and throw around onto your lawn, floor, deck, patio, dog play pen area, wherever you can. A lawn or garden is great because its more hidden and there is more sniffing involved, but it can work in a variety of places.If your dog has been trained to eat on cue, you may choose to give them a release word or create a word for this activity to help set the context. If your dog is not confident and tends to ‘give up’ too easily if it seems to hard for them, start with a small scatter on open flat flooring, and if needs be point out the treats at first with an excited voice. Ensure you use high value food that they are motivated to work for. If they aren’t fussed on their dry food – using something more exciting. Gradually build up complexity with volume and environment. Its often handy when I haven’t mowed the lawn and the grass is longer and thicker for them to search in – nature’s snuffle mat!

2. Muffin Tin

So easy and quick to put together, using a muffin tin has lots of variations, only limited by your our creativity! Place some tasty treats in each of the muffin tin holes, then cover with tennis balls, scrunched up paper, plastic or paper cups/plates, toilet roll cores, plastic bottles/containers, spoons, toys, whatever takes your fancy. Your dog then has to knock those items off to access the treats. Choose items appropriate for your dog’s confidence levels, avoid noisy items if your dog is easily spooked.

3. Toilet Roll Core

This is so relevant right now! Everyone will end up having empty cores at some stage. Fold up one end, add a variety of treats and the fold up the other end. Your dog can knock, paw, rip, tear, whatever they need to get access to the food. You can also cut holes in it to turn it into a treat dispensing toy. If you want to extend the fun, fill multiples and put them in a bowl or tray, or hide them around the house for them to find and then rip up. If your dog is new to this, work in stages by folding one end only first. Chewing and consuming some cardboard pieces is usually not a safety concern, but if in doubt, monitor your dog and gently remove discarded pieces as you go, or change to a different activity.

4. Rolled Towels

Find some old towels (if they big you can fold in half /quarters first) and place some treats in it, roll it up a bit, place more treats, rolls again – much like you’d make a cheese scroll. Then your dog can push, unroll paw etc to get to the treats.

5. Foraging Box

This one is another easy and creative option. Using a cardboard box/baking tray/cat litter tray etc fill with all sorts of items like toys, cardboard rolls, recyclables (cereal and biscuit boxes, plastic bottles, spoons, Kongs, scrunched up paper, old towels etc and sprinkle treats all around the box for them to forage. You could combine this with filled toilet roll cores, rolled towels, filled Kongs, or treat balls and toys you already have in your home.

These are just a few of the many quick and no cost enrichment activities you can try with your own dog. If they have done some of these before, see if you can change it up a bit for them to make it more novel, or maybe a little more complex. Get creative! Even if they have done it before, they are probably like our dogs, who are always keen for food puzzle enrichment, whether its DIY or using specific toys. For more inspiration check out https://www.facebook.com/groups/canineenrichment/

We also have a variety of for puzzle toys in our online store, if you wanted to add some more variety to your enrichment activities. https://mindbodyandbowl.com.au/shop-online/

If you aren’t sure where to start or what would suit your dog (or cat) we are happy to help!