Easy Daily Enrichment for Puppies and Dogs

The easiest enrichment happens at meal times. Puppies need to eat 3 or more times a day while they’re young. I have 10 or more games and activities that they can play with (and eat) while in their pen. I sit next to the pen and supervise (read: return emails). Everybody wins!

My #1 tip for new pet parents: begin feeding your new companion via age-appropriate enrichment activities and games the day they arrive home. 

I strongly recommend dogs under 2 years of age never eat their meals from a bowl. A shocking concept, I realize! But when you think about it, there’s nothing natural about eating from a bowl for dogs. Some form of activity would be involved such locating food, biting and shredding prey and 

In fact, it’s impossible to overstate the positive effects feeding exclusively through activity has had on every puppy (and adult dog) I’ve worked with in the past 10 years. 

You don’t need a room full of puzzles and other toys to do this. Much of what’s in home recycling can thoroughly entertain puppies and dogs and fulfill instinctual behaviors like foraging, scenting, shredding and digging.

Best of all, enrichment engages canine brains at a core level that isn’t reachable from a bowl. They burn a tremendous amount of mental and physical energy in the process and it doesn’t cost any more human time than feeding from a bowl, once you have a collection of tools.

There’s a huge variety of puzzle toys on the market. Until recently puzzles for fresh and canned foods didn’t exist. Lick mats and lick bowls release endorphins in the canine brain so they’re soothing to use, perfect for pre-nap feeding. 

Lick mats with suction cups can be used to engage the dog brain while having their nails clipped or they’re being bathed or used in plastic airline kennels during crate training. There are also lick mats that attach to the inside of wire crates. 

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Lick mats can’t survive chewing. Remove them as soon as food is consumed and/or puppy walks away for 5 minutes or longer.  

Kong Classic was the 1st stuffable and freezable enrichment puzzle toy. There are better designs today but Kong can take all kinds of abuse and keep on rocking. It’s rare to hear of a dog destroying one.

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Chew King’s version of the Kong is less expensive, but it’s also not indestructible. It’s easier to fill and clean than Kongs, and noticeably less heavy. I remove them after the contents have been consumed and have never had one destroyed.  

The Toppl is the most popular of its kind today with dog content creators. It’s by far the easiest to fill, clean and store. A number of video channels and social media accounts focus on this enrichment feeder and offer some pretty creative ideas for maximizing the nutrition and the fun.

Remove Toppl as soon as it’s empty or your puppy walks away for more than 5 minutes.

Enrichment toys loose their magic when they’re treated like regular toys. To maintain interest and maximize the impact, I recommend removing all food-dispensing puzzles once they’re empty or your pup leaves it for more than 5 minutes.

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The less often a dog sees a food puzzle, the more fascinated they will be when they get to play that game. The more engaged they are when playing with a puzzle/food toy, the greater the impact that enrichment session will have on their energy and emotional balance.

Several social media accounts post ideas for using these toys daily. The options are endless. 

I regularly share enrichment content on Instagram @SantaMonicaPuppyCoach, Facebook @SantaMonicaDogCoach.

Follow me for next level enrichment ideas.

Dee Green has been a professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant for more than 20 years. She specializes in puppies up to 18 months, and fearful, anxious and reactive dogs of all ages.

©️2024 Dee Green

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