Why Enrichment for Dogs is so Important

What is enrichment?

Canine enrichment is something we hear about all the time - but what is enrichment? Enrichment for dogs includes activities that alter their environment to encourage engagement in physical activity and behaviours that align with what a dog would do in the wild to satisfy their physical and mental needs. For dogs, this allows them to engage in activities similar to their species-specific behaviours including hunting, chasing, fetching and foraging. 


Different Types of Enrichment 

Although we typically hear about nutritional enrichment, there are five types of enrichment a dog can utilise to meet their physiological needs. These include nutritional enrichment, sensory stimulation, physical enrichment, and occupational stimulation. 

Nutritional enrichment 

Nutritional enrichment includes, you guessed it - food! Nutritional enrichment includes things such as puzzle toys, slow-feeders, and enrichment toys which allow you to hide or stuff food inside and encourage your dog to problem solve and retrieve the food. Nutritional enrichment is a fantastic way to tap into your dog’s natural foraging instincts with tools such as the Outward Hound Slo Bowl to simulate a foraging scenario with deep and windy grooves to push food around or a West Paw Toppl to create a ‘chase’ as it moves and topples around. 

Red border collie puppy eating out of an orange outward hound slow feeder bowl

Sensory enrichment 

Sensory enrichment is any activity that engages your dog’s senses, tapping in some more primitive instincts. Scent work is an excellent way to engage your dog in sensory enrichment, encouraging them to use their nose to search for treats and food scattered around the area. Using a smelly food like Prime100 rolls or Ziwi Peak is perfect for beginners or dogs who may struggle at first however, any dog treats work. You can start by scattering food across the floor and encouraging your dog to find where each piece is before, before making it more difficult and hiding food for them to sniff out. 

Another great activity for sensory enrichment is filling a small shell pool with materials such as water, balls, sand to allow them to play in and engage in other behaviours that could become problematic, such as digging. 

Furthermore, decompression walks are a great way to provide an outlet for sensory enrichment. Coined by canine behaviourist and trainer, Sarah Stremming, a decompression walk is a walk where the dog has the freedom to walk freely (i.e. not in a heel) to sniff, explore, and just be a dog. Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers, so allowing them to tap into this instinct in a safe and controlled environment can provide major benefits and produce a more calm, resilient and confident dog overall.

Physical Enrichment 

Physical enrichment includes activities that engage your dog in physical exercise and activities and tap into instinctual behaviours. Agility, dock diving, and herding are all examples of activities that, depending on the breed, taps into an instinctual behaviour and allows an avenue of release for these instincts. 

Occupational Enrichment 

Particularly beneficial in working breed dogs, occupational enrichment includes giving dogs a job or task that aligns with the work they were originally bred for. For example, allowing an outlet for a border collie to herd or working with them to respond to different whistle cues taps into their natural instincts and provides an outlet for them to engage in activities that they were bred to complete. Moreover, terrier breeds would benefit greatly from activities that tap into their hunting instincts such as interacting with a flirt pole, creating an activity that is natural and instinctual to their breed.

Black Border Collie sniffing a large green west paw toppl with a variety of treats sticking out of the top including shark cartilage, chicken breast, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi fruit, and green lipped mussels

What are the benefits of enrichment?

Enrichment has a wealth of benefits for dogs both mentally and physically including:

  • Improved reactions to external stimulation
  • Increased confidence
  • Weight loss as a result of slowed eating and greater satiety 
  • Reduction in boredom-related behaviour problems such as digging
  • Improved focus and concentration 
  • Improved problem solving skills
  • Increased cognitive abilities 
  • Prevention and reduction in stress-induced and anxious behaviours


How do we know if enrichment is improving wellbeing?

Although enrichment is highly beneficial when done correctly, if not introduced properly it can cause stress and frustration in your dogs. Each dog will have a different form of enrichment that works best for them, and the level of difficulty for nutritional and sensory enrichment will vary depending on the breed and the individual dog. 

Dogs are smarter than we think, but they may need an extra helping hand to understand how something works, or how to engage with the enrichment tool. Without doing this, your dog may become frustrated, which includes signs such as:

  • Barking 
  • Pacing 
  • Walking away 
  • Growling 
  • Inappropriate chewing 

Additionally, it’s important when participating in enrichment activities with your dog that you monitor them to ensure that they do not go ‘over threshold’ and become overstimulated or overwhelmed. Cutting an enrichment session short or redirecting to something else are methods to help maintain a healthy balance within your dog.

How to introduce enrichment?

Depending on your dogs age, sex, breed, in addition to other variables this will differ between each dog however, it is best to start with something simple and work up to more challenging tasks. Once your dog has figured out one activity, make it more challenging or build-up the enrichment’s difficulty. You can show your dog how something works, and use a high-value treat or food to encourage them to engage and persist with the activity. 

Overall, enrichment is a fantastic addition to your dog’s routine. With a wide variety of enrichment types and techniques and a wealth of benefits there is an activity for everyone. 

Liv and Lunes have a wide range of slow feeders, puzzle toys, and enrichment toys and with something for every pup it’s a one-stop-enrichment shop!

Please note: We are not qualified trainers. All information is provided through research, advice from professionals, and our personal experience. For behavioural issues or further questions please consult your trainer.