1) Take your dog on a sniffari
We all know that dogs have amazing noses, but did you know scent is more important to dogs than sight?
In fact, as well as their nose, dogs have something called the vomeronasal organ, which detects pheromones (chemical signals). If you see your dog lick something smelly, it could be because this is one way they make molecules available to their vomeronasal organ (the other is the Flehmen response, when they chatter their teeth with what looks like a grimace on their face).
And some breeds of dog have up to a billion olfactory receptor cells at the back of their noses*.
It’s no wonder dogs want to spend so much time sniffing even a single blade of grass! They get a lot of information from sniffing the places where other dogs have peed (or even their own pee… they are dogs, after all!).
We can give dogs the chance to use their nose by taking them on a sniffari. Instead of hurrying your dog along on a walk, let them take as long as they like to sniff. And let them follow their nose, instead of taking a predetermined path (within reason, of course).
Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, scientist at Barnard College and author of Being a Dog, told me that dogs “sniff first, and ask their eyes to confirm or deny. Their world is made of scents more than sights.”
So make time to take your dog on a sniffari and turn the walk into enrichment for your dog.
2) Use food toys
Food toys are another great way to provide enrichment for your dog and make your dog happy.
And there are all kinds to choose from so there is bound to be something your dog will enjoy.
You can use food toys to feed your dog’s meals (or part of them) or to provide treats.
If it’s your dog’s first time with a particular food toy, remember to make it nice and easy so they don’t get frustrated. It’s also a good idea to use some really nice treats to get your dog interested in the toy.
Over time, you can make the food toys harder.
3) Play a game with your dog
Dogs love hanging out with their humans, and they love playing games with their human even more.
Play with your dog is good for animal welfare and a good way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Playing a game can make your dog happy (and you happy too).
So pick a game you know your dog loves – whether it’s tug or fetch or chase or whatever – and let them play as much as they wish.
Have a dog who never tires of playing fetch? No matter! Today is their day so keep on throwing the ball.
4) Do some positive reinforcement training
A study a few years back found dogs prefer to solve a problem to earn a reward than just to be given the reward. The scientists called it that “Eureka” feeling.
Training with positive reinforcement is a great way to give dogs opportunities to problem solve. It may even have long-term benefits too as one study found a history of lifelong positive reinforcement training is linked to smaller declines in attention in older dogs.
Pick a level that is right for your dog. Every time they do the right thing, they get a food reward. To be like a pro dog trainer, you should aim for about 10 rewards a minute!
It doesn’t matter what you pick to train. If your dog needs to learn obedience commands, that’s fine. Pick sit or loose leash walking or whatever you want to work on. Even if the behaviour is useful to you, training it should still be fun for your dog (and you too).
But if your dog already knows what they need to in order to have good manners, you can work on some tricks. From spin to play dead to jumping through your arms, you’ll never run out of ideas for new things to teach.
5) Go somewhere with your dog
Pick a place your dog likes to go and take them on an outing to make them happy.
This counts as enrichment too because it lets the dog experience a different environment.
There are lots of ideas for things you could do.
A hike in the forest gives your dog a chance to explore and to enjoy the natural environment.
Maybe there is a lake or beach where your dog likes to swim.
Perhaps your dog loves the dog park, in which case you could take them there.
Maybe there is a dog-friendly pub, restaurant or café in your neighbourhood where you could go and hang out with your best canine friend for a while.
Some stores allow dogs on leash so your dog could just enjoy wandering round the store with you.
Or your dog could just come for a ride-along in the car, or to visit a friend or family member who your dog likes to see.
The aim is to find something you know your dog will enjoy, so take your dog’s preferences into account – if they don’t like the dog park, don’t make them go, for example.