Enrichment for Puppies

Puppies are curious creatures that love to explore and learn about the world in a variety of ways. Enrichment provides physical exercise and mental stimulation that allows your puppy to engage in his or her natural behaviors while building confidence and alleviating boredom, anxiety, and frustration that can lead to destructive behaviours.

There are 5 types of enrichment: social, occupational, physical, sensory, and nutritional. They can be applied throughout your puppy’s life, and some can even be used while your puppy is crated. Not all puppies will enjoy the same type of enrichment, so try a few to find out what works best. Whatever it is, ensure your puppy is supervised and safe at all times and not given toys he or she can destroy and/or swallow.

Two Dogs Playing With A Toy

Social Enrichment – Making Friends

Dogs are social animals with a strong desire to interact. They’re usually quite excited and eager to meet new people and other animals and keen to visit new places. For puppies that are a bit shy or reserved, it’s important to be patient and take your time socializing them.

  • Training classes provide a controlled environment for your puppy to socialize and meet other puppies while learning basic obedience skills.
  • Play dates provide your puppy with an opportunity to interact with other dogs and continue to work on their social skills and burn off some energy.
Dog Jumping Through Owners Arms

Occupational Enrichment – Work Hard, Play Harder

Occupational enrichment gives your puppy a job or purpose. While many working breeds like Shepherds, Border Collies, and Terriers traditionally have formal jobs (guarding, herding, and so on), most dogs can benefit from an informal job to keep them mentally stimulated.

  • Trick training teaches your puppy new skills and strengthens your bond. See the Internet for ideas that go beyond basic ‘give paw,’ ‘sit,’ and ‘stay’ tricks.
  • Scent work is a challenging activity that encourages your puppy to use his/her strongest sense. By placing treats in a container and hiding them in your home, your puppy can hunt for the hidden snack.
  • Hide-and-seek is a great game you can play with your puppy. It encourages him/her to use all his/her senses while looking for you.
  • Sports like agility or flyball are great activities once your puppy becomes an adult and has finished growing. In the meantime, you can work up to a sporting life with some frisbee and fetch games.
Dog Running Through Tunnel

Physical Enrichment – Play as Exercise

Physical enrichment doesn’t just mean exercise. By changing your puppy’s environment and providing mentally stimulating games, you’ll get your puppy moving and engaged.

  • A variety of toys keeps playtime fun and interesting, especially if you rotate through your supply every few weeks making an old toy seem new again.
  • Platforms and tunnels add variety to your puppy’s environment and allows him/her to explore different surfaces.
  • Sand (at the park or beach) provides your puppy with an acceptable place to dig to his/her heart’s content. Just make sure they’re not eating the sand!
  • Tug-of-war is a mentally stimulating game that promotes impulse control and taps into your puppy’s natural predatory instincts.
Dog Outside On Balance Board

Sensory Enrichment – Exploring the World Around You

Sensory enrichment is all about engaging with your surroundings. Getting your puppy to interact with the world around him/her will engage his/her sense of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.

  • Try a different route when on a walk and allow plenty of opportunity for sniffing. Sniffing is very stimulating and just as important as the physical exercise your puppy with get.
  • Visit a park and find a bench or a hill where you and your puppy can sit and take in what’s going on around you.
  • Play music when you leave your puppy at home. Soft music creates a sense of calm. One study suggests dogs are soothed by reggae and soft rock best.
Puppy Playing With Puzzle

Nutritional Enrichment – Foraging for Food

Searching for food activates a puppy’s natural hunting and scavenging instincts. Be sure to consider safety (avoid anything that can be torn apart and ingested), level of difficulty (start with something easy to avoid your puppy becoming frustrated), and ability to keep your puppy’s attention.

  • Food puzzles and dispensing balls range in difficulty and provide hidden compartments for kibble or treats to challenge your puppy’s problem-solving skills.
  • Snuffle mats are made of dense strips of fleece attached to a base with spaces where you can hide kibble or treats to encourage your puppy to sniff and forage.