What is Enrichment?

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Beagle dog is standing with his two front paws on the seat of a picnic table, licking his lips.

Enrichment is something that is very on trend today.  It seems that everyone is offering enrichment- I am thrilled to see this for a variety of reasons!

Many of us know that our dogs benefit from enrichment everyday, but I wonder if we really understand why enrichment is important?

I have seen many social media posts touting the benefits of enrichment as

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Increased relaxation
  • Reduced stress

These are all benefits of proper enrichment, but there is so much more to it!  Proper enrichment has many more benefits, including:

  • Improved health of your pet
  • Increased satisfaction between pet and owner
  • Decreased behaviors related to boredom, anxiety and distress

My intent is to discuss what proper enrichment is, how to discover what your dog needs and offer some suggestions to try at home!

What is Proper Enrichment?

The definition of enrichment is "making something more meaningful, substantial or rewarding".  This includes canine enrichment.  Just because you offer an enriching activity, that doesn't make it true enrichment for your dog unless your dog finds it meaningful, substantial or rewarding.

For example, my previous dog, Murphy, loved to shred and sniff.  However, if we asked him to run an agility course or to go swimming (which he hated), that would not be enriching for him.  Those activities would be very enriching, however, for some of our clients.  It is important when offering enrichment to your dog, to pay attention to what they like, what were they bred for, and what were their previous experiences.

Proper enrichment is very different for each dog and requires some investigative work from us as owners and guardians.

Personal Preferences

Every dog is different, we need to honor that in most aspects of our dogs lives, but it is especially true with enrichment.  What your individual dog finds rewarding may differ from the next dog.  Consider what natural behaviors your dog chooses when they are allowed to move freely.

Do they choose to run and climb? Do they choose to sniff and amble? do they run towards water or avoid it?  Does your dog pick up and carry sticks? These are all indicators of what our dogs like and find rewarding.

If your dog likes to chew and shred sticks (or your furniture), perhaps boxes with paper and treats can provide a good outlet for their need to shred!  If your dog likes to run and chase, can you use a flirt pole or do lure coursing?

Genetics are important too

Dogs were selectively bred to have certain traits.  For example, herding dogs were bred specifically to spend hours in the field watching the herds and noticing any changes in the environment (like a wolf trying to get the sheep), then they bark and notify the guardian dog who defended the herd.  Asking your border collie to not bark in the city is fighting their genetics.

I'm not saying you cannot have a happy border collie in the city.  Many people do, but they utilize management and tolerate some behaviors like barking and herding behaviors.  It's key that we meet our dogs where they are at.  Genetics is a tough force to have to fight.

If your dog is a dog that was bred to help with hunting, perhaps a long hike or a swim is a perfect thing for them!  Have a dog that was bred to chase into holes after animals (like a rat terrier or dachshund) then toys that allow them to forage and sniff, or chase are great options.  Think about what your dog was bred for when thinking of enrichment activities.

This is not to say that your dog will like to do everything their breed is known for. I know plenty of poodles who do not like the water, or hunting dogs who do not like to hike or play fetch, but it is a piece of the puzzle.


Past Experiences Matter too

I don't want to give the indication that only genetics and your dogs preferences matter.  The truth is that what they have learned from past experiences matter just as much.  For example, if your dog had a negative experience when trying to learn to swim, it's possible they will not like swimming as they get older.

Past experiences matter.  They teach us what life is like, what is pleasant and unpleasant.  Dogs are practical and don't generally repeat an action that resulted in a negative experience for them.  Trauma research also tells us that, much like humans, dogs can experience PTSD and relive trauma when triggered by the environment.

On the flip side, if your dog has a very positive experience, they are more likely to want to repeat it!  If your dog is allowed to ease into the water when at the lake on their own terms, and discover how refreshing and fun it is to romp and splash; they may be more likely to learn to enjoy swimming.

man squatted down feeding a small black dog treats in a river. The dog is wearing a teal leash

Finding the Best enrichment for your dog


After you have considered your dogs genetics, their preferences and their past experiences, you are on your way to finding the best enrichment activities for your dog.

It is important to remember that your dog needs a variety of enrichment activities to meet a variety of natural needs.

Consider the following when trying new activities:

  • What was your dog bred to do, and what activity can help mimic that?
  • What does your dog choose to do when given free reign to play?
  • What experiences has your dog had that may be playing a role in their preferences?
  • What natural needs does your dog have that you want to meet (chewing, chasing, shredding, sniffing, etc)?
  • When you try something new, how does your dog respond?

Remember to incorporate different types of enrichment too!  There are 5 types of enrichment that every dog should have according to Purdue University

  1. Social Enrichment:  such as playgroups, group walks, using play to create positive experiences
  2. Nutritional Enrichment: puzzle feeders, interactive toys, changing up treats and food for interest
  3. Occupational Enrichment: dog sports, backpacking, training new behaviors
  4. Sensory enrichment: allowing visual access to interesting environments, using dog safe essential oils, doing scent work
  5. Physical enrichment: rotating toys, adding physical features like a raised platform, jumps or tunnels.

Enrichment Suggestions:

At home:

  • allow your dog to shred boxes and cardboard tubes
  • hide treats or kibble around the house and let your dog find them
  • use puzzles, snufflemats, and interactive toys
  • try new foods for your dog (avoid onions, grapes, chocolate, xylitol, and other foods that are not safe for your dog)
  • use a flirt pole
  • fill a kiddie pool with balls and treat scatter
  • fill a kiddie pool with water to swim and romp in
  • fill a kiddie pool with sand or dirt and bury toys to encourage digging
  • invite your dogs friends over for a playdate
  • scatter treats in the grass- natures snuffle mat!
  • Train your dog new tricks

Away from home:

  • take a hike on a new trail, allow your dog to lead the way
  • go to a beach and let them swim
  • supervised playgroups, like the ones at Canine Einstein!
  • go to a dog friendly patio or restaurant
  • take your dog to local stores that are dog friendly
  • do a group hike with other social dogs
  • take a training class that meets your dogs interests
  • take a sniffy walk in a new environment
  • go camping
  • private gym rentals at Canine Einstein
  • go to a park and watch other people/dogs
  • do training in a new location like a park or the beach


  • use a tension rod in a doorframe, hang cups of various sized and put treats in them- your dog needs to figure out how to get the treats out
  • create your own snuffle toy with a towel and treats!
  • build a raised platform and teach your dog to do two paws up
  • use empty containers to hide treats underneath and allow your dog to figure out how to get the treats
  • create a snuffle box: fill a box with fleece, cardboard tubes, paper and sprinkle treats inside