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DIY K9 Enrichment

A puppy crouching ready to play and pounce

To understand why it is essential to make DIY K9 enrichment ideas for your dog, let's first cover why it matters. Foraging is a great way to let your dog work with their nose to find their food. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, with over 100 million sensory receptor sites in their nasal cavity. This means that the part of their brain that analyzes odors is about 40 times larger than that of humans.

According to dog math, 20 minutes of foraging for their food is equivalent to an hour-long walk. So, ditching the dog bowl and practicing some easy DIY enrichment can be a great way to aid your training process.

Many owners don't fully understand the need and drive for their dog to sniff and forage, which can lead to frustration or reactive behavior. Providing foraging opportunities helps reduce stress and anxiety and tires them out by using their brainpower. It can be especially beneficial for busy mornings, during work calls, crate training, separation anxiety, and rainy days.

Licking is also an excellent way to provide enrichment, as it helps reduce stress and provides a hit of dopamine when it includes food. The following DIY enrichment ideas include options for foraging and licking.

As a dog trainer with over 12 years of experience, I've purchased almost every enrichment-based toy or puzzle you can think of, such as snuffle mats, licky mats, kongs, wobblers, snoops, and a plethora of puzzle toys. Unfortunately, most of them don't last long, and they can be quite pricey. Therefore, these DIY ideas will help you provide enrichment using commonly used household items that are easily accessible and affordable.

Collie Dog looking right at the camera

If you're looking for ways to enrich your dog's life at home, here are some fantastic ideas to try:

1. Kitchen Funnel: Use a kitchen funnel as a Kong replacement. To create a fun and interactive toy for your dog, wrap the inside of the funnel in oiled plastic wrap, then fill it with wet food, yogurt or peanut butter, and freeze it to create a big ice cube. Your dog can then toss it around and enjoy the tasty treats inside.

2. Stacked Cups: You can take solo cups and add kibble to them and stack them. For a greater challenge, use plastic cups from the dollar store. Fill each cup with kibble and a little water, stack them, and freeze them. This will provide 20-60 minutes of enrichment for your dog.

3. Filled and Frozen Green Pepper or Apples: These can be great for a simple enrichment activity that will last 20-30 minutes. Cut open a green pepper or apple, remove the core, and fill it with kibble, wet food, or other treats. Then, freeze it and give it to your dog to enjoy.

4. Old Towel or Blanket: Another way to provide enrichment is to use an old towel or blanket. Scatter kibble or treats on the towel or blanket, and then roll it up. You can tie knots in the towel for increased difficulty, or even freeze it to make it harder.

5. Ice Cube Trays: You can fill ice cube trays with kibble, treats, or water and stack them, or use muffin tins and tennis balls to create a similar activity. Fill the muffin tin with kibble, and then put balls or cups over the top.

6. Egg Crates: If you want to help your dog eat slower, try using an egg crate. They'll need to open each egg holder to eat their food.

7. Paper Towel or Toilet Paper Rolls: These can provide your dog with an opportunity to be destructive in a positive way. Dogs love to see they can make a change, so this can be great enrichment when supervised.

8. Frozen Cabbage or Lettuce Balls: Your dog is not likely to eat these, but they'll enjoy destroying them. This can be a great way to relieve frustration or excess energy.

9. Easter Egg Hunt: Hide eggs filled with kibble or towels around the house or yard. This can be a fun and affordable activity for you and your dog.

10. Boxes Inside of Boxes Stacked: You can make this activity as easy or hard as you'd like, and fill boxes with Easter eggs or other treats to make it more challenging.

11. Scent Training: Use oils like peppermint, lavender, anise, or birch to engage your dog's nose and build confidence and problem-solving skills. Put a drop or two on a cotton ball or swab and place it in a container with a few holes. Reward your dog for engaging with the container and slowly work on getting them to come to you on cue.

12. Smoothie Trails: This is a fun way to help your dog use their nose and redirect their attention. Make smoothies using canned wet food, chicken, or tuna, and leave some unmixed for their jackpot reward. Create trails of varying difficulty around your yard and provide a high-value reward at the end.

13. Frozen Bowl Feeding: Fill a bowl with kibble, water, egg, or other treats and freeze it overnight. This can be a great cooling treat on hot days and helps slow down your dog's eating habits.

14. Scattering Kibble in the Grass: This is a simple yet effective way to provide enrichment and encourage your dog to slow down while eating. Simply scatter kibble in the grass and let your dog forage for their food.

White fluffy puppy happy to be laying on the beach.

Get ready to see your dogs in their element! Now that you have learned the benefits of enrichment, you can provide your furry friends with various types of stimulating activities using everyday household items. Get creative and watch your dogs work and forage with enthusiasm. You'll be amazed at how much they enjoy it and how much happier they become!

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