Canine Enrichment Isn't Just Food Puzzles (Examples of Non Food Based Enrichment Inside!)



These days, social media pages are flooded with food based enrichment practices for dogs. With the swipe of your finger tip, you can find creative ideas on stuffed Kongs, Snuffle Mats, and Lick Mats galore.


While food based enrichment has been studied for years, it's important to realize that Food Based Enrichment is a small slice of the "Enrichment Pie," if you will. In fact, there's plenty of other options for your pup to sink their teeth into!


Defining Enrichment

Enrichment is a concept that has evolved and matured over the last 100 years, and is based on the idea that providing captive animals with more complex environments enhances their physical and mental health (Adams, 2008). The first ever enrichment study is credited to Robert Yerkes, who was researching the well-being of captive primates in 1920. Fast forward to today, where there's been hundreds of studies done on enrichment for dogs (let alone other captive species!).


Is Enrichment A Trend?

While it may seem like it due to it's exploding social media presence, enrichment is here to stay (and has been since at least 1920!). The fact is in the science.


How Can I Engage My Pets Without Food?

Find out what your dog loves, and run with it (sometimes, quite literally). While food enrichment tends to be a favorite for many dogs, there are many other outlets that pooches enjoy. Such as...

A photo of a tanned dog looking up at the camera with a nose covered in sand.
One of Bindi's favourite non-food enrichment activities? Digging at the beach!

Examples of Non-Food Enrichment

- Snuffle Activities & Games

- Scent Sticks

- Scent Work & Classes (i.e. Barn Hunt)

- Training & Dog Sports

- Social Enrichment with other dogs and/or animals

- Outdoor enrichment (i.e hikes, decompression walks, swimming)

- Auditory enrichment (i.e. music when you leave the house)

- Car rides (if your dog enjoys the car, that is!)

- Dig pits

- Kiddie pools (don't be scared to get creative; you can fill your kiddie pools in so many different ways for enrichment).

- Flirt Poles

- Interactive play between dog & owner

- Sensory Yard Spaces or Gardens


How Do I Know If My Dog Is Enjoying Non-Food Enrichment?

With food-based enrichment, enjoyment is often easy to spot (and thus, easy for people to label as a favorite). With non-food enrichment, signs of enjoyment can sometimes be a bit more subtle. For example, your dog may not be jumping up and down with excitement over the radio being on, but that doesn't mean that they don't enjoy it.


Positive body language signals to look for:

- Loose, "goofy" body language during games and activities.

- Loose, relaxed body language during more sedentary enrichment (i.e. loose forehead, relaxed ears, no hackles).

- Shake off and return

- Play bows


Negative body language signals to look for:

- Hyper fixation

- Whining, crying, or barking excessively at the game or activity (shows potential frustration)

- Lip licking

- Whale eye or turning away

- Cowering or tail between legs



In the end, the sky is the limit when it comes to to creative enrichment options! The key is knowing the dog in front of you, and modifying their enrichment routine to suit their individual needs and likes.


Sources & Further Readings

The Evolution of Environmental Enrichment - Ampersand

Implementing Environmental Enrichment for Dogs

Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff

Enrichment in puppyhood and its effects on later behavior of dogs.

The effect of feeding enrichment toys on the behaviour of kennelled dogs (Canis familiaris)

Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study



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