Enrichment For Our Dogs
Before I got my deaf dog, Tilly, I’d never even heard of the words enrichment “and “mental stimulation “when talking about our four-legged friends, so, when it was brought up at our dog training, I’ll admit, I was hesitant… But once I begun to research and then as I begun to see how Tilly was THRIVING from such enrichment, I knew this was something really important! They say that mental stimulation is just as important to a dog as taking them for their daily walk, but especially for our deaf/blind dogs.
When a dog is deaf or blind, their sense of smell is heightened and so, the below enrichment ideas have focused a lot on scent work, encouraging our dogs to use their noses! Below are a list of my top-10 homemade and store bought enrichment toys.*Always be mindful to supervise your dog when giving him enrichment toys, especially if he is prone to swallowing foreign objects and regularly check on your toys for wear and tear*.
TOP 10 HOMEMADE TOYS
- Keep your cardboard boxes, all shapes, all sizes! Fill them up dry food, treats or smear them with peanut butter. Put the smaller boxes inside other boxes to make it extra challenging. Your dog will have to use their sense of smell to locate the food and then figure out how to open the cardboard in order to get to it.
- Toilet paper rolls. As well as keeping your cardboard boxes, keep your toilet rolls! You can fill these with some dry food and then roll them up OR if you want to get tricky, roll them up and stuff them into another toilet roll. You can give these to your dog on their own or add them to the cardboard boxes.
- Paper wrapped treats. Again, you can give these to your dog on their own or add them to your cardboard boxes, which is what I do. This one is super easy, I just grab some treats/dry food, place them in a bit of paper and scrunch the paper around them. Your dog has to learn to open up the paper to get to the treat. *I would not recommend this if your dog is prone to swallowing random objects*.
- Use old plastic water or milk bottles, cut a small hole (but big enough so the food can get through) and then fill the bottle with food. Your dog will have to work out how to move the bottle around so that they can access the food.
- “Find it”. I have some empty yoghurt cups. I place food in one cup and then place all three of them on the ground, upside down. Your dog will need to use their sense of smell to work out which cup has the food and then work out how to flip it over. *To begin with, you can start by having the yoghurt cups upright, until your dog understands what the game actually is*.
- Another version of find it we do is I throw a handful of dry onto the grass in our backyard and Tilly, again, uses her sense of smell, to find the treats, this is a bit more difficult for her as there’s a lot of other, distracting smells in our backyard too!
- This version of find it involves collecting your toilet rolls and putting them all in a box. Only fill a few of the toilet rolls with treats, leaving the majority of them empty. Your dog will have to use his sense of smell to work out which of the toilet rolls contain the treats.
- Ice tray. This one is particularly great in summer! You can grab a muffin tray, an ice cube tray or anything similar and this is the fun part, thinking what to put in there – I sometimes cut up some fruit or veggies, put them in and then fill up with water (or dog-friendly bone broth) and then freeze! I have also done it with a bit of mashed banana and topped with some peanut butter, but anything could work… As long as you freeze it, as that’s the challenge!
- Tennis ball treat-dispenser. Grab a tennis ball, put a small hole into the ball and fill with dry, similar to the plastic bottle toy, your dog will need to work out how to move the ball around to get the treats out, this may be a bit more difficult than the plastic bottle idea as the ball will move around more freely.
- Although, this is not really ‘’homemade’, it is a good idea for dogs that aren’t particularly food-motivated. Do a few, short (5-10 minute) “training” sessions throughout the day! You can practice already-learnt tricks or learn some new ones! Dogs love to learn!
TOP 10 STORE-BOUGHT TOYS
- My absolute favorite enrichment toy that I bought Tilly is a KONG. Made from durable rubber, kong’s can be used to play fetch, or filled with treats for longer-lasting enrichment. The best way to fill a kong, is to fill a bowl with whatever you want to put in it (Tilly’s favorite fillings are mashed sweet potato, peanut butter or sardines) and then use a small spoon to spoon the filling into the kong. Give to your dog straight away OR freeze the kong for a few hours to make it more difficult. I recommend only starting to freeze it once your dog has the hang of it, if it is too difficult for them to begin with, they will get frustrated and lose interest. Can be bought online and at most pet stores. There are several sizes, so ensure you get the right size for your dog.
- Another awesome KONG product is the KONG WOBBLER. A treat-dispensing toy, you put dry food in it and your dog needs to learn to paw/nose the wobbler in order to get the treats out. The wobbling effect encourages your dog’s sense of curiosity. The KONG Wobbler comes in two different sizes; small and large.
- Another one of my favourites is the LICKIMAT. It is especially good for dogs that suffer with separation anxiety as the action of licking is soothing for dogs. I like to spread peanut butter, mashed banana, pumpkin puree or even sardines onto the mat. I even freeze it sometimes to make it last a bit longer! She is always a lot calmer after having a lickimat. Can be bought online through Urban Pooch Australia using code HEARNOEVIL for a 10% storewide discount.
- Any of the NINA OTTOSSON toys are awesome. They come in 3 levels, from easy to difficult. Tilly has a level 2 one called “Tornado” that I often feed her dinner in. Any of these toys can be bought online or at some pet stores.
- Tilly loves her ZENIFY TREAT BALL. I fill it with dry food and she has to work out how to get the dry out, it can also be used as a regular ball, which is great for dogs that aren’t particularly food-motivated.
- SLOW FEEDERS. Slow feeders are not just great for dogs that eat really fast but are also a great way for your dog to be mentally stimulated while he gets his breakfast or dinner. They come in many different sizes, shapes and styles. Can be bought online through Zenify, in most pet stores and even places like KMART sell them!
- Tilly loves having her breakfast in the KMART IQ DOME. Your dog has to work out how to open up the individual flaps in order to get to their food, it is super fun for them AND it is only $9! Win-win!
- Another good KMART find is the FETCH AND TREAT. Your dog will need to learn to drop the ball in the slot in order for both the balls AND the treats to dispense. Be mindful of using this toy if your dog has shown OCD behaviours.
- Tilly also loves her “HOLEY TREAT DISPENSER”, put treats in there for your dog or knot fabric through the holes to make it a bit more difficult. I have also heard that you can freeze them, which is a great idea for teething pups as the cold fabric would be very soothing. This toy can also be used as a normal chase/fetch ball. Can be bought online and at some pet stores.
- The Aussie Dog Range, in particular, the “home alone” range. I have not used any of these personally but have been recommended to me by other HNE volunteers. One of the most common ones is the STAFFY BALL; A 1.3 kg ball that your dog can learn to push around your backyard and play with when he is home alone or used to play soccer/fetch/chase with their owners. The Staffy Ball is particularly good for herding breeds; cattle dogs, collies, shepherds, etc. Can be bought online and some of their range is available in some pet stores.
What are some of your favourite canine enrichment activities for your dog? I'd love to see them - feel free to comment below or share them on the Hear No Evil Facebook page.
Written by: Caitlyn Tauchert (Tillys' Mum) and Volunteer with Hear No Evil