When our pets get bored, they start to get into behaviors such as making more noise, chewing and clawing items they shouldn’t, and start to get into trouble! Many of the behaviors that we might consider problem behaviors- such as hunting, chewing, digging and barking- are very natural outlets for pets to channel their energy. By tapping into those instincts and channeling them in a constructive way, we can have calm and happy pets. Check out these ideas below and also these other Explorer posts for more on this subject: Boredom Busters for Pets – Keep Pups Occupied with Kong Recipes – DIY Enrichment Ideas
If your dog likes to chew, make sure you have a wide variety of chew toys available! Dogs are usually particular on what textures they like to chew, so be sure to try a wide variety of types to find what your dog likes. Some examples are marrow bones, treat stuffing toys, buffalo horns and antlers. Dogs also enjoy different toys and there are many different kinds out there to choose from. There are crinkle, squeaking, rope, and shaking toys to name a few. Try to get a variety of types and textures to keep them interested. Also put away toys that they aren’t interested in for a month or so, then rotate it back in- it will seem like a brand new toy!
Dogs naturally forage for food- and we can put their brains to use with puzzle toys and treat toys to make them work for their food. This will turn meal time into brain time as they work through how to get their toy out of the puzzles, such as a wobbler toy. A slow feeder bowl will also help to make meal time last longer and make them work to get their food out.
Dogs love to bond with people so we can also use toys that we both play with to be more interactive, such as a flirt pole or tug, teach a new trick or two, or even go for a walk together! Building that bond with the drain of learning a new trick will make you both feel good.
Another way to increase the bond while enriching dogs is to learn tricks. Any new skill your dog learns is a great way to get them thinking and working. We can have them sit pretty, learn to go to place, or even get in laundry baskets! It may seem silly, but your dog will enjoy learning for their food and getting to work with you.
Sniffing is a natural calming activity for dogs, and they take in the world through their nose! Snuffle mats are an excellent way to get dogs using their nose to search for their food and treats. You can make one yourself, or buy one online. You can also play ‘hide and treat!’ with your dog by hiding treats in a room for them to sniff out. Put it on a cue so they know when they are playing the game and done expect to find treats all the time.
Cats also need enrichment to meet their instincts! Cats have a natural drive to hunt and by tapping into those we can help them live fuller lives and head off problem behaviors.
Toys are a great enrichment for our feline friends- there are so many different types to try and keep them entertained. From kicker toys, pompoms, balls with bells in them, to interactive toys like feather pop out toys. Try a wide variety for them as each cat has different preferences.
Cats can use treat toys to use their brain to solve problems to get their treats or food. Hide their treats in a rolling toy that they have to push around to get their treats, a snuffle mat, or hide it in cardboard tubes in a tub that they can reach in and grab them out! Cats are natural problem solvers, and they will love being able to work for their food.
Cats enjoy sensory enrichments that engage their senses! Make a kitty sensory area, with many different textures for them to explore – crinkled paper in a box, fluffy blankets, you can even bring in items from the outdoors like pinecones and leaves, to give them new smells to take in. You can also grow a cat garden- with things like wheatgrass, catnip and catmint are plants that cats enjoy by rubbing, smelling, and some tasting!
If you have a window in your house that your cat enjoys laying in, consider adding a birdfeeder that your cat can watch to engage their brain without much effort on your part. They will enjoy tapping into their natural hunt drive by watching birds- like TV for kitties!
You can also train cats tricks to give them a good brain drain while building your relationship. Cats can learn many behaviors such as ‘come’, ‘sit’, ‘nose touch’ and many others!
Explorers: Explore many different varieties of these enrichments and toys, keep a journal of what your pet does or doesn’t like. When using treat toys, start with easy wins to show them that they can have success – use smaller treats that fall out easily, if you have a toy with sliders, begin with them part open until your pet learns how to work them. Try toys of different textures and shapes, as well as play styles.
Growers: Begin to make the challenges harder. Give them treats that will take longer to get out of the treat toys- or begin to use
their toys in new ways to make them problem solve new ways to use it. Freeze kongs to make them last longer. Work on building the duration of tricks, add distractions to ensure your dog has a clear understanding of the trick.
Challengers: Look at your puzzles and reinvent them. Hide treat toys so they have to find them first before they work on them. Increase the difficulty level of their enrichment if they are comfortable with it. For tricks, try to pair tricks into new combinations to create a new trick- like covering their eyes to then waving for a ‘shy hello’.