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What is Enrichment?

Welcome to the first of Mellin Crafts enrichment guides, an online resource we have started to share the science behind enrichment, tips and tricks for creating your own, and instructions for using the many fantastic enrichment items we sell.

Bishamon (golden retriever) enjoying a large berry-scented hive with a yak cheese chew.

Enrichment can involve many different aspects of your dogs’ life and is a way to provide physical and mental outlets to improve their welfare and quality of life. Enrichment can help soothe

anxious dogs, calm down energetic ones, and generally is a great tool to use to keep your dog happy and healthy. Even more than benefiting them mentally, providing enrichment can keep your dog physically healthy, too – studies on the use of enrichment for captive animals have shown that certain forms of enrichment can help to prevent obesity, skin conditions, digestive disorders, and heart disease (Kusumaningsih). It's not just great for dogs, either – enrichment activities are used for farm animals and by ethical zoos worldwide.

Enrichment games and activities allow you to provide opportunities for your pup to engage in natural behaviors like scavenging, chewing, chasing, and sniffing, in a controlled, safe manner. For example, take Amigo, a young dog who loves to chew on furniture legs. In addition to keeping him away from tasty furniture, providing an enrichment toy like a Coffee Wood chew or giving him time to chew sticks on walks can help fulfill that urge without snacking on your dining room table.

In general, enrichment activities can fit into a handful of categories, with a good amount of overlap. Here’s how we choose to sort them:

o   Social Enrichment: opportunities for your dog to safely view and/or interact with people, dogs, and other animals.

Chesnut (cavalier king charles spaniel) fulfilling his needs by playing fetch in a man-made lake with his favorite frisbee and his favorite dog friends.

o   Occupational: activities which fulfill a dog’s need to have a job, especially as tied to their breed. this can be as generic as basic obedience training or as specific as taking your border collie to herding trials.

o   Behavioral: any enrichment which fulfills a dog’s innate behavioral needs, like scavenging, hunting, and digging.

o   Sensory: opportunities for a dog to use its senses – taste, touch, vision, hearing, and most importantly, smelling!

o   Physical: this category can overlap a lot with the others, especially behavioral. any opportunity for your pup to burn energy, whether through play, walks, or active toys.

It’s important to remember that your chosen enrichment activity is only as valuable as your dog feels it is. If you give your dog a bully stick but she’d really rather be ripping something up, she’s going to go for your couch cushions. If you’re providing enrichment in an attempt to curb an unwanted behavior, the enrichment activity you provide must match the activity your dog has chosen on its own.

It may take some trial and error to figure out your pup’s favorite kinds of enrichment, and, just as we humans develop new preferences and change our minds about activities we used to enjoy, your dog will develop new opinions as well. Some questions to ask yourself as you determine what enrichment activities to give your pup:

Aizelea (border collie x cattle dog) enjoying her dinner in a west paw toppl. She requires this level of daily enrichment to meet her mental stimulation needs due to her breed genetics.

o Does she like to play with toys? If yes, how does she play with them – does she rip, chase, initiate tug of war, nibble on them?

o Is she on a special diet? What kind of snacks does she like?

o How much energy, time, and money do I have to invest into making enrichment? (It doesn’t have to cost a lot, or take a lot of time!)

o What tools do I have already to create enrichment? (A Kong? Access to a safe outdoor place? A friend with a safe dog?)

o How am I already providing enrichment to my pup, even unintentionally? (Do you let her sniff on walks? Put her food in a slow feeder?)

o Are there any behaviors I’d like to try and curb? What enrichment activity could I try and replace them with? (Does your pup like to go through the trash? Maybe she’d enjoy kibble rolled up in a paper bag?)

As we’ve mentioned already, enrichment can be part of a training plan but can’t replace training entirely. And remember:

The best kind of enrichment is one which fulfills your needs, your dog’s needs, and helps build your relationship. It’s great to take 4 hours a week making aesthetic lick-mats, but your pup will be just as happy with a paper roll stuffed with kibble, and you’ll have the energy and motivation to do it again the next day. Take care of yourself before you lose your mind trying to take care of your pup. You’ll both be better off. 

Sources and Further Reading:

“The Benefit of Enrichment Application on Animals in Captivity”, P Kusumanigsih and I W Rosiana (

“A comparison on social and environmental enrichment methods for laboratory housed dogs”, Robert C. Hubrecht (

“Feeding Enrichment in a Captive Pack of European Wolves (Canis Lupus Lupus): Assessing the Effects on Welfare and on a Zoo’s Recreational, Educational and Conservational Role”, Giacomo Riggio et al (

“Animal Enrichment” National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. (

“Enrichment in Kennels”, Candace Croney et al. (

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