Five easy ways to enrich your dog’s life

I always feel horribly guilty about not using Betsy to her full potential.

Since I don’t have a job that requires a working canine companion, my wonderful dog, who boasts generations of breeding geared towards boundless energy and stamina, is forced to spend a lot of her time laying around the house, waiting for me to entertain her.

When she whines or paces or nuzzles me for attention, I am always beseiged with guilt, knowing how much it must suck for a creature with so much to offer to be forced to sit on its butt all day with nothing to look forward to but a measly walk.

begging
Betsy begging Ben for a bit of attention (I’m lying a bit, I think he actually had some food 😅)

So with this in mind, I’m constantly trying to think up new ways to enrich Betsy’s life, and what follows is a list of the absolute easiest things you can do to entertain your dog without having to leave the house or really do much of anything at all.

1. Ditch mealtime and make your dog work for its food

We have no dog food bowls in our house 😁

You might know this as NILF, or Nothing in Life is Free, but the explanation that goes along with that acronym – basically asserting that you are the boss and you control the resources – doesn’t sit that well with me (seems weird and too god-complex-superior-human), so I like to think of it more like this:

  1. Dogs like working for their food. Most animals do. Science says so, and it’s called contrafreeloading. So you’re basically just making mealtime more fun for your dog.

  2. It has the added bonus of more obedience practice, so your dog gets better at all sorts of skills.

For every kibble Betsy gets, she performs a command (like “sit”), or offers me a behaviour that I like.

What does, “offering a behaviour,” mean? Here’s an example: I am in the kitchen making dinner. Betsy is sniffing around because it smells good. I don’t want her counter surfing, but I don’t mind if she just wants to hang out. So the moment she lies down on the kitchen floor, I toss a kibble at her. Over time, her go-to behaviour whenever I am in the kitchen has become lying down, which is perfect for everyone involved.

2. Snacktime scavenger hunt

Betsy looooves this game, and I have a few videos of her playing it.

I do two versions: A kibble version and a kong version. They both work essentially the same way – I make Betsy hold a sit or a down somewhere, and then I hide her kong. If I have kibble I break it up and hide it in multiple locations.

Once I’ve hidden her food, I come back and release her. She goes off like a shot to hunt down her meal.

To get your dog started, it’s best to hide stuff right in front of them, so they get the idea. Then you can slowly make it harder and harder, until you can hide food all over the house.

3. Teach your dog something new

This one is a bit more effort. Trick training. Look up a trick on youtube to figure out how to teach it, then spend 2 minutes a day (two minutes! Nothing!) teaching your dog the trick. Betsy has tons of tricks up her sleeve from this routine:

4. Chewing and Licking

Dogs find the repetitive act of chewing and licking very satisfying. Combined with the joy of working for their food, a frozen soup bone with a bit of meat on the outside and yummy marrow on the inside is a great bit of enrichment for a dog. It doesn’t seem like much, but it keeps your dog’s mouth and mind occupied for a least half an hour.

5. Practicing patience

Teach your dog to hold a down-stay for progressively longer and longer periods of time. You can do this while you watch tv or read a book. Set a timer, starting with as low as 5 seconds, and slowly, slowly, work your way up to 1 minute, 2 minutes, 10 minutes…

You don’t want to bore the crap out of your dog and make them hate the “down” command, so practice a few easy down-stays first to warm them up, then do the long one, then a couple more easy down-stays and then call it a day.

nap
Betsy practices patience while I work from home. She may have forgotten that she’s working though, since she appears to be fast asleep.

Of course, and I hope this goes without saying, you need to reward your dog for their hard work! You can use kibble or a toy, or whatever else makes them happy 🐶

Do you have any tricks of your own that you use to keep your dog’s life interesting?

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