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Backyard Enrichment Activities for Dogs

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Enrichment activities are a very important part of any animal’s life. Whether you’re dealing with a zoo lion or a dog and cat, animals get bored just as humans do. Enrichment activities will help your pets beat the boredom, particularly once the kids have returned to school.

Backyard enrichment areas are areas that provide an outlet for exercise (with or without you actually being present). These areas can go a long ways towards tiring your dogs most physically and mentally, which can result in easier training and a much better behaved dog.

Wading Pool

This is one of the easiest ways to keep pets active. Wading pools are great for any time of the year. By burying it in the sand, you will make getting in and out of pool easier for senior or small pets.

During summer, you can fill it with water for a refreshing way to cool off. Toss in a floating toys or favorite vegetables (carrots are our pups “go to” veggie) and you’ve got hours of entertainment ahead of you!

In wintertime, turn it into a giant ball pit! You can use those old plastic bottles you’ve collected to recycle (of course, you’ll want to recycle them afterwards) or pick up a big collection of pit balls (did you know you can get 400 balls for under $50? It’s true!).

When you tire of the water or mud, fill it up with sand and bury some of your pets favorite toys for a specialized digging area or scent-driven exercises.

There are many ways you can fashion a simple pool into a play area all year long!

Treasure Hunts

No one finds more joy in a treasure hunt than your dogs. Consider hiding some of his favorite toys or treats the night before you leave for work, then turn them loose in the morning. If you don’t know what your dog may enjoy, consider picking up a book like The Canine Kingdom of Scent – Fun Activities Using Your Dog’s Natural Instincts.

You may also want to consider enrolling in a nose-work class to see if your dogs are naturally inclined towards this important (and fun) activity. Who knows? You may have a search and rescue dog on your hands!

Be sure you only place the items in areas you don’t mind getting dug up, and make certain the items are things you can safely leave with your pets.

Cardboard Deconstruction

If you are an advocate of composting, your dogs can be great helps in preparing items for deconstruction. Most dogs love to tear boxes apart, so hand over those empty cereal boxes and paper towel holders, and let your dog do the shredding for you.

If they’re a little shy about digging in, hide a couple of treats in the boxes. It’s a great way to offer scent-centric exercises for your pets.

Just remember to:

  • take the pieces away from your pet before they actually eat them
  • remove the pieces quickly so your dogs don’t consume them (a composting bin is the best option)
  • keep the actual compost bin away from your pet

Frozen Chew Toys

Soak your pets favorite toy chew in water or beef broth and freeze it, then give your pets a fun chew in the morning. Kong toys make freezing even more fun.  You can also make fun ice cube treats from frozen broth, or healthier ones with Ice Pups from The Honest Kitchen.

We love to use interesting ice molds that offer different shapes.

For animal lovers, paw-shaped or bone-shaped silicone ice molds are perfect! We have the Wildlife creatures ice tray featured below and discovered there were a few sharp edges as a result of freezing, so keep that in mind when selecting a silicone mold.

Agility Courses

Whether you make your own out of leftover lumber and picnic tables or  you purchase a pre-made set (like this Dog Agility Starter Kit with Dog Tunnel Weave Pole and High Jump Obstacles from Kyjen), agility is a great activity for dogs.  Not only does it keep your dog active, it engages their mind and helps sharpen their senses. Agility is a quality exercise for you and your pets.

Make a Fence Peep Hole

Most dogs will become way too overexcited by this activity, and there is a possibility it may teach your pet some very bad habits, but we think it’s sort of creative. Consider putting a peep hole in your fencing. This way, the dog can see what is going on outside. This has the possibility of increasing or decreasing barking and fence running, so use with discretion.

Homemade Puzzle Toys

By being creative, you can create your own puzzle toys that will help your pets stay active. But for those who lack a natural ability to design and build a puzzle toy, there are plenty available for purchase.  Check out toys by Nina Ottosson for pre-made puzzle toys or create your own (like this one):

Technological Toys

iFetch is a new station that allows your dog to play fetch when you’re not outside. The dog learns to drop the ball into the machine, which then “throws” the ball for the dog. It’s very similar to a tennis ball machine.

This is a fun activity for those who are unable to throw for medical reasons or are just not very good at throwing (like me).

Please note that this is not a pet-sitting machine – its’ a tool to be used on occasion, under supervision. Read our review about this great activity for pets!

Rotating the Toy Supply

You never know what your dogs are going to like unless you try them, and rotating toys on a daily basis will help them avoid getting bored.

Choose a tough squeaky toy for one day, then a chew toy on another. An all-natural wool toy is a great way to keep pets occupied, but then consider switching to an interactive puzzle toy or add a Wooly Snuffle Mat for their evening dinner.

No matter which toys or activities you choose, be certain you keep your pets under observation. Dogs can get themselves into trouble pretty quick choking on a chew, spending too much time in the sun, playing too hard in a pool, or becoming too overstimulated. Enrichment is about adding new experiences and making the quality of your pet’s life better – not about overwhelming them with new things.

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