When the weather outside is cold, dark and damp or when we’re cooped up indoors for any reason, our dogs can feel the cabin fever just as much as we do. As a certified Canine Enrichment Specialist, I’m happy to help you with some ideas for indoor enrichment for dogs!
I’ve witnessed firsthand how important it is to keep our dogs mentally stimulated.
I’m excited to share with you the importance of indoor enrichment for dogs including many ideas for enrichment for dogs in kennels. That’s something I’m often asked about!
There are a ton of ways to provide indoor dog activities! From simple games to intricate puzzles and some creative environmental enrichment, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your dog’s tail wagging. But where do you start?
In this post I list out a few ideas each for:
- Enrichment for dogs in kennels or crates
- Dog Puzzles: DIY and Amazon Faves
- Food enrichment ideas
- Indoor games to bond with your dog
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase items or services that I recommend with my links, I may earn a small commission. Your support allows me to keep this site running and get my content out to as many pet parents as possible. Thank you!!
Importance of Indoor Enrichment for Dogs
Let’s face it, we can’t all let our dogs roam free in the great outdoors.
No matter where you live – in the city, suburbs, or countryside – there will be days when your dog is spending most of their time indoors. That doesn’t make you a bad dog parent, it’s just life!
But our dogs don’t get to go to work, text their friends or scroll social media like we do. So when they spend a lot of time indoors it can be really boring for them.
Boredom can lead to frustration and destructive or undesirable behavior. My dog Lucy will bark her head off when she’s bored and frustrated. My other dog Burt will go counter surfing and steal food when he’s bored.
I’ve found that the best way to prevent those problem behaviors is with healthy dog enrichment activities.
This is why indoor enrichment is essential for dogs year-round! It stimulates their minds, keeps them physically fit, and helps reduce the stress and anxiety that can come from a lack of stimulation.
Especially for dogs who are crated for a long stretch of time, finding creative ways to enrich their lives indoors isn’t just a nice idea, it’s a necessity!
Living in Pittsburgh, PA, the winters can be harsh! So sometimes we’re not able to enjoy long walks and outdoor games. When that happens, I use indoor enrichment activities to ensure that my dogs live their best lives every day.
Enrichment for Dogs in Kennels
Even dogs in kennels can experience the joys and benefits of enrichment. Small spaces require clever solutions that maximize both fun and functionality, ensuring our furry friends are both safe and entertained.
Incorporating music into a dog’s day can have a calming effect, especially when they’re confined to spaces like kennels. Soft, classical tunes are known to soothe anxious canines. Interesting sound can provide audio enrichment to our dogs when they don’t have other resources to interact with.
Here’s a calm dog playlist that I like on YouTube. I often leave this on for my dogs Burt and Lucy when I go out for a few hours.
This simple yet effective method can significantly enhance the quality of life for dogs spending time in kennels!
Another innovative enrichment option is DogTV. This television programming designed specifically for dogs features calming visuals and sounds, perfect for keeping them engaged and relaxed. It provides mental stimulation and a sense of companionship, reducing feelings of loneliness and boredom.
The programs on DogTV are designed to play at a frame rate that your dog can see. According to studies, dogs aren’t able to see all normal TV shows.
Avoid Treat Toys in the Crate: What I recommend instead
I’m not a huge fan of leaving toys in crates with dogs because they can become a choking hazard. I’m speaking from experience – believe me when I say, you do not want to come home to a dog who has choked on something. Safety is paramount when it comes to enrichment!
If you really want to give your dog something to eat in the crate, I recommend hollowing out the core of a small apple or cleaning out a small bell pepper and filling that with the same filling you would put in a Kong or Toppl. That way, the entire thing is edible!
Environmental Enrichment for Crated Dogs
Another creative idea for dogs who are often crated is based on environmental enrichment. This involves changing up the environment that your dog spends a lot of time in.
You can introduce this type of enrichment by:
- Changing your dog’s view from their crate
- Add a mirror, artwork, a TV or a prism to reflect light to give them something to look at
- You can move their crate to a different spot
- Or rotate the crate if your space is limited
Dog Puzzle Toys: Mental Stimulation
Dog puzzle toys are like Sudoku for your pup, providing a brain workout that’s both fun and rewarding. These puzzles not only stimulate your dog’s mind but are also a fantastic way for you and your dog to bond.
One brand I highly recommend is Outward Hound by Nina Ottosson.
Some of their standout puzzles from Nina Ottosson include:
When it comes to the most highly rated dog puzzles available on Amazon, there are a few that stand out. These puzzles have received glowing reviews from pet parents for their durability, ability to engage dogs of different sizes, and the mental stimulation they provide.
Check out more engaging dog puzzles:
Another great option for a food-dispensing puzzle is one where your dog has to flip over these bottles on a bar to spill out the food.
If you’re feeling crafty, my friend Melissa at Proud Dog Mom has a tutorial for a DIY version of a water bottle dog puzzle. It’s a cheap and easy way to get your dog’s mind working and keep them entertained.
It’s important to rotate and switch up the puzzles regularly. In my bite-sized dog enrichment online course, I offer creative ways to switch up these puzzles so they remain a fresh and exciting challenge for your dog. And at just $19, this mini-course is a more affordable option than constantly buying new puzzles!
Busy Box Dog Toy: The Ultimate Entertainment
Now, let me introduce my all-time favorite indoor dog enrichment activity – the DIY busy box dog toy. This is a treasure trove of fun and excitement!
To create a DIY busy box, check out the full tutorial on my blog. The idea is to collect:
- Cardboard boxes
- Egg cartons
- Yogurt containers, etc.
Gather these supplies and layer them with some of your dog’s food or tasty dry treats.
When you present this layered box and container creation to your dog, watch them dig and rip into a world of discovery. It provides mental and physical enrichment. My senior Labradors really get into it and get a lot of physical enrichment from the busy box.
The best part is the joy and amusement you’ll experience watching them. Indoor enrichment activities with your dogs not only benefits them but also offers YOU stress-reducing benefits.
It’s wonderful to watch our dogs live their best lives and have fun, and with these activities, you don’t always need to venture outside – a perfect solution for those cold and dreary winter days!
Food Enrichment: Beyond the Bowl
Food enrichment goes beyond regular feeding routines, offering novel and engaging ways to make mealtime more enriching for your dog. I particularly love food enrichment ideas because our dogs eat every day, multiple times a day, making it an easy and practical type of enrichment to incorporate into your daily routine.
Snuffle Mat: Activate Scavenging Mode
A snuffle mat is a straightforward yet highly effective enrichment tool that encourages your dog’s natural foraging skills. For those who enjoy DIY projects, I have a guide to create your own snuffle mat for around $10.
If you prefer to buy or are considering gifting one, I put together a list of the Top 10 Snuffle Mats for large dogs on my blog. As a lab mom, I focus on mats that are generously sized so my dogs can enjoy their entire meal from them. Look for a snuffle mat that suits your dog’s size 🙂
Slow Feeders and Platters
Another innovative approach to food enrichment is using a platter, like the Mine Pet Platter. Eating off a flat surface can be beneficial for dogs because it’s more natural for them than a bowl.
The patented design of this feeding platter promotes instinctive, healthier eating behaviors for your dog. It encouraged them to lick, forage, and use other natural feeding behaviors. The platter’s indentations, crevices, and curves make the eating process both mentally stimulating and entertaining.
Slow feeder bowls are also worth mentioning. I have a couple that we use every week. These bowls are designed with ridges and mazes that encourage dogs to eat more slowly. This is good for their digestion and preventing issues like bloating. It’s a simple yet effective way to turn mealtime into a fun and enriching activity!
Stuffable Food Toys
And of course, there’s the option of stuffing your dog’s meal into a treat toy like the West Paw Toppl. For larger dogs, I recommend the XL size, which can hold approximately 2 cups of food, perfect for a full meal for larger breed dogs.
A stuffable food toy is an excellent way to keep your dog entertained while they eat and can be particularly useful for dogs that eat their food too quickly. Like my labradors!
These food enrichment methods are not just about feeding your dog their food. They transform mealtime into an interactive and stimulating experience that benefits your dog’s mental and physical health.
Indoor Games for Bonding and Exercise
Playing indoor games is not just about exercise; it’s a bonding experience that strengthens the connection between you and your furry friend.
In my bite-sized online course, I explain 10 mental enrichment activities for dogs, all of which can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors when the weather permits.
Some of my favorites are Hide n’ Seek and the Shell Game. Here’s how to play them! If you want to see videos and get more advice, grab my enrichment online course. It’s just $19!
Play Indoors Hide and Seek with Your Furry Friend
Hide & Seek is an excellent game for both indoor and outdoor play. If you’re new to this game with your dog, I recommend starting inside where there are fewer distractions. And don’t forget to use really tasty treats as a reward when they find you!
STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE to Hide and Seek
- Ask Your Dog to Stay: Begin by asking your dog to “stay”. Having a good “place” comes in handy here. (Pssst.. that’s one of the lessons in my online course!)
- Hide: Go and hide. For the first round, choose a spot that’s easy for your dog to find.
- Use Consistent Cues: Use a cue like “come” or “search” to signal your dog to start looking for you.
- Reward the Find: When your dog finds you, reward them with a treat and lots of praise.
- Repeat and Enjoy: Keep playing, making sure your dog continues to find the game fun and rewarding.
Play The Shell Game with Your Pup
Here’s another great cognitive game to play with your dog! The Shell Game is a fun way to engage your dog’s problem-solving skills. You can use any small plastic bowls, red cups, cones, etc. Avoid using glass containers to prevent any risk of breakage near your dogs.
If your dog finds this game challenging, simplify it by not moving the shells or using more aromatic treats.
Remember, patience is key, and the goal is to make the game enjoyable, not frustrating.
STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE to The Shell Game
- Preparation: Get three shells (bowls or cups) and treats.
- Show the Treat: Let your dog see you placing the treat under one of the shells.
- Shuffle Shells: Mix up the shells, then encourage your dog to search for the treat.
- Reward Success: When your dog selects the right shell, give them the treat as a reward.
- Repeat and Enjoy: Keep practicing this game for fun and to enhance your dog’s memory and problem-solving
These indoor games are not just fun but also a great way to deepen your bond with your pet while providing mental stimulation and exercise.
Health Benefits of Indoor Activities
Regular indoor activities are incredibly important for our dogs, especially when getting outside often isn’t an option.
Engaging in enrichment activities can keep your dog mentally engaged, sharpening their minds throughout their lives and potentially reduce the onset of canine dementia.
Many of these activities can also help your dog maintain a healthy weight during the winter. When they engage in activities like playing hide and seek, it’s excellent exercise. Some of the slow feeder ideas can also encourage your dog to eat slower and feel more satisfied after a meal.
We shouldn’t overlook the emotional benefits of incorporating indoor activities into your and your dog’s daily routine either! Watching your dog engage in these activities, and participating in some cases, can boost your mood and contribute to a more positive outlook. They also strengthen the bond you share with your dog, fostering a deeper connection between you both.
Balancing Safety and Fun
While indoor games and activities are incredibly fun and enriching for dogs, it’s crucial to balance this fun with safety. As pet parents, our top priority is always the well-being of our furry companions.
Enrichment is only good for your dog if it’s safe, so please consider:
- Safe play spaces: removing any small objects that could be swallowed, securing any sharp edges, and making sure the space is large enough for your dog to move around without bumping into furniture.
- Appropriate toys and games: consider your dog’s size, age, and chewing habits. Toys should be durable and appropriate for your dog’s breed and strength.
- Supervise play: Always supervise your dog during interactive play, especially when introducing new toys or games.
- Be mindful of your dog’s limits: Pay attention to your dog’s body language and energy levels. It’s important to recognize when they are tired or overwhelmed and need a break. Overstimulation can be just as bad for their behavior as boredom. Finding a balance is key!
How to Incorporate Indoor Enrichment Into Daily Life
Incorporating enrichment into your dog’s daily routine is essential. While all the ideas I’ve shared are great, they won’t benefit your furry friend unless you actually do them on a regular basis!
I recommend starting with food-based enrichment. Since you probably already have a routine for feeding your dog, this is an easy one to adjust. Have you read “Atomic Habits”? One of the key concepts in that book is habit stacking.
Essentially, you identify a habit you already have – like feeding your dog dinner – and then stack on a new habit – like feeding that dinner in an enriching way!
Other ways you can habit stack to build enrichment into your daily routine include:
- Before you sit down to watch TV at night, engage in a fun game of hide and seek with your dog.
- While you’re making breakfast or coffee in the morning, set up your dog’s DogTV or music playlist for the day.
- As you’re getting ready to take out the trash on garbage night, create a Busy Box for your dog and feed them dinner in it (then your recycling will be ready to go out!).
Establishing a consistent routine is key to making enrichment a regular and beneficial part of your dog’s life.
Indoor enrichment is an integral part of a dog’s life, especially when outdoor activities are limited. As pet parents and petpreneurs, we have a responsibility to ensure our canine companions are as content indoors as they are outside. With creativity and love, we can transform any indoor space into a delightful doggy paradise.\
Did you enjoy this post? Here’s more canine enrichment content:
Brain Games for Dogs
Do you know the 7 categories of enrichment for dogs?
9 Best All Natural Dog Chews for Aggressive Chewers
What is Barn Hunt? A Scent Work Sport for Dogs!
Mental Enrichment for Dogs Activity Pack: The $19 online course
Frequently Asked Questions about Indoor Enrichment for Dogs
Q: Can indoor activities fully replace outdoor exercise for dogs?
A: While indoor activities are excellent for mental stimulation, they should complement rather than replace outdoor exercise, which is crucial for a dog’s physical and mental well-being. Imagine what it would be like to be stuck inside every single day for months, you would start to loose your mind. Make sure that your dog still gets out to see the outside world.
Q: How often should I introduce new enrichment activities to my dog?
2: Regularly introducing new enrichment activities can help keep your dog mentally stimulated and prevent boredom. A good rule of thumb is to add new activities once a month. Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel! A “new” activity might mean putting your dog’s puzzle inside of a box or serving them dinner inside a bell pepper instead of a Toppl. Keep it simple so you can stay consistent.
Q: Are there any risks involved with DIY dog toys?
A: DIY dog toys can be safe if you’re smart about it. Ensure there are no small parts that can be swallowed and that all materials used are non-toxic and safe for dogs. I don’t recommend using tape because youre dog might chew that off and swallow it. Also, make sure that any supplies you use are clean. Always supervise your dog’s play.
Q: How can I tell if an enrichment activity is too difficult for my dog?
A: If your dog shows signs of frustration or disinterest, the activity might be too complex. Try simplifying it or helping them out until they get the hang of it. Remember, our dogs usually don’t know what we’re asking of them, so give them a chance. A common problem is trying to do something new in a distracting environment. Since all of these are indoor enrichment activities, you should be able to do them the first several times in a space where your dog is already very comfortable and familiar.
Q: Is there such a thing as too much indoor enrichment for dogs?
A: Yes! Balance is key. Too much stimulation can be just as harmful as too little. Your dog can be overestimated. Keep in mind ithat they need a lot of rest each day – up to 18 hours! Monitor your dog’s behavior and provide downtime when needed.