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Photo Courtesy Pat Koven, LVT, KPA- CTP

Q:  How do I know what kind of toys will help with enriching my dog’s behavior? 

A:  Enrichment can be a useful tool in behavior modification. Food dispensing and puzzle toys are great substitutes for meal feeding. Some toys are mentally stimulating, and others help your pet relax. The enrichment choice will vary based on the behavior you wish to reinforce.

Commercially available puzzle toys feature drawers or spinning motions for your dog to manipulate and find treats. You can also make your own enrichment items or use the environment, such as hiding your dog’s food around a room or spread in the grass. Dogs may sniff in the grass to gather information from passersby, but this also helps to calm down.

A snuffle mat used inside the house encourages calmness and relaxation. A simple rubber mat tied with fleece can hold your dog’s kibble, training treats, and other dry food. Finely shredded cheese mixed in the fleece ties can be fun for your dog too. These types of enrichment puzzles can be used during training sessions to extend your dog’s relaxation time on their bed or mat. This is helpful when guests are visiting, or you need quiet time yourself.

Freezing your dog’s own food in the puzzle can make it last longer and encourage your pet to lick. Adding vegetables, fruit, and other treats approved by your veterinarian help to layer and stuff the puzzle for added variety.

Enrichment choice may vary based on the time of day, the environment, and your dog’s emotional needs. Use calming games when children are visiting and stimulating ones for mental and physical activity during a work break. Understand your dog’s needs and choose your reinforcements wisely.