Enrichment: keeping your dog mentally stimulated
Much like humans, dogs can become stressed - and as is the case in their two-legged friends, stress can have a detrimental effect on their health. Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise to keep your dog fit and healthy, and allowing your dog to express natural behaviour such as gnawing and chewing works wonderfully to relieve their stress.
This is what enrichment is for. With food as the motivator, your dogs will greatly benefit from an array of games, puzzles and toys to keep their mind busy.
For a real canine Einstein, nothing beats a puzzle toy! Your dog will have to focus in order to solve the puzzle and get to the treats - although some may try to cut the chase by chewing through the material, which needs to be sturdy! These puzzles should be used under supervision, so you can give a little help if you notice your best friend is quite hopelessly stuck. After all, you want a mentally stimulated dog - not a completely frustrated one!
There is a vast array of puzzle toys of varying difficulty levels you can choose from, but you can also make homemade ones - although in this case you need to make absolutely certain the materials used are study and safe, and don't pose a choking hazard. A trip to the emergency vet is not how you want these play sessions to end.
Food dispensing toys
If your dog is not the kind to sit and concentrate on solving a puzzle to get to the treats, a simpler food-dispensing toy may be what you need to keep them busy. Your dog will have to nudge, chew, toss and lick the toys in order to get to the treats! You can also use slow feeders with a good dash of dog-friendly peanut butter to keep them busy for a while.
If your dog is a strong chewer, do keep an eye on these toys to make sure they don't get too heavily damaged - when they do, it's time to discard them for your dog's safety!
Another way to keep dogs busy is making them work for their food - it's not like their wolf ancestors got their meals served in a bowl! No need to unleash your Beagle on passing wildlife, however: simply scattering your food about your home and/or garden will do. Your dog will get to put their nose to some use and sniff out their food, getting some much-needed mental exercise as well as delicious treats.
Make sure to use good quality, healthy treats to keep your dog's weight in check, or use part of their daily food allowance for this so that you don't end up accidentally overfeeding.