15 dog enrichment ideas your Gundog will love

August 16, 2021
golden retriever dog enrichment ideas

Enrichment for dogs is an important part of your dog’s life. If we don’t make an active effort to provide fun and engaging activities for our dogs, then they’ll often find their own! And that’s not always a positive thing!

These dog enrichment ideas are specifically designed to satisfy your gundog’s natural instincts, but they’re a lot of fun for most dogs. 

What is enrichment for dogs?

When you think of enrichment for dogs, you might immediately think of food toys and puzzle feeders, and yes, they are a form of enrichment. But, they’re not everything!

Enrichment is anything that improves or enhances your dog’s experience of life. 

That can be environmental, mental, sensory, social or physical experiences. You can use food to encourage your dog to engage in these activities. 

Why is enrichment important for your dog?

Making an effort to incorporate enrichment activities into your dog’s day can help your dog to feel happy, fulfilled and crucially, it can prevent boredom which can lead to problem behaviours. 

If you don’t find ways to engage your dog physically, mentally and environmentally, then he/she may just find their own entertainment!

What are the best enrichment toys for dogs?

Every dog is an individual, but if you consider your dog’s breed when you choose enrichment toys, games and activities, then you may find some clues to what your dog will love!

This blog is about enrichment for Gundogs, so we’ll be looking at activities that suit your dog’s natural instincts, whether that’s retrieving, finding, or sniffing! 

Enrichment Ideas for Gundogs

Our Gundogs are bred to hunt, point, flush and retrieve. While each Gundog breed has their own specialities, there are commonalities among them that help us to identify enrichment ideas that are perfect for Gundogs. 

Read on to discover 15 dog enrichment ideas that’ll make your dog’s tail wag. 

1. Go for a walk somewhere with clean water for a paddle, a swim or a game of retrieve

dog enrichment ideas - dog walk near water

Some great places for your dog to swim nearby are 

  • Box Hill (head down to the stepping stones, and you’ll find the River Mole.)
  • Beverley Brook, Wimbledon
  • River Wey, Guildford
  • Morden Hall Park
  • Headley Heath
  • Virginia Waters

Watch out for blue algae and avoid letting your dog into the water if there’s any present, as it can be incredibly toxic to dogs. 

If you’re playing fetch with your dog in the water, then keep sessions short, so your dog doesn’t accidentally swallow too much water while they’re playing. 

Choose a floating dog toy so that your dog doesn’t have to dip and dive to retrieve it. 

Alternatives to fetch

Fetch is a game played by many a Gundog owner, but it can send your dog into a high state of arousal and put a lot of pressure on their joints. 

The act of running full pelt then screeching to a stop isn’t great for your dog’s body, so finding an alternative way to play retrieve games with your dog is a good idea. 

Keep traditional fetch for when your dog’s in water to relieve the pressure from their joints and muscles. 

Repetitive ball throwing can lead to high adrenalin, stress on your dog’s joints, muscles and ligaments, and can even lead to obsessive behaviours. 

2. Retrieve treats instead of balls! 

Exchange your ball chucking for treats, and you can take your dog’s adrenalin down a notch or two. Simply get your dog’s attention and toss a treat for him to retrieve. If you toss a handful, your dog will also get his nose down to sniff them all out, which is both mentally stimulating AND calming! 

3. Roll the ball instead of throwing it!

One of the big problems with fetch is the intensity and distance of the ball throw. Your dog can often go from pottering about to sprinting like an athlete. Their joints aren’t warmed up, and they’re going from 0-100 in an instant. 

Instead, gently roll the ball for your dog to retrieve. This is a calmer version of traditional fetch, which still allows your dog to retrieve without the negative aspects. 

4. Hide and seek retrieve

First, you will need to teach your dog a stay or a wait. Ask your dog to wait, and then go and hide their favourite toy close by before releasing your dog to find and retrieve it. 

If your dog doesn’t yet know a stay or wait, then scatter some treats on the ground to keep your dog distracted while you hide the toy. 

5. Teaching a sit and wait cue

If you want to play fetch with your dog, then it’s a great idea to teach them to wait to be released before retrieving the item. 

Watch the video below, and you will see that if your dog waits for the item to land before running to retrieve it, we cut out the element of fetch that has your dog skidding to a halt. This means the game is both fun and safe for your dog!

6. Exchange your ball for a frisbee or tug toy

Balls bounce, which adds more excitement and fast jerky movements when your dog is chasing them. Instead, choose a frisbee or a tug toy which can slow the game down a little and reduce the intensity. 

7. Woodland Walks

Woodland walks are often a big hit with Gundogs. They’re full of different scents to explore and offer incredible environmental enrichment. 

Some lovely woodland walks nearby are

  • Banstead Woods
  • Abinger Roughs
  • Shere Woods
  • Chantry Wood
  • Oxshott Woods
  • Ashstead Common

spaniel woodland walk

8. Scentwork

Scentwork involves teaching your dog to focus on a specific scent in the environment and to locate it. It’s brilliant because it allows your dog to engage in a naturally rewarding activity but with an element of control. So he’s not running off into bushes and disappearing out of sight!

Scentwork is mentally stimulating, brilliant for teaching impulse control, and a great way to bond with your dog. 

You can read more about our scentwork classes here.

9. Find it – Scent trail

Take one of your dog’s favourite toys or some treats, and create a scent trail. 

Put your dog in a sit and wait or in another room and then set up the game. 

With treats, you can break them down into smaller bites and create a trail. With a toy, you can simply drag it along the ground to its hiding spot, and it will leave a scent trail.

Release your dog and watch him/her sniff out the ‘prey!’

10. Snuffle Mat

Snuffle mats are brilliant enrichment feeders. You can make your own or buy one. They are little rubber mats with lots of fleece woven in that are perfect for hiding treats or food within. 

A snuffle mat is a great calming and mentally stimulating enrichment toy. If your dog is in a high state of arousal, then reach for your snuffle mat and some smelly treats to help your dog wind down. 

11. Scatter Feeding

Scatter feeding is super simple and lots of fun for your dog. All you need is a handful of treats or kibble and a place to scatter them!

spaniel sniffing

You can scatter the food in plain sight on the floor or in the grass to make it a little more challenging. As your dog gets good at the game, you can widen the area across which you scatter their food. 

This is a brilliant way to give your dog some of their breakfast or dinner, or for something to do if they are getting a little bored!

12. Dog Bubbles

You can get scented bubbles that smell like bacon or chicken, which can be a fun activity to play with your dog. Take them with you on a walk to get your dog’s attention and watch him sniff and track the bubbles as they float around.

13. Muffin Tin Hide and Seek

This is an easy DIY enrichment feeder that you can make at home. Simply grab a muffin tray, some treats and some balls or disposable cups and put a treat in each muffin space. 

Next, cover them up with your balls or cups, and then give it to your dog to sniff out and uncover the rewards!

14. Extended tug with a toy on a long lead 

Attach a tug toy to the end of a long lead and you have a wonderful game of hunt and retrieve. This is particularly useful if your dog likes to hunt and retrieve, but isn’t so good at bringing it back!

My own dog Dash is completely in love with his rabbit plush toy, but getting him to return it if I don’t have anything else to offer is a challenge! By introducing a second toy on a lead that I can lure along the ground, he is then excited to return to get his paws on both toys! 

You can play with this at home or even take it on walks with you to help regain your dog’s attention. Keep the toy at ground level and don’t move it too quickly and you will avoid getting your dog ramped up into an over-excited state. 

15. Gundog Training Classes

For dogs who were naturally bred to hunt, point or retrieve, gundog classes are an excellent way to channel those instincts in a fun and controlled way. 

You can teach your dog to focus on you around distraction, hunt on cue, and return to you reliably. But most of all, it’s an incredibly fun way to enrich your dog’s life.

Find out more about our Gundog Classes here.

Finding novel ways to enrich your dog’s life is a world of fun. It increases your bond and makes for a happier dog too. It can be as simple as going for a walk in a new place or a more focused activity such as Scentwork or Gundog training. 

There are quick and easy enrichment activities like scatter feeding, puzzle feeders and snuffle mats. And activities that require a little more input from you, like playing games, trick training and obedience training.

Enrichment gives your dog something positive and mentally stimulating to do, which improves your dog’s quality of life. And if you’re opting for activities together, then it can boost your relationship too. 

Visit our class dates page to see what’s coming up, or get in touch to find out more.

Alex bracken dog training Banstead Epsom Ewell Cheam Woodmanstern Coulsdon Purley Caterham Chessington Ewell

Bracken Dog Training was established in 2013 offering in person and online training for all ages of dogs.

I am a member of the PPG working towards my APDT membership and I regularly take part in various dog trainer seminars and workshops

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