Mental Stimulation & Environment Enrichment

Mental stimulation is, as the name suggests, exercising the mind of the dog, and therefore it can assist in preventing boredom related problems – and leading to a happy, calm dog and owner.

With our busy lifestyles, many dogs can spend hours each day left to their own devices, sometimes leading to social and behavioural problems. As we learn more about animals, it is increasingly apparent that mental health is of enormous importance to their wellbeing and lifestyle. The following is a list of suggestions to provide Environmental Enrichment for those times when your dog is left home alone. As dogs are social animals it is vitally important that you spend quality time with your dog each day, so these ideas should be used in addition to your normal family interaction and an exercise regime appropriate for your dog. You should take great care to ensure that there is no danger to your dog or others in any of these activities.

Common boredom issues are;



Excessive barking

Destructive behaviours, such as shredding pool liners, reticulation etc.

Attention seeking

Although the above can be ‘normal’ dog behaviours, it can be prevented or managed using some, or all of the following techniques.

Toys & More Toys

There are many great toys on the market that are designed to keep your dog occupied; individual dogs will have different preferences. Your dog will very quickly get bored with the same old toy so put out a few at a time and rotate them daily.

Interactive Food Toys

There are many ‘toys’ on the market, which are ‘interactive.’ Such as Kongs, Aussie Dog Treat Balls, Everlasting Treat Balls, etc. All of these can be used as a feeding tool for the dog. It is worth alternating these toys, and not overusing them. IE: use each toy no more than twice each week, and this will maintain the dog’s interest.

Pits, Water Play and Other Ideas

With a little bit of time, ingenuity and money you can create some happy distraction for your dog whilst you are out of the house. Water play, pits, tyres and ice blocks are a great way to engage your dog and may assist in preventing unwanted behaviours related to boredom. These ideas can be used on alternate days.

*Hover over the headings below to read more about interactive feeding ideas and other enrichment activities*


The Kong can be ‘stuffed’ or filled with treats or your dogs’ breakfast or dinner.

Kong Tips

To begin, show your dog how to use the Kong. Hold the Kong with the large open hole towards the dog, and verbally reinforce him\her when they show interest or lick etc. Some dogs are ‘naturals’ with food toys, and therefore need limited or no assistance, where as others need some gentle persuasion. Do Not put the Kong down and expect your dog to naturally know what to do with it.

Pack the Kong loosely to begin with, so the food falls out with little assistance, then gradually increase the firmness of the packed food. For Really advanced dogs, you may wish to freeze the Kong over night before offering it the next day.

The Kong can also be ‘smeared’ on the inside with pastes such as peanut butter, ham spread, vegemite etc.

TIP: If your dog eats dog biscuits, you may wish to soak these in some water or flavoured stock until they become soft before putting them in the Kong.

Food Scattering and Kongs

Make them forage for their food and eat slower.

Food Scattering and Kongs

Where practical, throw the entire breakfast portion over the area of the backyard. Dogs will naturally forage for food and therefore will happily ‘find’ their breakfast. The act of foraging also has the added benefit of increasing the amount of time it takes to eat their meal. This method can be very beneficial for dogs that have a tendency to scoff down their food too quickly.

You may wish to ‘hide’ their food, bones, treats around the yard for them to ‘find’ at a later time.

Now! If you feed wet food to the dog, I would discourage you from scattering this, as the scent can seep into soil and may tempt the dog to dig.

Dog Ice Blocks

These are a fantastic treat when the weather is hotter!

Dog Ice Blocks Tips

Considering your dogs size, fill a container to suit, using either diluted beef or chicken stock. Add any food you like. Such as dog biscuits, treats, raw chicken wings etc, then freeze overnight.

Tip out of the container and offer to your dog.

For dogs that like more of a challenge, you can hang the ice block out of reach, therefore the dog must wait for the ice to melt to receive individual treats.

NOTE! Some dogs may attempt to jump excessively to retrieve treats. Please use your discretion to prevent injury.

Aussie Dog Treat Ball

This ball can be ‘stuffed’ or filled with your dogs’ breakfast or dinner.

Aussie Dog Treat Ball Tips

As with the Kong, you will need to show most dogs how to use this ball. If your dog eats dog biscuits, you may wish to soak these in some water or flavoured stock until they become soft before putting them in the ball.

This particular toy has a ‘marble’ inside, which cannot come out. The dog learns to associate the sound of the marble rolling around with the sound of food, and therefore the dog retains interest even after the ball is empty.

Fill the ball with dog biscuits, treats etc, and gently at first, roll the ball slightly so that some food falls out. As with the Kong, verbally reward the dog for showing interest.

Milk or Juice Bottles Food Dispenser

A DIY food and treat dispenser

Milk or Juice Bottles Tips

Now! I do not recommend soft drink bottles as a substitute, as the plastic is a harder material and therefore may cause injury to the dog.

Remove the lid and plastic ring surrounding the neck of the bottle before offering it to your dog.

Simply fill a two-litre milk bottle with your dogs’ regular amount of breakfast and place it on the ground, lying on its side.

Again, show your dog how to access the food inside, by gently knocking the bottle. As before, verbally praise the dog for interest shown.

Used milk bottles will need to be removed and discarded after use, and are not to be used as a toy when empty.

Digging Pits and Water Play

Sand pits and water play is a great way to hide food and keep you pooch cool in the hotter months.

Digging Pits and Water Play Tips

Using a ‘clam shell’ (a child’s toy which can be purchased from most K-Mart, Big W etc.) fill one side with water, and the other with sand. It is a good idea to separate the two to prevent sand entering the water and visa versa.

Bury treats just underneath the surface of the sandpit, whilst leaving a few scattered on the surface. Show your dog how to dig them up and find them. Again, some dogs will naturally begin digging, whereas others may need to be shown.

If there is a portion of your yard that you can allocate as a digging pit, you may choose to use this. Most dogs will prefer to dig in sand that is moist and shaded, so set up a digging pit where possible, with these conditions in mind.

In the water side, you may like to add ice blocks if the weather is hot, or a ball or other toy.