The 5 types of puppy enrichment: ideas and expert tips to try

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Cindy Feng
Labrador puppy chewing rainbow toy

Puppies require constant stimulation — just ask the pair of shoes they took while you weren’t looking! Enrichment is all about giving your pup the freedom to choose their own fun: and with a holistic approach, it has full body benefits that go beyond the brain.

Encourage a healthy, happy start in your puppy’s life with these 5 types of enrichment — guided by contributions from Lyka's in-house and guest behaviourist experts.

How to decide what kind of enrichment your puppy needs

According to Bondi Behaviourist Ian Shivers, there are two types of enrichment activities: pacifiers (to rest and decompress) and amplifiers (to increase their energy).

Every puppy is different: understanding their individual needs is crucial to providing effective enrichment. Sometimes a particular activity will be right for your puppy, while other situations might call for a different form of stimulation.

Bondi Behaviourist enrichment quote

Pacifiers dial energy down

These are things your puppy can:

  • Chew or shred

  • Do alone

  • Lie on, or sleep with

  • Lick, suck, and nuzzle

Amplifiers dial energy up

These are things your puppy can:

  • Chase

  • Thrash around vigorously

  • Squeak, or bounce

  • Interact with, because you get involved

Types of enrichment

1. Social enrichment ideas for puppies

Socialisation isn’t just about meeting other dogs: it’s about introducing your puppy to a range of people, places, and experiences in a positive context.

Puppy play dates

Play dates are an enriching activity: teaching puppies to read social cues and behaviours, through interaction with other dogs. Done right, socialisation provides significant emotional and social development — helping puppies grow into calm and confident dogs.

Tips for getting started:

  • Find a suitable playmate: make sure their energy levels and play style match that of your puppy’s.

  • Choose a neutral location: like a garden, or an indoor pet-friendly space. This prevents territorial behaviour.

  • Supervision is key: this ensures that the interaction is a safe and friendly one. Let the dogs get a sense of one another, but don’t hesitate to intervene if play becomes too rough or one of the dogs seems overwhelmed.

Puppy socialisation do's and don't's

Levelling down the difficulty:

Some puppies are shy or less social — taking a little longer to warm up to other dogs. For these pups, you can:

  • Stick to one-on-one play dates: with a familiar puppy playmate, or gentle older dog. This will build your puppy’s confidence gradually.

  • Shorten play time: starting with durations of 15-30 minutes, if not shorter. You can always increase this once your puppy grows more comfortable, granted you’re monitoring the dogs’ shared dynamic and looking for signs of overstimulation.

  • Quiet, controlled environments: opt for places with fewer dogs, away from loud noises.

Levelling up the difficulty:

If your puppy is becoming more comfortable in how they interact with other dogs, you can:

  • Introduce more dogs: whether it’s inviting more pups to your next play date, or taking them to the dog park. Making sure all the dogs are compatible.

  • Vary play settings: by taking them to the beach, or on your next hike (make sure it's a dog-friendly walking spot). This will teach them to adapt to different environments and stimuli.

  • Incorporate training: this is an opportunity reinforce good behaviour in the presence of other dogs, teaching your puppy listening skills in the face of distractions.

Training

Training — whether at-home or through classes — is a foundational aspect of enrichment for puppies. It offers mental stimulation, strengthening the bond between puppy and parent: laying the groundwork for a well-behaved adult dog.

When we talk about training at Lyka, it’s not for the purpose of teaching your dog “tricks”. Training is an ongoing process — where parents should adapt to a puppy’s individual learning style and pace.

Enrichment definition

Tips for getting started:

  • Start with basic instructions: like sit, stay, come, and down.

  • Use positive reinforcement: choose classes that promote these methods, rewarding desired behaviours with treats, praise, or playtime — rather than reacting to unwanted behaviours.

  • Keep sessions consistent: in terms of length, and frequency. Start with 5-10 minutes to keep your puppy’s attention, and schedule training at the same time each day.

Levelling down the difficulty:

For puppies that aren’t catching on quite as quick, be patient and have hope — they’ll get the hang of it! To help them along:

  • Break down commands: simplifying into smaller, more manageable steps and rewarding them at each stage of completion.

  • Limit distractions: practise in a quiet, familiar environment until your puppy is more comfortable and focused.

  • Make learning more rewarding: by using higher value treats (like our snappable Lamb Bark), or amping up your praise so it’s more enthusiastic.

Levelling up the difficulty:

If your puppy is mastering basic training, you can increase the challenge by:

  • Enrolling them in a group class: also known as “puppy kindergarten” or similar. These classes focus on building obedience and social skills. Ensure the class is led by a certified professional dog trainer or behaviourist, who uses up-to-date, force-free training methods.

  • Complex instructions: move on to more complex commands like “roll over” or “fetch”, which require more concentration and physical coordination.

2. Occupational enrichment ideas

Dogs love having a job to do: and there are lots of little ways you can put those tiny paws to work.

Puzzle toys

Puzzle toys are interactive ways of challenging your puppy, to solve a problem in exchange for a reward (usually food-related). These activities keep puppies engaged and entertained, while also reducing boredom.

Tips for getting started:

  • Start simple: with easier puzzles that require minimal effort to solve. This could be something as straightforward as a toy that dispenses treats when rolled in a particular way.

  • Interactive guidance: you may need to show your puppy how the toy works. Be sure to give plenty of head scratches and praise when they interact with it correctly.

Levelling down the difficulty:

If your puppy seems frustrated or loses interest because a puzzle is too challenging, you can:

  • Simplify the puzzle: by returning to simpler puzzles, or adjusting the toy to make it easier (if it comes with an adjustable difficulty setting).

  • Increase access to rewards: by making them more visible, or easier to get to. This provides instant gratification, encouraging your puppy to continue engaging.

Levelling up the difficulty:

To maintain your puppy’s interest and cognitive engagement, you can increase the challenge by:

  • Introducing advanced puzzle toys: bringing more variety into the toy rotation, with puzzles that include multiple steps to solve.

  • Decreasing visibility of treats: choose puzzles that hide treats from view, requiring your puppy to tap into their sense of smell and problem-solving abilities.

  • Promoting extended problem-solving: with toys that are designed for use over longer periods, requiring sustained mental effort.

Muffin tin puzzle (DIY)

Muffin tin puzzles are a simple DIY way of engaging a puppy’s curiosity, with hidden treats as a motivator. It’s great for a rainy day, as all you need is a standard muffin tin, some tennis balls, and treats.

Tips for getting started:

  • Set up: place treats or little pieces of Lyka, in some (or all) muffin tin compartments, covering with a tennis ball or similar-sized toy.

  • Demonstration and encouragement: you may need to show your puppy how to lift or push the balls to uncover treats. Praise them with enthusiasm when they do this themselves.

Levelling down the difficulty:

If your puppy is struggling with the puzzle, you can simplify it by:

  • Leaving some compartments uncovered: partially or fully. This makes it easier for your puppy to see and access the treats.

  • Using larger treats: these might be more visible for your puppy, making them more enticing and easier to smell, even when covered.

Levelling up the difficulty:

As your puppy becomes more skilful in uncovering the treats, you can make the puzzle more challenging by:

  • Hiding treats in fewer compartments: making it more difficult for your puppy to guess where the rewards are hidden.

  • Varying the covers: using different objects that are more challenging to move, like small toys.

  • Adding obstacles: so your puppy has to overcome additional obstacles to get to the muffin tin, increasing the physical challenge as well as the mental.

3. Sensory enrichment ideas for puppies

Puppies explore the world through their noses and their tastebuds. This makes sensory enrichment essential, especially as your puppy settles into their new life at home.

Snuffle mats

Snuffle mats serve as an excellent enrichment tool — you can purchase these, or make them at home. They engage your puppy’s sense of smell, tapping into their natural foraging instincts. These mats are made from fabric strips tied to a base, to create a grass-like environment perfect for hiding treats.

Tips for getting started:

  • Place treats on top of the snuffle mat first: where your puppy can see them. This teaches them that the mat is a source of food.

  • Next, encourage exploration: praising them as they sniff and search for the treats, to reinforce the behaviour.

To make a DIY snuffle mat, use a rubber mat with holes (like a bath mat) as the base, and tie strips of fleecy fabric through these holes to create a thick, fluffy, surface. Vary the mat’s size, colour, and density to suit your puppy’s needs.

Levelling down the difficulty:

If your puppy loses interest or the mat seems too challenging, try:

  • Partially revealing treats: ensure that some are partially visible, to keep your puppy motivated.

  • Shortening the fabric strips: make them shorter if you’re taking a DIY approach, or snip the tops of the strips to make the treats more visible.

  • Increasing treat size: larger treats are easier to sniff out, and can reinvigorate your puppy’s interest in the activity.

Levelling up the difficulty:

As your puppy’s familiarity with the snuffle mat grows, you may need to increase the challenge by:

  • Burying treats more deeply: requiring your puppy to dig more intensively within the strands of the mat.

  • Using smaller treats: making them harder to find, requiring your puppy to rely on their sense of smell rather than sight.

  • Varying treat placement: instead of spreading treats evenly, place them in clusters or unexpected areas of the mat to keep your puppy guessing.

Sound toys and music

Sound toys and music stimulate your puppy’s auditory senses, providing comfort or entertainment.

Tips for getting started:

  • Use a variety of toys: with a range of sounds, like squeakers, crinkles, or bells.

  • Embrace interactive play: using sound toys during playtime to teach puppies about cause and effect — that is, that their actions can produce fun, interesting noises.

  • Explore dog-specific music and soundscapes: with sounds of nature and certain frequencies. This can provide a sense of calm, supporting your puppy as they navigate new situations.

Levelling down the difficulty:

If your puppy seems overwhelmed or scared by certain sounds:

  • Start with softer, soothing sounds: like calming classical music. Graduate to louder or more varied toys as your puppy grows more comfortable. The goal is to enrich, not overwhelm.

  • Build positive associations: by pairing unsettling sounds with cuddles, treats, or calm play.

Levelling up the difficulty:

To keep sound enrichment as engaging as possible:

  • Play hide and seek: with sound toys! They’ll be drawn to the noise as a clue, showing them the value of using their hearing to problem-solve.

  • Integrate sounds in training sessions and daily routines: by using a certain toy to signal mealtimes or playtimes. This teaches your puppy to associate different sounds with specific activities or behaviours.

  • Change it up: experimenting with different genres of music to see what your puppy prefers.

4. Physical enrichment ideas for puppies

Puppies have so much energy to burn, making physical enrichment an essential part of their growth and development. Walks are one way but there are plenty of others to expend that boundless puppy playfulness — all from the comfort of your home.

Agility training (DIY)

Build your puppy’s coordination by guiding your puppy through a homemade agility course. Aside from being a fun activity for the two of you to bond over, the best part about this is its DIY aspect — you can tailor its layout to your puppy’s size and skill level. Start with simple obstacles, increasing the complexity as they learn.

Tips for getting started:

A few examples of obstacles (and how to set them up):

  • Jumps: create these with broomsticks or lightweight bars, resting on objects like buckets or plant pots. Always keep the jumps at a low height, to prevent any strain on your puppy’s growing joints.

  • Balance beam: a wide plank, raised slightly off the ground, is a great way of improving confidence and balance — the goal is encouraging your puppy to walk across it.

  • Tunnels: children’s play tunnels are perfect for agility training. Call your puppy from one end of the tunnel (with or without treats), enticing them run through the tunnel and towards you.

  • Weave poles: use cones or soft, flexible poles stuck into the ground for your puppy to weave through. Start by spacing the poles nice and wide, guiding your puppy through using treats or their favourite toy.

Levelling down the difficulty:

  • Simplify the course: by reducing the total number of obstacles, or by making them easier (e.g. wider weave pole spacing, lower jumps).

  • Break down tasks: focusing on one obstacle at a time, until your puppy masters each one.

Levelling up the difficulty:

If your puppy is sailing through agility exercises like there’s no tomorrow, why not level up the complexity? Here’s how:

  • Increase obstacle difficulty: gradually raise the height of jumps as your puppy grows (consulting your veterinarian for guidance on what’s safe), narrow the distance between weave poles, or introduce curved paths.

  • Combine obstacles: start connecting them in sequences, using your voice to guide them through each part of the course.

  • Timed runs: start timing their runs to add a fun, competitive element to the training.

Busy box (DIY)

A busy box is just what it sounds like — a box filled with safe, puppy-appropriate items and hidden treats. It's a cost-effective way of encouraging puppies to investigate, interacting with the contents to uncover rewards.

Tips for getting started:

  • Choose a sturdy container: like your Lyka box! This is just one of the ways you can recycle Lyka packaging. The box should be structurally sound enough to withstand your puppy’s enthusiasm — and large enough for them to explore, without getting inside.

  • Select a variety of contents: fill the box with a mix of items to stimulate your puppy’s senses. This can include crumpled paper, small and safe toys, and chewable items that don’t pose a choking hazard. Most importantly, include treats: this will motivate your puppy to dig and explore.

Levelling down the difficulty:

If your puppy is finding the busy box too challenging, or they need a little more time to understand how it works, you can try:

  • Making treats partially visible: rather than deeply burying them.

  • Simplify the contents: reducing the number of items, or opting for objects that your puppy can move or manipulate with ease.

  • Guided interaction: show them how to explore the box, moving some items aside to reveal a treat or demonstrating how to interact with a specific toy.

Levelling up the difficulty:

To keep the busy box challenging for puppies who master the initial set-up, you can:

  • Introduce more complex items: that require more effort to manipulate. This could include containers with treats inside, or toys that conceal treats until your puppy interacts with them in a certain way.

  • Rotate the box contents: this renews your puppy’s interest and increases the activity’s difficulty, as they’re encountering new and unfamiliar items.

  • Layer the items: so your puppy needs to navigate through these, to access the treats. This could mean placing a heavier item on top of a lighter, treat-filled item — your puppy will need to move the heavy item to access their reward.

5. Nutritional enrichment for puppies

Variety in the diet goes beyond nutrition: it stimulates their senses, contributing to their development by providing enrichment. By feeding a suitable range of proteins and ingredients, you can broaden their taste preferences at an early age.

Laura V importance of variety quote

Interactive feeding

Interactive feeding for puppies involves using feeding methods that stimulate your puppy’s senses. If your puppy gobbles down their food with gusto, solutions like lick mats, puzzle feeders, and scatter feeding can also slow their eating to encourage more mindful mealtimes.

Tips for getting started:

  • Lick mats: you can purchase these, or make a DIY version with a silicone baking mat or tray with raised patterns. Spread a layer of Lyka, plain yoghurt, or xylitol-free peanut butter (xylitol is toxic to dogs).

  • Puzzle feeders: which your puppy must solve to access the food. They vary in complexity, so start easy and work your way up to more difficult challenges.

  • Scatter feeding: this involves spreading your puppy’s kibble over a wide area (like your backyard or a clean floor), encouraging them to find food via sense of smell.

Levelling down the difficulty:

  • Start with a plate: use a small amount of spreadable food (like Lyka), introducing them to the concept of a lick mat without the added difficulty of textured surfaces.

  • Guided scatter feeding: you might need to guide your puppy through the process by pointing out hidden food, to help them understand the game.

Levelling up the difficulty:

  • Obstacle feeding: place food under cups or small bowls, so your puppy needs to figure out how to move these objects to access the food.

  • Freeze the lick mat: to make mealtimes last longer, and to provide a cooling treat in the warmer months.

Our food minimises the chance of blood sugar spikes and diet driven inflammation with the inclusion of low glycaemic index carbohydrates (like sweet potato), giving your puppy the best chance of sustained, balanced mood and energy levels throughout the day.

This can increase receptivity to training, resulting in a happier, more socialised bundle of fur — while protecting them from health risks associated with inflammation.

Helping your puppy get the most out of enrichment

As a new puppy parent, there’s plenty to focus on — from getting all the puppy essentials, to force-free training and building a routine. Find ways to bring variety to your pup’s daily life: starting with their nutrition. Lyka makes puppy nutrition easy: with complete and balanced, custom-portioned meals delivered to your door (that means one less thing to worry about).

Lyka partner breeder testimonial

Lyka’s droolworthy line-up of meals give your puppy plenty to choose from, providing a rainbow of ingredient inclusions for enriching mealtimes. If you are unsure about the right diet for your puppy, always consult with your veterinarian. Our friendly Customer Care team are also always happy to give you more information about Lyka, and how it helps puppies thrive. 

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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