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Providing dogs with social interaction, as well as physical and mental stimulation are critical factors for maintaining their behavioral health. Enrichment programs can help relieve shelter dog boredom and stress, which can make a major difference in a shelter dog's daily life. The best types of enrichment, for most dogs, involve interaction with people or other dogs.

Dogs are social animals; interactive enrichment fills a void for dogs who are usually housed alone throughout the day. Because shelters are often short staffed, interactive enrichment can be difficult to provide for every dog, because it is very time consuming. For these shelters, we recommend working toward creating interactive enrichment programs, however, options for enrichment that do not involve lengthy direct interaction with people or dogs are also included below (such as playing alone games).

All of these enrichment activities below will help to keep dogs busy, so they are less likely to do things we DON'T want them to do.

Playing With Other Dogs

Doggie Social Hour, also known as a playgroup, is a great way to provide dogs with exercise, and more importantly social interaction with other dogs. Playgroups can occur one to two times daily, after feeding time and during cleaning time. Some other benefits include:

  • Off-leash time for more freedom
  • Dog to dog interaction improves social skills
  • Efficient kennel cleaning time for staff
  • Playgroup observations to better understanding a dog's needs
  • Fun for dogs and staff

For more information on how to run a playgroup in your own shelter, please download the playgroup manual on the right. The manual will provide you with general playgroup guidelines including how to introduce new dogs, how to manage challenging dogs, and how staff can record and keep track of playgroup behavior.

Related Videos


Friendly Appropriate Interactions

Stressful Interaction

Introducing a Challenging Dog

Playing With People

The following programs can be used to teach dogs to play with people.

Most dogs have the ability to learn and play these games, but please note that some dogs may initially be reluctant to play due to stress. Try to use treats or toys that are of higher value to the dog when this occurs. Many of the documents below include a "cheat sheet" for quick use then working with a dog and a "detailed version" of the program as well, which offers full comprehensive instructions on the program.

Play Style Assessment

A play style assessment may be used prior to beginning your first training session with a new dog. The play style assessment is a guideline for determining which type of game a dog prefers. This will allow you to make the most out of all of your play and training sessions. Play Style Assessment [PDF]

The Chase Game

Some dogs love to chase things, but have no interest in bringing them back to people. The Chase Game is perfect for these dogs. By simply placing a toy on a tether, you’ll be able to play this fun game with them. The Chase Game [PDF]

Retrieve Game

Retrieving is favorite game to play with dogs. Not only does it burn energy, but it also teaches the concept of sharing to a dog. The person ‘shares’ a toy with a dog, and the dog brings it back, which is fun for all! Retrieve Game and Training [PDF]

Tug Game

Tugging is a great way to interact with active dogs who love to chase and hold things, but are unwilling to retrieve toys. It is important to follow the rules for this game, to ensure that the game is played appropriately and safely. Tug Game and Training [PDF]

Nose Work

‘Nose work’ describes any activity or game that we teach a dog, where the primary sense that the dog uses is smell. Nosework begins by teaching dogs ‘find it’; to find items that are hidden. Initially the dog will use vision to find the item. As the game progresses, most dogs will learn to use their sense of smell. Nose Work [PDF]

Related Videos

Play Style Assessment

Chase Game


Tug Training

Nose Work

Hanging Out With People

Dogs are very social animals and thrive on being with people. Just being around people is one of the best stress relievers we can provide for our shelter dogs. Staff and volunteers are very happy to just hang out with the dogs.

Quiet Time

Staff and volunteers may sit in the dog’s kennel or in a quiet, non-distracting environment, typically somewhere indoors, such as an office or training room. Staff may do things such as read a book, sing a song or meditate. If a dog is afraid of people, as many dogs are for the first few days after arrival, it’s best to avoid petting, staring and asking the dog to do commands. Once the dog starts to approach without fear, then petting and eventually cuddling can be introduced.

Office Fostering or Quiet Time in a Real Life Room

Hanging out with people in offices and real-life rooms will provide dogs with a break from living in a cage or kennel and give them a little flavor of home life. It will also give staff a better view of what the dog may be like after adoption into a home. Dogs who haven’t lived in a home setting will often jump on desks and other furniture; it is good to know this BEFORE the dog goes to a new home, so that adopters can learn how to prevent/manage the problem behavior.

Long Walks Through The Neighborhood

Long walks are a great way to provide needed exercise and a flavor of life. It’s also away to advertise the dogs.

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Quiet Time

Quiet Time in Kennel

Quiet Time, Active Dog

City Walks

Playing Alone Games

Most shelter dogs spend many hours by themselves in their kennel. Due to anxiety, lack of exercise, and boredom, the dogs may become destructive and develop unruly or repetitive behaviors. Keeping the dogs busy when they are alone can help to relieve their stress and prevent problem behaviors. The following suggestions are easy to implement for most shelters and enjoyed by residents:

Meals in Food Dispensing Toys - Hunting for the hungry:

Dogs enjoy hunting for kibble at meal time in food dispensing toys or even cardboard boxes. Liquid or peanut butter can be frozen around the kibble to make meals last longer. [Food Dispensing Toys and Recipes PDF]

Snacks in between meals:

Shelter dogs can be safely given pressed rawhide chews to keep their chewing mouths busy. Peanut butter frozen in ice cube trays is also an enjoyable treat.

Related Videos

Food Dispensing Toys

Rawhide Chew