11 Fun Ideas For Puppy Enrichment Activities – Without Food

puppy enrichment without food ideas 2

Puppies need to be entertained, challenged and stimulated in order to keep them healthy and happy. Most dog enrichment activities involve food. But there may be times and reasons that you don’t want to use food and treats as a motivator for enrichment.  So what do you do then?

When you’re looking for puppy enrichment ideas without food, it can be tricky at first. Luckily, there are a number of creative ways that you can give your pup some interactive fun. We’ve rounded them up into this handy article so you don’t have to go searching!

Games for a Puppy’s Cognitive Enrichment

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation in keeping your puppy entertained, enriched, and wearing them out! Here are some games for providing cognitive enrichment.

Sniff and Seek

Puppies are constantly discovering new sounds, items, and smells. A great game to test out your pup’s detective skills that are both entertaining and natural is Sniff and Seek. 

What Is Needed

  • Empty food containers from around your house (nothing with chocolate) with a smell your puppy will enjoy. 
  • Ideas for containers could include empty dog food bags, their favorite treat bag, empty yogurt to jerky containers, any smelly items your dog has taken an interest in before. 

How to Play

  • Let the sniffing begin! Allow your pup to smell the different containers while they are empty.
  • Hide and seek.  Afterward, place the empty containers in shoeboxes and hide the shoeboxes around the house

Your puppy will enjoy being encouraged to run around the house and rummage through items to find those smelly hidden items. This is a fun and challenging game that provides cognitive enrichment for your pup through using and developing their natural sniffing talent.  The best part is the reward is simply finding the item. There are no items to purchase, and it is an easy cleanup.

Amazing indoor nose work games to p...
Amazing indoor nose work games to play with your dog from Ruffle Snuffle

Musical Moves

This is a learning game that involves music and helps test your puppy’s ability to pay attention, recall information, and follow patterns. 

What Is Needed

  • iPhone/Radio/Tv

How to Play It

  • Choose a song that your dog enjoys and play it 
  • Whenever the song stops, ask your dog to perform a trick.
  • Congratulate your dog and start the song up to go again.

If you’re wondering if music is enriching for dogs, the answer is absolutely! The American Kennel Club reports on a study in Psychology Today that promotes classical music over metal, grunge, or pop. And there is even a Spotify playlist you may want to try out!  Or check out our own playlist for pups ideas.

Escape the Hole

Escape the hole is a game that will engage your pup’s focus and puzzle skills.

What Is Needed

How to Play

  • Hide the Fabric! Place the cut-up fabric or old shirts inside of the Ho-lee Roller.
  • Enjoy the game! You may give your dog a timer or let them take as long as they need to get  the fabric out of the ball 

Engaging in ‘Escape The Hole’ allows your pup to use their reasoning to figure out how to pull all of the materials out of the ball.

Cardboard Box

The Cardboard box is a memory game. Your dog will seek out the prize at the bottom. You can give your dog objectives and have them search for the blue squishy toy or the yellow ball testing your dog’s cognitive skills.

What Is Needed 

  • Empty Toilet Paper Roll
  • Empty Paper Towel Rolls
  • Tennis Ball
  • Squishy Toys
  • Cardboard Box

How to Play

  • Get To Hiding! Toilet paper and paper towel rolls fill the inside of the cardboard box, and food is dropped inside of random rolls.
  • Instead of food, you may drop a tennis ball or squishy toys inside for your dog to fetch out.

Enrichment games are all about enhancing and challenging those natural needs of your animal. The Cardboard Destruction Box game speaks to your animal’s need to sniff out items, chew and play. 

Ideas for Puppy’s Emotional and Social Enrichment

Dogs can bond with other dogs and humans through planned activities and everyday interactions. Playing fetch and taking your dog to the dog park is not enough to build their emotional and social skills. It takes time and careful planning to build trust and a connection. Like humans, dogs secrete serotonin when they feel safe and joyful. 


Make time to sit with your dog without tricks, running, or commands. Casually cuddling, sitting, or sleeping with your dog allows the two of you to build a deeper bond. Your dog begins to feel more relaxed and connected in your presence.

Words of Affirmation 

It is widely known that dogs can understand the language of their owners. Speaking words of affirmation in the form of positive reinforcement can be both mentally and socially enriching for your pet. Dogs crave attention and praise, and there is no better way to meet your dog’s emotional needs than by giving words of encouragement.

Scheduled Play-Dates 

Puppies can rely on routine. The time of day you walk your dog or come home begins to be a pillar in their life that brings reassurance and comfort. Scheduling playdates can be a special time for your dog to connect with their “puppy friends” and consistently familiarise themselves with the behaviour of other animals. 

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Watch Puppy Programmes 

It may sound silly but allowing your dog to watch Youtube Videos or other programs will help your dog get accustomed to other breeds of dogs and species of animals that they would not typically see. 

According to National Geographic, dogs can view TV images similar to the way we do – and they actually can recognise other dogs and animals. This simple act builds your dog’s tolerance and exposes them to other lifeforms. And if your puppy is alone at times during the day, TV can be comforting and stimulating. 

If you are looking for a place to start, check out DogTV, a channel dedicated to providing programming specifically for dogs! 

Physical Enrichment for Puppies

Sure, taking your pup on a walk is a great start for providing physical exercise. But taking your puppy’s physical activity to the next level will provide exercise and enrichment. 

Bubble Blowing

We are a big fan of bubbles. You’re never too old to go and play! Go outside either with handheld bubbles or a bubble machine and let your dog run around. Be sure to play in a fenced-in area or a secure location. Your canine will enjoy chasing and popping the bubbles and marveling at the mystery of their creation. 

Regular bubbles contain toxins that can be harmful to your dog, so check out a few dog-friendly bubble options like these bacon flavoured ones!.  This is a good way to give your dog some structured outside time without a leash. 

Build an Obstacle Course

Using cones, books, chairs, rope, or any items you have around your home, create an obstacle course for your pup. This course should require your dog’s physical and mental skills to be tested. 

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Using a hallway would be ideal because your dog has to go through this smaller area to get to the other side. You can fill up cups of water to maneuver around, stack books to jump over, or rope to wiggle under. Get as creative as you wish. 

Create Stimulating Puppy Enrichment Toys

You can always purchase a puzzle game for your puppy – and they are a great enrichment toy. But many of them require using treats as an incentive. You can create some other fun activities that are just as fun but without the reward of food.  

  • Tether Ball – Purchase a tether tug online and set it up outside. This tetherball can provide endless play for your dog while you lounge and look on. Tether balls allow dogs to focus on one task and burn out tons of energy!
  • Snuffle Mat– Tie together old t-shirts, pieces of torn blankets, or extra fabric you have lying around and make a snuffle mat. Play a game of tug of war with your pet, or let them enjoy pulling and tugging at the different textures independently. While snuffle mats usually include treats, it is not a requirement.
  • Indoor Ball Pit-Buy a kids’ pool or a small ball pit from Walmart or Amazon. Fill with an assorted colour of puppy-safe balls and let your pup go to town! Your dog will enjoy digging through the balls, jumping in and out, and snuggling deep inside the pit. 

You don’t need food to provide enrichment for puppies

There are a plethora of ways to provide enrichment for your puppy. Enrichment is building upon your animal’s natural behavior positively. The essential key to having a joyful, strong, and healthy pet is to pay attention to their wants and needs both physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Do not be afraid to try new things with your puppy. Each dog is different and may favor one activity over the other. Keep making efforts to stimulate your pet, and you will reap the benefits in hugs, doggy kisses, and tail wags.