5 Free, Low-Cost, or DIY Enrichment Ideas for Dogs

If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you know how much I love my dog, Oso. Chances are you’ve probably heard me call him the four-legged love of my life.

But as much as I love him, I don’t want to spend my entire paycheck on him. The good news is that I don’t have to in order to meet his needs! We do a lot of free, low-cost, and DIY enrichment options in my household. So today I want to share with you 5 ways that I meet Oso’s needs without spending a lot of money. 


DIY Destructible Dog Toys

I talk about these toys with my clients all the time and it’s something that I see excite folks over and over again. Destroying stuff is a species-typical behavior for dogs and while some haven’t gotten that memo, Oso definitely did. He loves destroying things! Destuffing and shredding stuffed toys is his jam. And while I occasionally raid the clearance bin at the pet store to find cheap stuffed toys for him to destroy, I typically opt for making my own out of literal garbage. When I tell clients that their dogs can do their doggy thing of destroying stuff in a safe, cheap way they are all for it. 

Looking to make your own? Check out this blog post about DIY destructible dog toys which includes a video of me making toys for Oso. 


Find It in the Grass

Snuffle mats are great, but they can sometimes be pricy. While we do have one at home and use it, we also use grass as nature’s snuffle mat. When the weather is warmer I’ll often throw part of his dinner kibble in the grass as a Find It game that takes extra brain power. He gets to forage, perform a species-typical behavior (sniffing), and gets mental stimulation all in one activity!


Opportunistic safe spaces

We get a lot of questions about non-food enrichment for dogs, so I wanted to make sure I included something in today’s list. While we often talk about setting up safe spaces using crates or comfy beds, they don’t have to be expensive. Oso has several safe spaces in our house. Some of those are dog beds we placed in areas that he was naturally gravitating towards. Others, though, were completely free for us! 

Oso prefers being in small spaces when he’s uncomfortable. Unfortunately for him, he’s a 90-lb dog and we have a small house. A crate that size just doesn’t work in our home. Fortunately for him, he was able to find his own safe spaces that meet his requirements of being in a confined space and also being near me or my partner. 


DIY Scratchboard

Nail trims can be a sore subject for many pet parents and professionals are not immune. Oso was not a fan of nail trims, so we opted to use a scratchboard to file his front nails instead. This provided us with a lot of wins: agency and the ability to consent to this procedure, easier for me than training for nail clippers, and cheaper than having a veterinary or grooming professional do them! I made his scratchboard out of a piece of plexiglass, sandpaper, and duct tape. When the sandpaper wears down I simply replace it. 

Below is a video of how I taught Oso to use a scratchboard to file his nails. 


Shaping for mental exercise

We talked about shaping as a method of getting a new behavior a few months ago in this blog post about different ways to get behavior. Essentially, shaping is capturing the baby steps towards an end goal behavior. I think of it like a staircase where the behavior you want is at the top of the stairs and you have to go through each step to get there. 

One of the reasons I love shaping is that it’s a great option for mental exercise for many pets. Solving a new problem requires more brain power than performing a tried and true trick! While there are plenty of fun shaping toys out there, I usually opt for something lying around my house. Even our cute Halloween trick that I recently shared was shaped with a Halloween bucket I had lying around.

Sometimes I’ll use an empty bin, a bottle, or one of Oso’s preexisting things like toys or beds. I always make sure to use an item that I don’t mind him interacting with after we’re done training or that I can safely put away until next time. 

Clickertraining.com has a lot of great ideas for behaviors and tricks to shape if you’re stuck!


Now what?

  • Is there an enrichment category or activity that you don’t do as frequently because it can be expensive? That’s the best place to start if you’re thinking about switching out costly activities for free, low-cost, or DIY options. 
  • Think through how you can meet your pet’s needs in that enrichment category in a cheaper way. The internet has a ton of ideas, though make sure you’re taking a descriptive instead of a prescriptive approach when experimenting with new activities. 
  • Start experimenting with those new activities to see how well they meet your pet’s needs! We should see the animal willingly participating in the activity AND move the needle closer to our goal behaviors. 

Happy training!


2 thoughts on “5 Free, Low-Cost, or DIY Enrichment Ideas for Dogs

  1. Love these tips 🙂

    And, honestly nature’s snuffle mat, i.e., grass, provides even more mental enrichment because of the other smells too! Don’t get me wrong, I love snuffle mats for the ease of use at meal time, but if I can do it a find it in the grass, my dogs love it! PS – OSO is the cutest.

    1. So glad you enjoyed these tips! Great point about all of the other smells in the grass, too! I agree Oso is the cutest (but I might be a bit biased).

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