Deal with Dog Boredom

The Shelter Voice: Dog Kennel Enrichment Ideas

By Darlene Duggan

[Don’t forget to check out this article’s kitty counterpart: Cat Kennel Enrichment Ideas.]

One of the challenges faced by shelter staff is how to keep the animals stimulated while in their care. In fact, boredom for dogs is sometimes a primary reason for negative behaviors such as excessive barking, jumping, inappropriate chewing or licking, and even resource guarding. The dogs in the shelter cannot directly communicate they are bored or stressed, but they do indirectly let us know through these undesirable behaviors.

It is of crucial importance for shelters to do everything they can to keep the dogs entertained and ward off any negative behaviors possibly attributed to stress and boredom. Here are some easy dog kennel enrichment ideas for shelter workers and dog parents alike:

Physical Exercise. It’s no secret that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. In a shelter, exercise can come in the form of walks, agility or fly ball training, time off-leash in a large outdoor kennel, or even supervised play groups with other dogs in the shelter. In many shelters the staff is stretched thin with day-to-day operations and volunteers are the primary providers of exercise for dogs.

Basic Obedience Training. Sitting in a kennel for extended amounts of time can make even the most well adjusted animal go stir crazy, so mental stimulation is extremely important. Basic obedience training can provide mental stimulation as well as time out of the kennel and socialization with people. Does your shelter have a volunteer-led obedience class for the shelter animals? If not, consider working with your shelter manager to develop one.

Mental Stimulation/Entertainment. Here are some great kennel enrichment ideas for the dogs for when staff and volunteers are unable to directly interact with them. If you cannot volunteer with your local animal shelter, consider donating some of these items:

  • Frozen thick rope chew: Soak a rope chew in water and freeze overnight. For an even tastier treat, dunk it in meat broth and freeze.
  • Kong: Stuff with peanut butter, frozen water, or treats. If your shelter has space, consider freezing them—the treats will last a little longer!
  • Squeaky toys: Any stuffed toy with a squeaker inside could provide hours of fun for a dog.

Meal Time. Even feeding time can be an opportunity to provide enrichment for shelter dogs. Here are a few inexpensive ideas for making food stimulating:

  • Crinkle up some kibble in a wadded piece of paper. The dog will have to rip through the paper to get at the kibble bits.
  • Remember paper towel rolls for cat enrichment? Dogs can get in on the action too! Shove kibble bits in a paper towel roll for dogs to get out. You can fold or bend the edges to make it more challenging.
  • Create kibble ice cubes: Fill an ice cube tray with water and kibble; freeze. Dogs usually go bonkers trying to get the kibble in the middle!
  • Hide kibble between the layers of nestled cereal boxes. It will be a challenge for any dog to get the kibble out.

Many of these ideas can be easily introduced in a shelter, and are also great enrichment for your pets at home! I encourage you to get involved with making sure enrichment and stimulation are regular activities for the shelter dogs—keeping them entertained is just as important to their mental health as keeping them fed and vaccinated is to their physical health. And, as already mentioned, volunteers are often the primary providers of these enrichment activities and ideas, so please get out there and lend a hand to the homeless animals in your community!


For many years, Darlene worked behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago–overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.

To read more from Darlene, check out her Blog–Shelter Report.


Cat Kennel Enrichment Ideas

My Career in Animal Welfare

10 Things Every Shelter Volunteer Should Know

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