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Do you want to know the best German Shepherd enrichment ideas that’ll keep your dog busy for hours?
Just imagine looking over at your dog seeing how bored and sad they look, and not knowing what to do.
You find this perfect list of German Shepherd enrichment games to keep your dog happy and entertained, all while becoming your dog’s superhero.
Let me show you how to play fun, science-based mental enrichment activities for German Shepherds that are so simple you can start them right away.
Let’s jump right in!
What is German Shepherd enrichment?
The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (sheltervet.org) states that:
“The purpose of enrichment is to reduce stress and improve well-being by providing physical and mental stimulation, encouraging species-typical behaviors (e.g., chewing for dogs and rodents, scratching for cats) and allowing animals more control over their environment.”
Enrichment seeks to enhance the quality of your dog’s care by:
Increasing your dog’s range of positive behaviors
Reducing the frequency of unwanted behaviors
Improving positive exploration of their environment
And expanding the ability of your dog to cope with challenges
In a nutshell, German Shepherd enrichment is important for canine well-being by helping to keep dogs in good physical and mental condition. Ideally, you should aim to include stimulating and enriching activities for 15 minutes daily.
Let’s take a look at how important including enrichment is to your dog.
Mental Enrichment Keeps German Shepherds’ Minds Sharp
Of course, you know that daily walks and off-leash playtime keep your German Shepherd in top physical shape.
But what about their brain and mental health?
Just like their owners, German Shepherds need mental enrichment to avoid boredom and even mental decline that naturally occurs with aging.
Most puppy owners remember to engage their puppies in mental enrichment to help meet their development stages, but it’s important to remember that even older and senior dogs need mental enrichment to keep their minds sharp and active.
Did you know that a 2018 scientific study on dog’s mental decline showed that including mental enrichment could improve brain health (source)?
Mental enrichment helps to keep areas of the brain active, and can even engage areas of the brain that were previously underused.
What are the benefits of enrichment for German Shepherds?
German Shepherd enrichment is a crucial part of making sure your dog is healthy and happy with you.
GSD enrichment includes activities that occupy all of your dog’s senses and moves their body. These exercises not only help keep your dog physically fit, but it keeps them mentally engaged too.
A mentally stimulated German Shepherd is much more inclined to enjoy healthy activity when left alone, such as playing with a toy, sleeping, or relaxing peacefully — rather than participating in destructive behaviors.
Do you have a German Shepherd that’s inclined to make a mess when left alone?
Then it’s better to offer some enrichment rather than to leave them in a crate all day (which could further make their behavior worse).
German Shepherd enrichment also involves socializing with your dog, for example, participating in pleasurable activities that actually help reduce stress and fear. These activities can help your dog be more friendly and prevent other unwanted behaviors, like biting, lunging, or barking at others.
But, one of the best benefits of German Shepherd enrichment is that it can create a strong bond between you and your dog.
Many of the enrichment types and games that are discussed require you to spend time interacting with your GSD. Through these activities, you’ll be sure to form a strong bond with your German Shepherd. Bonding is a healthy exercise for both of you and can improve your overall relationship together.
Ultimately, enrichment for German Shepherds is a great way to not only ensure your dog is happy and healthy, but it encourages better behavior and can increase your dog’s independence in your home — so you both have less to worry about.
How do I give my German Shepherd mental enrichment?
German Shepherd enrichment is an addition to their environment and lifestyle that they voluntarily interact with. These additions combine scent, sight, taste, vision, hearing, and spatial awareness to solve puzzles, perform new activities and tasks, or move their bodies in new ways that require extra brainpower and mental stimulation. As a result, German Shepherds experience improved physical and mental health and, overall, have a higher quality of life.
Sounds too complicated?
It’s not if you follow these simple games and activities that add to your dog’s life to improve their mental health and overall happiness.
But, don’t wait until your German Shepherd starts showing signs of doggie mental decline or dementia to introduce brain training.
Enrichment benefits German Shepherds of all ages and is especially important for:
Puppies to psychologically develop positively
Adult GSDs to avoid behavior issues and boredom
Senior Shepherds to help prevent the signs of brain aging and decline
Include enrichment for German Shepherds daily. Use the enrichment schedule that’s found below to outline your own personal enrichment plan based on your dog’s unique disposition.
It’s not only fun to learn more about your dog, but it’s a healthy way to bond with them!
Types of German Shepherd Enrichment
Recent research has turned attention toward enhancing our dog’s lives from many different aspects. And exploring these enhancements couldn’t be more true for a German Shepherd.
With all their energy, intelligence, and stamina, putting enrichment into their routine is essential to keep them healthy and happy.
Active and Passive
There are two main categories that enrichment falls into:
In the active enrichment category, there are activities that include your dog’s participation more interactively. They must engage with the activity they’re presented with.
In passive enrichment, your dog engages in the activity through their presence, but not necessarily their whole bodies.
The main difference between the two categories is that active activity involves using more energy and encourages your dog to move. While passive activities are calmer and your dog doesn’t have to move as much.
Let me explain more.
Categories of Enrichment
Experts have investigated many types of enrichment for dogs to enhance their intelligence and good behaviors.
The research is still evolving.
Here are the most popular enrichment categories for your dog.
German Shepherd Enrichment Categories
Active or Passive?
Auditory (Sound) Enrichment
Human Interaction Enrichment
Occupational (Job/Work) Enrichment
Olfactory (Scent/Smell) Enrichment
Look over the different types of enrichment and if they are active or passive in nature.
While this might sound like a lot of enrichment, it’s actually very easy to put into practice once you see how to include those ideas into your German Shepherd’s day.
Here are some fun German Shepherd enrichment activities and games that’ll engage your dog’s mind and brighten both of your days!
9 Amazing German Shepherd Enrichment Ideas [Scientifically Proven]
With the hot days of summer and the short days of winter, you and your German Shepherd can quickly succumb to cabin fever!
Be warned: Don’t let the weather prevent you from giving your dog enough exercise, or they’ll start finding their own ways to entertain themselves which could end with mischievous behavior!
So, what’s a high-energy German Shepherd owner to do?
The solution is…
This helpful list of the best mental enrichment for German Shepherds — full of ideas, activities, and games which can even be played inside.
And, believe me, I know the feeling of a bored dog with high energy! So, here’s how to enrich your German Shepherd’s life daily.
1. Auditory Enrichment
A German Shepherd’s ears are highly sensitive to sounds. And using auditory enrichment has also been shown to lower stress levels in dogs.
In particular, classical music was shown to lower stress signs and behaviors in kenneled dogs (source). Given the wide range of personalities in German Shepherds, it’s best to experiment with different types of music and sounds your dog might enjoy.
Here are some tips:
Keep the music at a lower volume so you don’t hurt your dog’s ears
If your dog looks uneasy, try a different more soothing sound, or come back another day to play around with sound enrichment
And, one of the best benefits of auditory stimulus for your GSD is it’s economical, even free. Look online for classical music tracks to start with this enrichment.
2. Cognitive Enrichment
Training is one of the best forms of enrichment for German Shepherds on too rainy, too hot, or too snowy days.
The point of enriching your dog’s environment is to encourage interactions that are stimulating where the dog spends their time. Your goal is to make your German Shepherd’s living space interesting to increase their mental stimulation.
Keeping your German Shepherd in the same space every day for hours on end may lead to boredom and oftentimes ends in destructive behavior. This destructive behavior could include excessive licking of their paws or chewing on furniture because their environment is dull and lacks stimulation.
By increasing your dog’s activity and their variety of common behaviors through the use of the environment you help to reduce and prevent abnormal and destructive behavioral outcomes (source).
You probably already know that walking is a form of environmental enrichment. But, there are many other ways to help your dog reduce boredom and increase their stimulation.
All of the following are good choices for environmental stimulation to try:
Taking your dog for a car ride (as long as they don’t get car sick and enjoy it).
Creating a doggy den or a fort out of sheets (like you did when you were a kid) for a cozy nap or snuggle.
Growing a dog sensory garden with dog-safe plants to smell.
Finding a new walk with different smells and places to see.
Environmental enrichments should provide outlets for positive expression of your dog’s natural behaviors. For example, providing your German Shepherd with an outdoor sandbox allows him to enjoy his normal digging behavior in a way that isn’t destructive to property.
Think of ways that you can help your natural-born working breed find outlets for their less-than-desirable behaviors in order to satisfy their needs and make their life less stressful.
Environmental Enrichment with Toys
Providing toys is one of the most common ways dog owners try to enrich their German Shepherd’s environment.
When your dog interacts with toys they enjoy it can decrease their response to stressful factors, such as strange people, dogs, or noises. Toy enrichment has also been proven to decrease excessive barking, digging, trying to escape, and destroying property (source).
It’s easy to make toy enrichment more enticing, here’s how:
Toys should be rotated to maintain the enriching effect by swapping them out on a regular basis.
Choose toys your dog enjoys and don’t force toys they aren’t interested in, for instance, some German Shepherds love balls while others don’t care for them.
Don’t constantly provide the same toys and nothing else over and over or your dog might lose interest in toy time.
It’s better to have a selection of your dog’s favorite and preferred toys in order to alternate their use (source).
You can keep your German Shepherd more entertained and enriched by providing a variety of toys that hold their interest.
Some ideas include toys that have different:
Toys that are scented or squeak are important to play with. Toys are not meant for just rewards but are an essential part of your dog’s daily routine.
Giving your dog toys helps keep them well-behaved and engaged.
The best German Shepherd enrichment toys for mental stimulation:
Colorful Kong Jumbler Ball Dog Toy — Great for dogs who love balls, especially tennis balls, but it’s got an extra-large handle so they can carry it around the yard or park!
Nerf Dog Squeak Ball Dog Toy— This tough squeaking toy provides not only sound stimulation but also a rubber texture that helps to massage your GSD’s teeth and gums!
With the right variety and types of toys, you can satisfy your dog’s play urges, all while providing environmental, visual, tactile, and auditory stimulation.
But, remember this…
No dog toy is truly indestructible, so check your dog’s toys for any cracks or deterioration routinely to keep toy time safe.
4. Food-Based Enrichment
The main goal of feeding enrichment is to make their snack or mealtime more engaging, stimulating, challenging, and fun.
By employing the power of their intelligent brains and super-sniffing noses your German Shepherd uses his natural foraging and hunting skills to work for their food. By extending the time it takes your dog to eat his food his physical and mental activity is increased.
By far the most popular version of enrichment feeding is using a Kong Extreme Feeding Toy that is stuffed with their kibble and generally mixed with a few treats to entice them in longer play.
The Kong feeding toy encourages the primal instincts your German Shepherd has:
Working for their food
Your goal is to make mealtimes or snack times more interesting and challenging for your dog. Doing so increases their engagement with their meals which duplicates the natural instincts they still have.
This could also include the way you present the food for them:
Treats tucked inside a cereal box. Take their food and place it into an old cereal box for them to nudge and move about on the floor.
Rolled up towel feeder. Hide their food in a rolled-up towel they must nudge to open and eat.
Hand-feeding. If you have a new German Shepherd puppy or adopted an adult dog, then hand feeding them is a great way to bond and start your relationship together.
Never underestimate how much your working-breed dog loves to find their food! Providing their meals using feeding enrichment can also reduce how quickly your dog eats their food, so it’s a great alternative to bowl feeding for fast eaters.
Feeding Enrichment During Meals
You already know that a healthy, nutritious diet is vital for every German Shepherd, but incorporating a bit of taste stimulation into your dog’s normal feeding times can make mealtime even more exciting.
Instead of the same old boring kibble day in and day out, mix up their feedings with different dog-safe food items.
Many German Shepherds may love to indulge in tiny bits of:
While dogs aren’t known for their developed taste buds they do benefit from enrichment from food. You can even try these new food items in the puzzle toys mentioned earlier for an extra dose of mental excitement!
Are you experiencing a heatwave or want a novel way to serve your dog their treat to increase their enrichment exposure?
Then place some water in an ice tray and insert in the middle a bit of your dog’s favorite treats. Once the water freezes, the treat is a little tasty treasure for your dog to find!
It’s not only stimulating but gives your dog added hydration from the ice. It’s best to give your German Shepherd this enrichment treat outdoors on a warm day, but any hard floor that’s easy to clean up will also work.
5. Human Interaction Enrichment
Enriching your bond with your German Shepherd by spending time with them in meaningful activities. This form of specific social enrichment is so important it’s best to give due care to this section.
You can bond with your German Shepherd through many physical activities, such as:
Taking them to a park
Enjoying a supervised playgroup with them
Teaching them obedience
Enrolling in dog agility
In your busy day do you include 5 or 10 minutes to bond with your dog with your undivided attention?
If you can’t think of the last time you purposefully found a bit of bonding time to enrich your German Shepherd’s life, then today’s your day to start.
Bonding enrichment fulfills your dog’s need to interact with humans through positive, predictable encounters. It’s not to be confused with socialization.
Socialization is safe and guided exposure to new things in the environment so your dog learns to not fear everyday people, places, dogs, or objects.
You can also bond with your German Shepherd and give them purposeful human interaction through fun games.
What German Shepherd doesn’t love playing games?
But, are you in a rut with the same old games?
The good news is: game enrichment and play don’t have to take long to be effective.
You can disperse the play sessions throughout the day and focus these times when your puppy or dog is most awake. Generally, German Shepherds are most active in the mornings and evenings (dawn and dusk), so focus on the times for games when your dog is most active.
Give your dog extra game time after their breakfast, dinner, and an hour or two before bed.
Game enrichment can include:
A quick game of tug, even indoors if you don’t wind your dog up too much
Hide and seek (you hide while your dog doesn’t watch and call your dog to find you)
5-minutes of fetch in the evenings in the backyard
To get in more playtime with your German Shepherd, think of games you can do during your normal activities.
How about these quick enrichment games during your day?
Kicking a ball while out on your walk
Tossing a soft toy gently while waiting on dinner to cook
Playing fetch during the commercials of your show
Here’s an interesting fact…
Research shows that playing rough games like tug-of-war and fetch actually increases your dog’s trainability and confidence (source). And moreover, winning or losing either of the games didn’t have an effect on the positive outcomes of trainability and confidence.
Yet interestingly, if your dog initiates the majority of the games the dogs were less trainable and showed higher rates of exhibiting aggression.
Let this be a lesson to you who want a trainable and happy German Shepherd…
Include enrichment games daily, even if only for a few minutes, by actively seeking out your German Shepherd for game time!
6. Occupational Enrichment
Most likely you have a job or know someone who does. So, you know how important it is to have a sense of value by working.
Likewise, occupational enrichment challenges your German Shepherd by giving them a “job” that encourages both their physical exercise and mental stimulation.
While some GSDs have a formal job, such as a service dog or military K9, other German Shepherds can be provided forms of occupational (working) enrichment to keep them mentally stimulated and prevent or alleviate boredom at home.
Examples of occupational enrichment include:
Sports of different kinds — like fly ball, agility, or playing fetch, (all of which also help to release excess energy)
Scent enrichment, also known as olfactory stimulation, engages your dog’s super-smelling nose power to process smells and give their brains a workout.
Introducing scents in your home environment can:
Have calming and soothing effects on your German Shepherd
Enhance exploratory curiosity and unique investigative behaviors
Provide an enriching and fun activity or novel experience (source)
And, did you know that your German Shepherd Dog has around 225 million scent receptors?
Compare that to a Daschund, a dog specifically bred to scent trails of badgers, with 125 million scent receptors (or compare to yourself with around 6 million scent receptors) and you can see that your German Shepherd is in dire need of scent stimulation (source)!
It’s no wonder that a recent 2020 study of shelter dogs who were given scent stimulation for enrichment using a specific dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) and lavender were shown to lay down more, show increased resting behaviors, and bark fewer times than those dogs that didn’t receive the olfactory treatments (source).
You can duplicate the dog appeasing pheromone by plugging in an Adaptil Calming Diffuser for Dogs nearby to where your dog spends a lot of their time (a spot they love to nap or sleep is perfect). This is the same brand that was used in the study with significant results in better, more calming behaviors.
Additionally, the researchers used lavender scents to enrich the kennels of the shelter dogs to reduce the anxiety and stress of admitted dogs.
Research shows that German Shepherds benefit from social enrichment when interacting with other dogs. Playing with friendly canines fulfills their social and community needs within their own species.
Social enrichment for your dog can include:
Phoning one of your neighbors to come over for a cup of tea and having them bring their vaccinated, friendly dog that your dog enjoys
Scheduling supervised playgroups with dogs that are all compatible
Registering your dog in a doggie daycare so they aren’t home alone every day
Dogs are social animals and this type of social enrichment allows them off-leash play that improves their skills at canine interacting. Furthermore, it builds their self-confidence, trust in other dogs, and reduces the chance of developing fear-based reactivity and communication issues (source).
Not all German Shepherds enjoy meeting or playing with other dogs, so keep in mind some might not be as comfortable in these types of doggie social situations.
9. Visual Enrichment
Have you ever noticed your dog watching tv, or turning their head when they see an animal in a movie you’re watching?
If so, then you’ve experienced visual enrichment with your German Shepherd already. Visual enrichment gives your dog the opportunity to see new images, environments, or pictures.
Did you know you can even play Dog TV for your German Shepherd?
Try one of these free enrichment ideas for visual stimulation:
Keep a window open that’s usually closed inside for them to look through
Leave on a fun movie at a low or medium volume
Take them for a car ride to see new sights
Spend some time quietly bonding while enjoying the sights and sounds — take a break on a bench and watch the world go by together.
German Shepherd Enrichment Schedule
Enrichment doesn’t have to cost a penny, take up a lot of time, or be overly complicated.
In fact, here’s a sample schedule to give you ideas on how to include enrichment into your dog’s day.
Dog’s Energy Level
Highest Energy (puppies, adults)
Long sniffing walk
Teaching a new trick
High Energy (most adults)
A long walk on a new path
Chewing time with Kong
Medium Energy (many seniors)
Meal served in a Kong
Sitting outside on a bench near a park
Listening to bird sounds on audio recording
Low Energy (some seniors)
Puzzle toy for breakfast
Listening to classical music
This is an example schedule of how to include enrichment into your German Shepherd’s daily routine. Please choose activities that your dog likes and that fit into your own schedule.
Depending on your dog’s personality and energy levels, as well as their likes and dislikes, try including a few enrichment exercises daily. Once you put them into your day in short sessions, you’ll see how easy it is to fit into your schedule.
How often should I enrich my German Shepherd’s life?
Aim for 3 daily sessions of German Shepherd enrichment, including a variety of different types of enrichment to stimulate all their senses. If your schedule doesn’t permit, then include at least 1 daily enrichment activity so your dog doesn’t become bored and destructive.
Set aside 30 minutes of undivided attention for your enrichment with your German Shepherd. It’s best to break up the time into a few sessions throughout the day that suit your dog’s energy levels and your own personal schedule.
Enrichment Tips for Success
Provide a variety of activities based on your dog’s personality and all their senses.
Offer a range of toys and experiences, and rotate their use to keep things interesting and reduce boredom.
Watch out for overstimulation! While stimulation is the goal of enrichment for your German Shepherd, too much stimulation can increase your dog’s stress levels (too hard of puzzles with little success, toys that are too noisy, agility obstacles that don’t account for your dog’s health).
Consider that not all dogs like the same things. If your German Shepherd is interested in a particular enrichment item try a different item (not all toys and puzzles appeal to all dogs; vary it up).
Observe your German Shepherd so you can identify the things they truly love — things they find motivating and reinforcing to them!
Keep enrichment sessions positive. If you use training for enrichment, remember that all training methods should be based on positive reinforcement (never use punishment, force, or stressful situations for training). The goal is to enrich your dog’s life — not to punish them.
Calling all Senses: Enrichment for German Shepherds
German Shepherds interact with their world through their main five senses:
It’s a good idea to incorporate as many senses as possible to enrich your German Shepherd’s life…
Enrichment for your German Shepherd paws-itively affects your dog’s whole body!
From the tip of their nose to the end of their tail.
The best part of all?
Enrichment brings you closer together with your dog and strengthens your bond.
It’s part of the whole system of care that gives your dog the happiest, healthiest years they deserve.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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