Having a few easy enrichment activities for dogs can make such a difference when you are travelling with your pups. There may be times when you can’t stop to give them a good, long, much-needed walk and might have just a few minutes in a rest stop between bouts of rain and long road miles to preserve yours (and your dog’s) sanity. That is why I want to share a few fulfillment games that have come in handy when I’ve been on road trips with my pups.
These enrichment games for dogs can be used at rest stops to allow for a quick burst of exercise or to distract them when you’re trying to set up camp or cook. Best of all, this collection of DIY dog enrichment activities don’t take up a lot of space, are super affordable, and can be made with items you likely already have on hand.
You may already be doing these things at home but have you ever considered bringing them on road trips with dogs?
This post contains affiliate links and if you make purchases through these links, we may make a small commission at no cost to you.
If you’ve never seen a flirt pole before, think of something like a fishing rod for dogs. You can buy one but a DIY flirt pole is easy enough to make with a dowel, length of paracord, and an old dog toy.
If you'd rather buy a flirt pole (or several), shop for them by following this link now.
By dragging the toy along the ground, you can trigger your dog’s prey drive, especially if you move it in an erratic path. Some dogs don’t have the desire to chase but for those that do, it is a fun game.
Using a flirt pole to play with your dog provides mental and physical activity which is great when time is short. It can also be a high intensity workout depending on how "into the game" your dog gets.
A flirt pole can also be a valuable training tool for reinforcing “drop it” commands and impulse control. I’ve found it’s the most effective for Lilly: she has to drop the toy and make eye contact before the game continues. I have been gradually lengthening the time that she has to make eye contact; at first it was the second that she looked at me and now she has to wait a few seconds.
Considerations for Using a Flirt Pole
Before you break out the flirt pole, you’ll want to check your play area for hazards for your dog and for the handler. Uneven footing, rocks, and branches can be tripping dangers. You’ll also want to look for piles of poop, discarded food, or broken glass.
The larger the play area the better as that gives you room to run which avoids tight circles. It also gives you more opportunity to move the toy in an erratic path which makes it more interesting and challenging for your dog. Just spinning around can be hard on your dog’s muscles and joints and they may figure out that they can cut the circle to get the toy which is a tripping danger for you, not to mention a recipe for dizziness.
As it can be physically demanding, keep your sessions short and end on a positive note by letting your dog catch the toy which means they’ve “won” the game. Or they may end it themselves by dropping the toy and walking away.
If you have a new dog, wait until you get to know them before using a flirt pole as it can trigger resource guarding or redirection on the handler. And keep sessions to single dogs as there is a risk of injury if one dog gets run over or they may get super competitive and redirect towards each other.
Lastly, make sure you aren’t playing near other dogs. This is super exciting and if a dog is off-leash it may want to join in the game which could result in a fight with your dog. Or it may just get the other dog worked up which would make things difficult for the other handler.
Need some activities that are a little more sedate? I’ve got two for you.
Snuffle mats for dogs seem to be all the rage now and why not? They encourage a dog to use their nose which mimics foraging and hunting behaviour, you only need a small space, and the weather isn’t an issue. For travellers, they are compact to pack which means you can toss one in with the rest of your gear and you are able to easily provide mental enrichment for dogs any time. You can even leave them a mat if you have to leave them in the car for a brief moment (nature is one call that cannot be put on hold after all).
On the other hand, they can be expensive to buy and get dirty, particularly while camping. So rather than pack yet another piece of equipment, why not use a towel instead? Using a dog towel for enrichment means no more extra gear, it’s easier to clean, and can be made as simple or as complex as you want.
Simply sprinkle treats or food on the towel, then twist it up for a beginner-level snuffle, roll the towel for intermediate, or roll and tie into a knot for advanced. Leo and King are both beginner snufflers while Lilly is definitely an advanced level.
Using a snuffle mat (or snuffle towel) while you’re stopped for a break, setting up camp, or cooking a meal is a great way to keep your pup occupied without needing a lot of space. If you have reactive dogs like I do, it can also give them something else to focus on if there are other dogs in the area.
Want to splurge on a snuffle mat? Shop for them here.
This is one of mine (and Lilly’s) favourite canine enrichment activities ever and is really handy while we’re travelling. I take empty toilet paper rolls and cut down paper towel rolls, fold over one end, add a piece of treat, then fold over the other end. I make at least six of these, and sometimes up to a dozen, and toss them into a paper bag, folding the top to close it. When we’re in for the night, I give the bag to Lilly and let her tear it all apart. She loves the game and I get a bunch of shredded cardboard and paper that I can use to start a fire.
Some dogs enjoy shredding because it’s like tearing prey apart. Gruesome but there you have it. No matter how cute, cuddly, and high bred your dog is, they are still a predator.
I love that I can make a bunch of bags in advance, it only needs a small amount of space, and then I can burn the leftover waste. Watch to make sure that your dog isn’t eating the cardboard or paper. A little bit won’t hurt them but if they’re eating more than they’re shredding, this may not be the game for them.
Things to Remember
When we get to our site, I always put out the outdoor blanket and some soft blankets for the dogs to lie on before I even bring them out of the car. It gives them a soft and dry place to relax and makes it easier to clean up any spilled food, which inevitably happens when they play or kibble falls out of King’s jowls.
It also provides a good base for any of the scent-driven enrichment activities like the snuffle mat and shredding. It keeps the smelly dog treats from mixing in with the dirt and grass which could act as a lure for wildlife especially when we’re in remote locations.
When we’re ready to go to bed, the outdoor blanket and all the food, treats, and bowls gets stored in the car to minimize our scent “footprint”.
I hope you enjoyed these three examples of enrichment activities that you can bring for your dog when travelling.