What is an Enrichment Walk?
In our last post on the High Tail Hikes blog, we talked all about enrichment outings - what they are, why they're beneficial, and what to keep in mind when planning one. To give a quick recap, many dog owners think that exercise is the only way to “tire out” their dog. It’s simply not true! All dogs need physical activity, but there are also plenty of ways to fill your dog’s cup that don’t involve exercise. Enrichment outings are all about meeting your dog’s physical, mental, and emotional needs while keeping them (and everyone else) safe. These outings should allow for lots of opportunities to do “dog stuff” like sniffing, rolling, chewing, digging, stalking critters, lounging, playing, foraging for treats, exploring, playing, and observing the environment. A well-planned enrichment outing will engage your dog’s senses, work their brain, and can help reduce stress, increase confidence, and even build strength and coordination. Enrichment outings can be particularly transformative for shy, fearful, or reactive dogs who find neighborhood walks and crowded trails too overwhelming. Regular opportunities for enrichment will improve your dog’s overall wellness and quality of life.
What to Keep in Mind When Planning an Outing - "QUAILS"
Once you've decided to try an enrichment outing, you may wonder where to go. Since the focus of this outing is not just on covering distance, it opens up a world of possibilities! In my opinion, the best location for an enrichment outing is QUAILS (yep, just made that up):
Quiet; allowing your dog to stay
Under threshold (little risk of exposure to sudden noises, triggers, or other things that may scare your dog);
Accessible, with good visibility and easy "escape routes" back to the car;
Interesting to your dog, with a variety of textures, surfaces, and smells to explore;
Legal and permissible to access with your dog; and
Safe and free of hazards.
Do some research ahead of time. Use google maps or satellite imagery to explore possible locations - both public land and privately owned land that may have areas that are accessible to the public. Check out open hours, dog rules, and think through access and safety issues. Drive by possible locations, or visit areas without your dog first to ensure that they are appropriate. Think about what "quiet hours" may be for your location - some places are quiet in the early mornings or late evenings, while others are quiet in the middle of the day.
Safety Considerations for an Enrichment Outing
Situational awareness and safety should be top of mind, both for yourself and your dog. If you’re visiting a less traveled location, walk with a buddy, let someone know where you’re going, and consider carrying Spray Shield and/or personal protection like pepper spray. Keep a close eye on your dog to make sure they don’t ingest or step on anything dangerous. Keep your dog on a long line anytime you are in a new location or if their recall isn’t 100% reliable. In other words, it's a good idea to keep your dog on a long line at all times, unless you're in a fully enclosed, secured area! If you're not sure what a long line is, read this post, and if you're not sure what type of long line is right for you, read this.
It should go without saying, but please, follow all local dog rules and leash laws, be respectful, and always pick up after your dog. Please remember that many shy, reactive, or fearful dogs and their guardians utilize these locations because they’re less busy than public trails and sidewalks. Be respectful, make space, and DO NOT allow your dog to approach unknown dogs.
The List: Top 20 Locations for an Enrichment Outing!
Without further ado, here are our top 20 ideas for enrichment outing locations with your pup! These are also great options for locations to explore while traveling or road tripping with your dog. Enjoy!
Quiet and peaceful, many cemeteries have winding paths, open grassy areas, and nice views. For reactive pups, gravestones or mausoleums can provide a visual barrier from other dogs - duck behind one and do a quick treat scatter if other dogs are passing.
2. School Campuses
College campuses during the evenings, early mornings, or school breaks are a fantastic option. Lots of open space, trees and greenery, and fun stuff to explore like stone steps, low walls, and fountains. Commuter colleges are great because they are empty outside of school hours. Some high school or elementary campuses are open to the public during outside of school hours - check those in your area.
3. Parks and Playgrounds
Public parks and playing fields, especially midday during the week, can be good options. Playgrounds (when children are not present) can be a fun place for dogs to explore novel surfaces and play training games or practice tricks like “up,” “over,” or “around.” Some parks have circuit training stations - use them for trick training or agility games!
4. SniffSpot, Private Land, or Backyard
If your dog is shy, reactive, or otherwise doesn’t enjoy being out in public, a SniffSpot or another enclosed private space can be a great option. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard, it’s fun to mix it up with a new location and new smells. If you have a friend who owns property or has a fenced backyard, ask if you can come by for an enrichment outing! A bonus is that if the property is secured, you can let your dog off leash even if their recall isn’t perfect. You (and your dog) also don't have to be quite as vigilant as when you're out in the world.
5. Office Parks and Parking Lots
Office or industrial parks are often located in quiet areas on the edge of towns, and are typically deserted after hours, making them a great option for low stress outings! Parking lots may be safe to utilize during off hours (choose an area away from any cars and with good visibility). Try a local expo center, theater, or park and ride lot outside of work or event hours.
6. Church grounds
Churches often strive to be part of their local communities and welcome visitors to stroll their grounds. As long as dogs are permitted, take advantage!
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have a lot of great public waterfront options for enrichment walks. Most people gravitate towards beaches or scenic views, but marinas, harbors, naval bases, ferry terminals outside commute hours, and rocky shorelines can all be good options. Even if you don’t live near a bay or ocean, check your local water district, irrigation district, or watershed conservancy website to see what options you may have.
8. Quiet Neighborhoods
If neighborhood walks are stressful for your dog, sometimes traveling just a short distance away can make a big difference. If you live near a busy street, try exploring a cul de sac or a suburban neighborhood with less traffic. Here in the East Bay of California, the “flats” are quite busy with trains, buses, and cars, but if you drive just a few minutes east, you can find lots of options like quiet hilly streets, parks, rose gardens, and secret stairways to explore.
9. Empty Dog Parks
We don’t recommend dog parks as a general rule, but check out the dog parks in your area, and see if you can find one that is less visited or empty at times. If you find one that’s empty, jump in there and let your dog sniff to their heart’s content! If you don't want your dog to meet other dogs, make sure to communicate with other approaching users so that you can leave safely if needed.
10. Local Farms
Take a day trip to a local farm that allows visitors and stroll the grounds with your pup!
11. Nature center, visitor center, welcome center, or historical site grounds
12. Civic center or fairground during the off season
13. Highway rest stops (most have a designated pet area)
14. Picnic areas, day use areas, or campgrounds outside of tourist season
15. Interpretive paths, viewpoints, or birding areas along highways and byways
16. Recycling centers and transfer stations
17. Library lawns
18. Golf courses
19. Empty skate parks or bike tracks
20. Empty lots or farm fields (respect private property and access restrictions)
We hope this post gives you some good ideas for your next enrichment outing! If you have any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments!