What is enrichment?
What is enrichment?
Enrichment can be described as “the act of making life fuller or more meaningful or rewarding”.
The benefits of enrichment for an animal:
▪ It provides physical and mental stimulation.
▪ It satisfies innate behaviours.
▪ It reduces stress and improves ability to cope with environmental stressors.
▪ It provides alternative activities to undesirable behaviours.
▪ It prevents or reduces the performance of repetitive behaviours.
▪ It prevents disease and improves health.
▪ It alleviates stress associated with short- or long-term confinement.
Enrichment for animals can be classified into a number of subsections.
o Size, structure and complexity of enclosure
o Permanent enclosure furniture (e.g. structure and placement of perches, hiding places)
o Toys, ropes, substrates, hanging objects, puzzles
o Sensory stimuli
▪ Visual (tapes, television, images, windows)
▪ Auditory (music, vocalisations)
▪ Other stimuli (smells, tactile, taste)
▪ Psychological (puzzles, control of environment)
▪ Exercise (mechanical devices, run)
Food Related Enrichment
o Delivery (frequency, schedule, presentation, processing, provision for foraging)
o Type (novel, variety, browse, treats)
o Interaction with animals of same species (as a pair or in a group and on a temporary or permanent basis)
o Interaction with other species
▪ With humans
▪ With other species (e.g. compatible species kept in same enclosure and benefit from interaction)
You will notice that some specific types of enrichment fall under more than one category. For example, the Buster Cube is a puzzle toy for dogs that provides psychological (requires concentration to perform a set of physical movements), physical (they move it about and chase it) and food (it dispenses food reward) enrichment.
Toys serve a variety of purposes for the domestic dogs:
- Help to eliminate boredom for the dog
- Exercise the jaw and in some cases provide a degree of dental care
- Assist and help to prevent in behavioural conditions
- Provide mental stimulation
- Provide enjoyment
- Provide exercise in the form of running, jumping and chasing
There are many enrichment toys available for the dogs.
When providing toys for the dog we must take into consideration what is most appropriate and safe for the dog.
For example a puppy will not receive a significant benefit from being given a large breed toy and a small puppy toy will not be safe for a Labrador puppy.
Some toys and enrichment products can have food added so provide the added stimulation of an intermittent food reward to keep the dogs attention for a longer period. Some styles incorporate mechanisms that require both mental as well as physical dexterity to work through the challenges and reveal hidden food rewards. They can be set to differing levels of complexity, to satisfy all ages and breeds of dog. Dogs are intelligent animals and will tire of a single toy so need to have their toys rotated to some extent to avoid boredom.
Different breeds require different levels of social enrichment. All dogs however, require some time dedicated to socialising and allowing them to demonstrate their natural social behaviours. Contact time with members of their own species, or another species, is an extremely important enrichment activity.
Contact with humans is also an important social enrichment and the animal carer can greatly influence the comfort and reduce the stress of dogs in their care simply by spending some time socialising with the dogs. This can be a simple pat or cuddle or even some grooming time or a short walk outside.
Food Related Enrichment
In their natural environments wild dogs would spend a considerable amount of their time around the search for food. Wild dogs may have to search for hours before finding a prey animal and even then they had to be successful in the hunt in order to provide themselves with a meal.
Domestic dogs are commonly provided with their food requirements served to them in a bowl! This is a nutritionally balanced meal meeting all their requirements and takes them only minutes (or seconds in the case of some dogs) to consume. This leaves a large amount of time not being utilised leading to boredom and behavioural problems. Feeding in this manner also stifles the animals natural instincts that are hunting, predation, foraging or grazing.
Providing enrichment by using creative feeding strategies can encourage dogs to display and exercise their natural behaviours and instincts. Food based enrichment can also provide mental stimulation and exercise.
Some examples are discussed below.
Giving Foods That Take Time to Eat
This enables the dog to use more time in the eating process thus reducing the boredom time that can build up.
Dogs can be provided with frozen foods and toys that slow the eating process.
This is an excellent technique for feeding dogs as it appeals to both hunting and foraging breeds. Instead of offering food in a bowl and all together the food items are either scattered throughout substrate and bedding or hidden all around the environment allowing foraging.
This method provides the dogs with both exercise and the ability to hunt or forage for their meals. It also increases the amount of time spent on feeding which more naturally matches the situation in the wild.
These toys come in many shapes and sizes and can be applied to most breeds.
Topples can be ‘stuffed’ with a food substance such as moist dog food, yoghurt mashed banana or peanut butter. The dog then experiences the smell of the food but is only able to access a small amount at a time thus inducing the dog to keep working and chewing the toy to access the remaining food. In summer the stuffed toy can also be frozen adding interest and prolonging the exercise for the dog. This also helps keep the dog cool!
Lickimats also create an excellent food enrichment tool that can be frozen to prolong the use and make a great resource for during grooming, bathing and nail trimming.
At Trix and Co we stock a range of enrichment equipment to enable you to select the best options for your pet and provide them with a variety of enrichment experiences.