Enrichment has been used at zoos and aquariums for years, but it’s still a fairly new concept when it comes to dogs. I am thankful that people are becoming more aware of the importance of canine enrichment. It’s such an important part of improving animal welfare and is too often overlooked when it comes to our dogs.
What is Canine Enrichment?
Enrichment looks at each animal and what their natural – or species specific – behaviors are. Next it looks for ways how those needs can be met, but in ways that are suitable for the animal’s environment.
In their book, Canine Enrichment for the Real World, Allie Bender, CDBC & Emily Strong, CDBC state:
“Enrichment can be defined as meeting all of an animal’s needs as closely as possible to how they would be met in the wild, in order to empower them to engage in species-typical behaviors in healthy and appropriate ways.”
On a side note, I would highly recommend reading their book. If you have any interest in enrichment you will quickly see how it can benefit both you and your dog. After all, if your dog’s needs are being met they are less likely to exhibit behaviors that we typically dislike – like digging, barking, chewing, etc.
NATURAL BEHAVIORS ARE NOT “BAD” BEHAVIORS
When it comes to dogs, we have selectively bred many “wild” traits out of them to better suit our lives and needs. Many breeds have been specifically bred for helping us, as in the case of a herding breed… or a sled dog… or a scent dog – you get the idea. Why is this important? Well, we created a species with a diverse set of natural behaviors based on selective breeding and in doing so, we created breeds to have specific needs with respect to enrichment. We bred them the way they are and it is now our job to ensure that their needs are met.
Though we may have gotten rid of some of the “wild” dog behavioral traits, some have remained through domestication. Unfortunately, these natural behaviors – as mentioned above – are behaviors that we often find annoying and frustrating. These behaviors often get labelled as “bad” and sometimes they can sometimes lead to dire outcomes if they are not addressed. Too often dogs are relinquished to shelters due to these “natural” behaviors.
It is important that we acknowledge that a lot of these undesirable behaviors are simply natural for dogs. Our goal should be to find a way to allow dogs to perform these behaviors in safe and acceptable ways. In other words, they are dogs and we need to let them be dogs! Providing enrichment for our dogs is similar to ensuring that children have playgrounds, a balanced diet, games, attention and an education. Each of these factors contribute to a better life for a child – in the short term and long term. The same goes for our dogs.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED “ENRICHMENT”?
There is one very critical part to enrichment that needs to be understood for it to be successful. Enrichment for any animal, cannot be defined as enriching based on our own thoughts and beliefs. The only one that can determine what is enriching is the animal itself. Let me say that again… the only one who is able to decide whether or not something meets the criteria of “enrichment” is the animal itself. So if something isn’t increasing the animal’s behavioral well-being, it is not considered enriching for that animal. Just because you read online that something should be an enrichment activity for your dog… doesn’t mean it is going to be.
If you are already using enrichment activities in your dog’s daily routines, what is it that you are doing? What is your dog’s favorite activity? Has it made a difference in your dog’s behavior? I will have much more to share on enrichment… so stay tuned!