This month’s topic, enrichment, is one of my favorites. There are many definitions of enrichment but, at its heart it is how we meet all of our dogs needs so they can flourish in our human-centric world. Every training plan I write includes enrichment because it is so crucial to our dog’s well-being.
The enrichment we give our domestic animals (cats, goats, donkeys, horses, and other animals in our care can all have enrichment!) started with animals in zoos. Zookeepers began giving the animals opportunities to perform species-specific behaviors in ways that kept them and the humans who tend to them safe. After implementing these enrichment plans, the zookeepers started seeing reductions in stress-related behaviors—like pacing for big cats and swaying for elephants—because the animals had more chances to express their natural behaviors often in bigger spaces.
For dogs those natural behaviors include foraging, chewing, sniffing, digging, chasing, and shredding. With enrichment we also give our dogs mental stimulation through puzzle toys and training, exercise like walks, hikes, and play, and help relaxing with music and massage.
For the next three weeks I'll explore different forms of enrichment, how we can implement them for our dogs, and what behaviors they might help address. In the final post of the month, I’ll include a range of resources for learning more about enrichment.