Enrichment is a term used quite often within zoos. The concept has evolved over the years and is applied throughout the nation in order to provide targeted training, allowing each species to express its specific type of natural behaviors in an unnatural setting, as well as providing mental and physical stimulation. Why apply this to our dogs or cats?The same basic idea applies perfectly for your companion animal when he/she is home alone, seems bored or starts displaying behavior problems. Providing enriching activities can be creative and fun without having to depend only on specialty products although plenty exist in the marketplace. Enrichment comes from all types of sources such as:
Something to think about is how we form human attachments with our dogs. Wikipedia sums up an interesting theory "Research has shown that there are individual differences in the relationships between dogs and their human masters that have significant effects on dog behavior. For instance, Topal and colleagues (1997) have shown that the type of relationship between dog and master -- characterized as either "companionship" or "working relationship" -- significantly affected the dogs performance on a cognitive problem-solving task. They speculate that companion dogs have a more dependent relation shop with their owners, and look to them to solve problems. In contrast, working dogs are more independent".When developing your enrichment approach keep in mind the type of breed you have so that you can tailor your enrichment activities to suite that specific breed. Each dog breed has been bred to "express" certain behaviors over others. The American Kennel Club (AKC) classifies breeds by the following groups:
For cat owners, a great resource is The Cat Fanciers' Association.Each category has been grouped to define the types of main behaviors and personalities you can expect of your dog or cat. Also, researching your specific breed will help since the categories do not always indicated each breed's particular personality. If you have a mixed breed, the best advise we have we received from an anonymous veterinarian "whatever your dog or cat looks most like is probably the personality it will exhibit". Your mixed breed may cross between a few categories giving you more variation on activities.We have compiled ideas for owners to keep their furry kids entertained and stimulated. Our goal is to provide interactive ideas that will challenge your dog's instinct for problem solving, licking and chewing and cat's instinct for hunting and problem solving. We also recommend to sign up for basic training or specialty training classes with your dog. Classes are a great way for you and your dog to learn more about animal behavior, communication and play through mental stimulation.With all enrichment activities, start out basic with simple and easy activities. Once your furry kid has mastered this stage then move onto more difficult activities. Many ideas will be presented that can be modified and built upon for greater difficulty. Keep in mind that if you start out with a difficult level first, many animals become frustrated and will either not want to engage in the activity or become destructive. Please note that every toy or food item discussed has the potential to become hazardous if misused or swallowed in large chunks causing blockages or an upset stomach. We always recommend supervising every activity. We will divide activities between dog and cat categories.Dogs
Before describing different activities we want to point out that dogs have a greater jaw strength than humans and many other animals. We tend to forget that they have extremely powerful jaws. So lets bust a chewing myth that is prevalent in marketing pet products - There is no such thing as an indestructible toy. These marketing claims are "hype" and not reality. At our retail location we have owners tell us all the time that their dogs (size does not matter) have eaten through and shredded Kongs, Nylabones, walls, bones, and solid furniture. We even know of one Jack Russell that put giant size holes in a few walls. We know of only one manufacturer that actually has a one time chewing guarantee. Others that claim these warranties have not stood by them.
We recommend staying clear of snacks that are harder to digest such as rawhide for dogs with sensitive stomachs or for puppies. Although rawhide can provide an enriching chew treat it is harder on the digestion and many veterinarians will recommend that it not be introduced to a puppy's diet until 6-8 months. The following chew treats versus many others on the market provide longer lasting fun while being fully digestible and easier on the stomach.
Please note that we did not include hooves and other body parts because they tend to be smelly. Many of our clients ask that we avoid those items that cause really bad odors or that stain.
The most durable toys we have found in the market are rubber or nylon based.
Combining Toys with Treats
There are some great methods to combine treats and toys to create a more interactive experience and also stimulate your dog's cognitive development skills. In addition, many of these techniques accommodate dogs' innate chewing and licking instinct with food. The methods we are presenting will start basic and work into more challenging methods with different options: Items needed: hallow rubber toy(s) or bone(s) combined with a variety of foods.Basic: Fill toy such as a Kong or Tibia Bone with dog's current kibble and cap off the end with natural/organic peanut butter, light cream cheese or a basic hummus.Please note that we recommend light cream cheese for dogs that may need to watch their calorie intake or for dogs that need lower fat in their diet.Intermediate: Graduate to larger biscuit treats or different food fillings. Both can be interchanged and rotated for variety. Use your imagination. There are a bunch of great foods that can be used. However, please check with the ASPCA poison control center and your veterinarian before experimenting on your own.Fillings:
There are all types of games that you can play with your dog. Many you can find from obedience, agility and hunting training references. Dogs learn these games quickly when a lot of positive reinforcement and praising is given. Here are a few to get you started.
CatsMost people find keeping cats entertained easy but every now and then we run into a few owners that want some different ideas. Since cats are born hunters and love to chase, the sky is the limit to the types of toys and play time available. For enrichment, there are a few methods to develop natural behaviors. The Walt Disney Enrichment Program describes their enrichment program for their tigers which is easily replicated with your domestic cats as follows:
We recommend that you rotate toys so that the toys stay fresh and interesting. A variety of toys work best by having some chasing toys (such as strings or poles with feathers or laser pointers) and traditional toys for your cat to bat around (such as furry mice and balls). Its important to set time aside and play with your cat so that it chases an object. This creates a good bond with your cat and allows your cat to get exercise. Below are some ideas to get you started. We broke each approach based on the "tiger model".