By Allie Bender, CDBC & Emily Strong, CDBC
A major focus in all my training and behavior modification work is ensuring sufficient and appropriate enrichment for my client dogs. But, what exactly is enrichment? Is it just physical exercise? Just mental stimulation? And if it is those things, what constitutes “sufficient and appropriate”?
Allie Bender, CDBC and Emily Strong CDBC have put their heads together and written an excellent book to help both professionals and pet parents break it down for the critters in their world.
Canine Enrichment for the Real World places the concept of enrichment into the historical context of housing and caring for captive animals. Beginning with zoo animals whose lives were so deficient in species-typical behavior opportunities that keepers began noticing stress-related behaviors known as stereotypies, to our dogs, cats, birds, rodents and even reptiles. They begin the discussion of enrichment with a clear definition of what enrichment actually is:
Enrichment is learning what our dogs’ needs are and then structuring an environment for them that allows them, as much as is feasible, to meet those needs.
You can replace “dogs” with any captive species and this definition remains valid.
Ms. Bender & Ms. Strong take the concept of enrichment beyond just physical/mental exercise and tie it back to the humane hierarchy which specifically addresses physiological needs of an animal as the top priority. The most important and first thing we must do for any captive animal is ensure enough species appropriate food, water, and medical care. Providing climate control appropriate for the individual as well as light/dark cycles is also critical. Another critical piece to providing a quality, enriched life is by giving the individual a sense of ‘agency.’ The authors define agency as “the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome.”
Types of Enrichment
With this focus on providing a sense of agency, the authors use the rest of the book to dive into the various types of enrichment we can provide for our pets. As they explain, it’s not just getting a lot of physical and mental exercise. We want to take into account what our dogs’ breed was designed to do. A scent hound is going to be particularly interested in Nose Work type games, while a sight hound will be very interested in chasing fast-moving objects (e.g. the sport called Lure Coursing). Herding breeds like to round things up, keep them organized and move many things (people, other pets, toys) as a group to new locations. Of course, any breed can show interest in any of these activities, and you will see individuals within a breed class that shows zero interest in what the breed “should” be eager to do.
The Often Overlooked
After nice explanations and examples for addressing instinctual behaviors such as foraging opportunities, and providing for social interactions, and brain games, the authors discuss aspects of enrichment that often get overlooked. Many dogs need to learn how to calm down and relax by themselves and so there are two chapters devoted to Calming Enrichment and Independence. Ms. Bender & Ms. Strong even go another step further to discuss providing appropriate enrichment for “special needs” dogs such as dogs with physical limitations as well as those spending time in shelters and rescues. All in all, I really like this book and highly recommend it for anyone working or living with non-human critters.
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.