5 Canine Enrichment Studies & Resources: What Science Tells Us About Enrichment
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Canine Enrichment has begun to take the internet by storm, and dogs everywhere are rejoicing!
Some of us see the immediate change in our dog's behavior and happiness when implementing enrichment. Others may be a bit skeptical, thinking: How can such small activities have such a large impact on welfare?
Upon starting out, many people are surprised to find that enrichment isn't a new concept. In fact, enrichment is something that's been studied and implemented for years across a wide variety of animal species and settings.
Itching to learn more? Here are 5 Enrichment Studies to get you started, which I've broken down for you!
Question 1: Can Enrichment help with undesirable behaviors?
Source Pairing: Implementing Environmental Enrichment for Dogs
Written by: Morgan Garvey, Judith Stella, and Candace Croney
Credentials: Department of Comparative Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Purdue University
Conclusions: Studies find that yes, enrichment can help with undesirable behaviors. Garvey et al found that many types of enrichment can be used to stimulate dogs, reducing undesirable behaviors. Most of these "undesirables" are often linked to boredom and/or frustration, which enrichment activities actively work to eliminate. Garvey notes that enrichment increases "normal, desirable behaviors" (i.e. problem solving and positive social interactions with others).
" [Enrichment] seeks to enhance the quality of animal care by increasing behavioral diversity, reducing the frequency of abnormal behaviors, increasing the range or number of normal behavior patterns, increasing positive utilization of the environment, and increasing the ability of the animal to cope with challenges in a more normal way" - Garvey et al.
Question 2: Aren't Enrichment games just destruction?
Source Pairing: Animal Behaviour: Canine Enrichment - Moesta et al
Written by: Alexandra Moesta, Sandra McCune, Lesley Deacon, and Katherine Kruger
Credentials: WALTHAM Center for Pet Nutrition, Center for the Interaction of Animals & Society, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Conclusions: Enrichment is far more than just destruction. Moesta et al underline that the primary goal of enrichment is to maintain good physical and psychological health. In this article, Moesta et al note that Enrichment programs can improve the lives of kenneled and sheltered dogs by providing dogs with choice. Providing choice to captive animals is increasingly important for their welfare, as they're limited in making their own choices within many different settings (i.e. home, shelter, farm, zoo, etc).
"Enrichment strategies can contribute to ensuring that basic needs are met and animal welfare is protected by encouraging species-typical patterns of behavior and enhancing the behavioral repertoire" - Moesta et al.
Question 3: Does giving my dog a KONG really make a difference?
Source Pairing: The Effect of Feeding Enrichment Toys on the Behaviour of Kennelled Dogs (Canis Familiaris)
Written By: Lidewij Schipper, Claudia Vinke, Matthijs Schilder, Berry Spruijt
Credentials: Division Ethology & Welfare, Department of Animals, Science & Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Conclusions: Yes! Feeding enrichment isn't just for fun. Schipper et al's study looked at the differences in dogs who were given stuffed Kongs vs. those who were not in a shelter setting. When given feeding enrichment, dogs had increased activity and appetitive* levels. There was also less frequent barking with dogs who had enrichment in their routines.
*Appetitive: Natural desire to fulfil bodily needs. Appetitive behavior for example could be spending more time sniffing, foraging, chewing on their Kong, etc.
The provision of a relatively simple feeding enrichment toy appears to be a useful tool to stimulate appetitive and more variable behavioral patterns - Schipper et al.
Question 4: Is Enrichment Good For Puppies?
Source Pairing: Enrichment in Puppyhood and It's Effects on Later Behaviour of Dogs
Written By: Hubrecht RC
Credentials: Companion Animal Research Group, Department of Veterinary Medicine
Conclusions: Enrichment is wonderful for puppies, and there's so much you can utilize during puppyhood. Hubrecht's study found that puppies engaged 64% of their time with enrichment toys and activities if given the choice. That's 64% less time trying to destroy couches and shoes!
Early enrichment is easy to achieve and can improve the quality of life for pups - Hubrecht
Question 5: Is Enrichment Good For Senior Dogs?
Source Pairing: Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study
Written By: N.W.Milgrama, E.Head, S.C.Zicker, C.J.Ikeda-Douglas, H.Murphey, B.Muggenburg, C.Siwak, D.Tapp, C.W.Cotman
Credentials: Division of Life Sciences, Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, Science and Technology Center, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute
Conclusions: Contrary to popular belief, old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Milgrama et al found that adding behavioral enrichment into the lives of aging dogs had an impact on their cognitive abilities, and slowed age-dependent cognitive decline. Milgrama et al show us that not only is enrichment good for senior dogs, but integrating enrichment can have a positive affect on the aging process for senior canines.
At one and two years, the aged combined treatment group showed more accurate learning than the other aged groups. Discrimination learning was significantly improved by behavioral enrichment. Reversal learning was improved by both behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification. -Milgrama et Al
Hungry for more? Learn more about the Contrafreeloading Concept to understand why dogs love food puzzles, or check out our article on Debunking Enrichment Myths.
Sources & Further Readings
Implementing Environmental Enrichment for Dogs
Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff
Enrichment in puppyhood and its effects on later behavior of dogs.
The effect of feeding enrichment toys on the behaviour of kennelled dogs (Canis familiaris)
Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study
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