These days, social media pages are flooded with food based enrichment practices for dogs. With the swipe of your finger tip, you can find creative ideas on stuffed Kongs, Snuffle Mats, and Lick Mats galore.
While food based enrichment has been studied for years, it's important to realize that Food Based Enrichment is a small slice of the "Enrichment Pie," if you will. In fact, there's plenty of other options for your pup to sink their teeth into!
Enrichment is a concept that has evolved and matured over the last 100 years, and is based on the idea that providing captive animals with more complex environments enhances their physical and mental health (Adams, 2008). The first ever enrichment study is credited to Robert Yerkes, who was researching the well-being of captive primates in 1920. Fast forward to today, where there's been hundreds of studies done on enrichment for dogs (let alone other captive species!).
Is Enrichment A Trend?
While it may seem like it due to it's exploding social media presence, enrichment is here to stay (and has been since at least 1920!). The fact is in the science.
How Can I Engage My Pets Without Food?
Find out what your dog loves, and run with it (sometimes, quite literally). While food enrichment tends to be a favorite for many dogs, there are many other outlets that pooches enjoy. Such as...
Examples of Non-Food Enrichment
- Scent Work & Classes (i.e. Barn Hunt)
- Training & Dog Sports
- Social Enrichment with other dogs and/or animals
- Outdoor enrichment (i.e hikes, decompression walks, swimming)
- Auditory enrichment (i.e. music when you leave the house)
- Car rides (if your dog enjoys the car, that is!)
- Dig pits
- Kiddie pools (don't be scared to get creative; you can fill your kiddie pools in so many different ways for enrichment).
- Interactive play between dog & owner
- Sensory Yard Spaces or Gardens
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Enjoying Non-Food Enrichment?
With food-based enrichment, enjoyment is often easy to spot (and thus, easy for people to label as a favorite). With non-food enrichment, signs of enjoyment can sometimes be a bit more subtle. For example, your dog may not be jumping up and down with excitement over the radio being on, but that doesn't mean that they don't enjoy it.
Positive body language signals to look for:
- Loose, "goofy" body language during games and activities.
- Loose, relaxed body language during more sedentary enrichment (i.e. loose forehead, relaxed ears, no hackles).
- Shake off and return
- Play bows
Negative body language signals to look for:
- Hyper fixation
- Whining, crying, or barking excessively at the game or activity (shows potential frustration)
- Lip licking
- Whale eye or turning away
- Cowering or tail between legs
In the end, the sky is the limit when it comes to to creative enrichment options! The key is knowing the dog in front of you, and modifying their enrichment routine to suit their individual needs and likes.
Sources & Further Readings