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Enrichment – Providing Pets with Activities to Improve Welfare

You know we don’t really think about our pets as being in captivity but if you think about it, they are. Animals that are held by humans and prevented from escaping are deemed to be captive.

The term captive is usually applied to wild animals that are held in zoos and theme parks, but this can be a general term used for all types of animals confined whether it be in zoos, farming and agriculture or our pets.  Think about this for a moment. Our pets are captive animals. What does that mean to you? What does it mean for our pets in terms of their daily lives, their freedoms, their ability to perform their normal species behaviors and their welfare?

So, what does “Enrichment” mean”?

The process of enrichment allows animals to demonstrate their species-typical behavior, gives them an opportunity to exercise control or choice over their environment and enhances their well-being. Enrichment is deemed just as essential to a pet’s welfare as proper nutrition and veterinary care. Providing your pet with an enriching environment can be the difference between a calm, content, happy pet and a destructive, noisy and unhealthy animal companion.

Regrettably many pets are left confined and on their own for many hours each day with not very much for them to do, experience or enjoy. We know in humans, boredom can cause frustration, aggression and sometimes antisocial behavior patterns. With our pets this is no different; a lack of enrichment in their environment can lead to numerous behavioral problems and potentially illness and disease.  But don’t worry, take a deep breath. You are not alone.  According to studies around 28% of pet owners leave their pets by themselves between 10-20 hours every week.

The Benefits of Environmental/Behavioral Enrichment

Providing enrichment can enhance your pets’ environments, encourage them to explore and interact with their surroundings and improves and enhances dogs’ mental states using a range of activities designed to challenge and exercise their brains. These enrichment activities encourage your pets to problem solve, learn new skills and become more confident. Most importantly, they love it!

These are just a few of the benefits that your pet, and you will experience from implementing a simple enrichment program:

  • It helps alleviate boredom.
  • It provides great exercises for the brain.
  • Fun, enriched physical activity provides exercise and an outlet for energy.
  • It can prevent behavior problems.
  • It can assist and help manage behavior problems if they do occur.
  • Provides an outlet for anxiety.
  • Lifelong learning can help delay or prevent cognitive dysfunction.
  • Helps encourages your pet to engage in species-typical/natural behaviors.
  • It’s FUN, FUN, FUN!

Let’s Get Started!

There are two categories of enrichment – Passive and Active. In each of these categories there are subcategories.

Passive Enrichment
1.     Visual This is provided by changing the layout of a pet’s living area. The type of visual enrichment can vary, from something as simple as adding pictures on walls to videos and television. This ensures that pets are not isolated in bland stimuli-free areas.
2.     Auditory This provides for pets by exposing them to a variety of sounds that they can encounter and enjoy, and it elicits appropriate behaviors.

The most common form of auditory enrichment is music.

Active Enrichment
1.     Food Based Food-based enrichment is designed to mimic or create stimulation around the process of eating. This is extremely important because in their natural environment pets are adapted to work hard for what they eat.
2.     Physical Physical enrichment involves introducing anything into your pet’s daily routine that encourages physical activity in instinctual and challenging ways! Daily exercise when done correctly and not to a human schedule and rote performance can be hugely enriching for dogs.
3.     Environmental Environmental enrichment is when items are added to a pet’s environment to help provide or mimic an animal’s natural habitat with new things to explore and investigate.
4.     Olfactory Olfactory (scent) enrichment can stimulate naturalistic behavior, enhance exploration, and reduce inactivity. Exposure to different odors has been shown to influence behavior, resulting in increased activity and exploration.
5.     Cognitive In their natural environments pets would deal with challenges in order to acquire needed resources such as food and shelter. These challenges require the pets to exercise their cognitive ability and to improve their survival strategies. These types of activities create important problem-solving scenarios in the pets’ day-to-day lives.

At DogNostics Education  last year we rolled out a program called Canine Enrichment Technician because we recognize how important it is to animal welfare that pet owners can access the knowledge and skills to help enrich their pets’ lives. Sometimes this comes packaged with professional behavior service providers who have the skills and knowledge to set up and supervise enrichment plans. But as pet owners we can also initiate, plan and deliver some really cool enrichment in our homes ensuring each day our pets’ lives are fun and emotionally and behaviorally enriched.

Check out these easy  and fun  activities here about  how you can set up your pet with a couple of really cool activities.

  1. Snuffle Mats – Leave these around your home with tiny pieces of food in them. They will
    Doogie with her Snuffle Mat

    keep your pet active. SO rather than using a food bowl, give your pet a great way to search for and find meals! This is Doogie enjoying her Snuffle time. You can learn more about Snuffle mats here.

  2. The Muffin Tin Game – Here is a fun game you can play with your dog. Watch the short video of the Muffin Tin Game and then set this up for your own dog.
  3. The Tea Towel Burrito Game – This is one of our dogs’ favorite activities. You can start out nice and easy and then gradually make the Burrito more and more difficult to increase the challenge for your pet.  Watch a video of the Tea Towel Burrito Game.

Let me know in the comments what you think and what you would like to learn more about and we can feature it next month in P&TP.

Want to buy a snuffle mat?  Copy and paste this link into your browser for a discount: The code is PPG12 and gives pet guardians a 12% discount plus a free tug toy.

Niki Tudge MBA PCBC-A CABC CDBC is the founder and president of  the Pet Professional Guild, DogNostics Education and The DogSmith. She has substantial leadership experience in business management and administration, particularly in the nonprofit sector, which encompasses her role as the president of Doggone Safe, a nonprofit educational organization. She has published numerous articles, which have been featured in publications such as the New York Times. She has also authored five books; her most recent project, Pet Training and Behavior Consulting: A Model for Raising the bar to Protect Professionals, Pets and Their People, which she co-authored, was published in 2019.

Before following her passion into small business and nonprofit management, she enjoyed a distinguished career in the hospitality industry, holding executive positions all over the world. Her real passion in her corporate role was the identification and development of female talent in the workplace. She enjoyed managing and coaching her team through both their personal and professional development and loved watching the process of female empowerment and growth at a high level of management.

Along with her business degrees from Oxford Brookes University in the U.K., her professional credentials include ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer and she is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified, specializing in data analysis and process improvement. She is also an International Training Board (HCITB) certified people trainer at levels TS1, TS2 & TS3 and a certified facilitator and project manager. In addition, she was recognized for her outstanding contribution to the business community and honored with a Fortune 500 Company Leadership Award for her accomplishments. 



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