Canine Enrichment
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2007
Steve Dale

Steve Dale reaches more pet owners in America than any other journalist. He's certified in canine and feline behavior by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. He's an activist, fighting breed specific legislation and helping communities write laws that involve all potentially dangerous dogs--no matter what the breed is. He's now encouraging public officials to prevent insurance companies from banning against having homeowners insurance if there are certain breeds in the household. He's appeared on many radio and TV shows around America, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and programs on Animal Planet and National Geographic. This past year he won the American Kennel Club Award for using his platform to make a difference, and he's been honored with the AVMA Humane Award, the AKC Distinguished Service Award and many others.

Enrichment is quite the buzz word:



A matter of manipulating the environment to suit animals' behavior or the match the animal's behavior with the environment.

"Environmental enrichment is a process for improving or enhancing zoo animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitant's behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing the behavioral choice available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing their welfare. As the term implies, enrichment typically involves the identification and subsequent addition to the zoo environment of a specific stimulus or characteristic that the occupant(s) needs but which was not previously present."1

"The physical environment in the primary enclosures must be enriched by providing means of expressing non-injurious species-typical activities. Examples of environmental enrichment include providing perches, swings, mirrors, and other increased cage complexities; providing objects to manipulate; varied food items; using foraging or task-oriented feeding methods; and providing interaction with the care giver or other familiar and knowledgeable person consistent with personnel safety precautions."2

Zoos have long been interested and have participated in providing animals with behavioral enrichment, more than what our companion animals at home receive.3,4,5,10

Zoos feeding road kill, hiding food (under ground debris, in pipes, etc.) in exhibits, using 'giant buster cubes,' operant conditioning, orangutan's who paint, chimpanzees who use computers--even allowing great apes to choose their own music. Simply allowing them to choose, indoors or outdoors. Rotating objects in the exhibit which seem stationary, but are not, places to sit to the vines. Choose to give themselves a shower if they so desire. If they pass by a motion detector, they get a shower. A light lets them know that food is in the termite mound, and a condiment inside for chimps varies (mustard, catsup, barbeque cause, jams, etc). Optimum examples are chimpanzees in Chicago, who can blow air on the people.8,9,10,11

It's about offering choices and giving control.8 The secret is to think like a cat--lion or a domestic cat.

Using enrichment techniques, zoos have: Lessened stereotypical behaviors, increased animals 'natural tendencies', enhanced exercise (lowering number of overweight animals, or animals as overweight), slowed the aging process, lessened or eliminated anxious behaviors.9,10,11

Presumably if enrichment techniques can help zoo animals, they can help our companion animals....

Or simply, what grandpa said. "If you don't use it, you lose it." Millions of are brain dead. They've lost it upstairs while at the same time they've gained it around their middles.

At least 30 to 40 per cent of pets are overweight; 25 per cent obese:6, 7

 Change in metabolism

 Significant health issues

All dogs were bred to do something....

 Dogs do need to have a job27

 On average, a dog spends 15 minutes per day eating....there must be more to life12



 Scent discrimination


Insufficient stimulus can cause: Hyperactivity, destructive chewing, acral lick dermatitis, attention-seeking behaviors, contribute to compulsive disorders, separation anxiety, bad habits in the backyard and certain forms of aggression, and plain old boredom. Dying brain cells.12,17,27,28, 29

The choices of how a dog plays, where a dog plays, what toys the dog plays with may be dependent on age, breed and personal preference. Young dogs prefer (require) oral toys and the opportunity to explore environment. Terriers enjoy digging up toys; a Retriever may simply want to walk around with a toy in his mouth. A herding breed dog may enjoy interactive play, 'herding' a Frisbee disc.17

Predictability of toys and time they are left to play has benefits, but so do changes and surprises, if from as a puppy a dog developed that elasticity.13,19


 Feed all means from age and "talent" appropriate treat dispensing balls.

 Read the paper: Scattering food under newspaper. Turned over boxes. Closed boxes with a hole.

 Divide portions of dog's meal in containers or Kong toys or Busy Buddy toys and located around the house, "Sniffing for Supper."

 Placing novel scents in the environment: Rabbit, squired scents from sporting goods stores. Novel herbs, spices and colognes.

 Wading pool for a dog.

 Digging pit in the yard.

 A popsicle of Gatorade, low salt bullion or chicken broth (perhaps with kibble inside or a dog treat or carrot stick). Frozen melon balls.

 Unused washed plastic milk cartons--put some kibble inside, dog rolls it and kibble falls out.

 Training sessions

 Take a dog for walks in new places for new sights and smells.

 Rotates indoor and/or outdoor toys, and encourage play.

 Novel walks to new and different places, offers new and different sensations and experiences.

 Doggy door (which critters can't walk into, and can lock if coyotes, snakes are an issue).

 Learning new tricks.

Chews toys, in particular, can: 13,18

 Offer dental benefits

 Learn appropriate mouthing behavior as puppies

 Used as a training technique, offering an alternative activity when the family is eating, etc.

 Learn what is 'theirs' to chew on

 Explore their environment via their mouths

 Offers a sense of enjoyment--dogs enjoy chewing, i.e.,: a sense of well being

Companionship: Dogs Are Pack Animals

 We know dogs living with canine companions may be more active13

 Dogs do best with canines to interact, socialize with, as well as with people15,16

 Another cat, even a pet parrot is helpful. Of course, if you get a parrot--it's the parrot who may be in charge.

 Other pets such as hamsters, gerbils, Guinea pigs--the challenge is to insure their safety and anxiety thresholds

 Even seeing another dog housed in cages showed that they responded more than toys alone offered14,15

 Living with pets can solve some problems, be careful not to create new ones26

Impact on Aging

Cognitive enrichment early in life appears to protect against development of age-associated cognitive decline and dementia.19

In one study at the University of California-Davis, 62% of 11- to 16-year-old dogs showed signs in at least one category of CDS.22,23 In a pet owner survey, nearly half of dogs age 8 and older showed at least one sign associated with CDS.24

Watch for DISH20


 Disorientation (confusion)

 Interactions with family members/other pets

 Sleep / wake cycle changes

 House soiling

 Additionally: deafness, anxiety

Diet: Hills BD, or diet for joint problems since pain can cause other changes in pets.

Although the cause of cognitive dysfunction is unknown, autopsies reveal that the brains of old dogs are often clogged with globs of nerve-damaging beta-amyloid plaques similar to those found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.21

Treatment may include: Diet (antioxidant fortification), Enrichment.19 'You can teach an old dog new tricks:'--Stimulating environments suggests improved learning due to induced changes in brain cellular structure which may help to actually grow new neurons when otherwise they would not, and increase existing neurons to injury. Would dogs with stimulated environments learn new tasks? They did--but did best with nutritional supplementation as well.19

Having a job may help. And physical benefits of enrichment assist in mobility, and may offer some defense against worsening cognition.19

Motor learning (as opposed to mere motor activity) may increase synapse formation in the cerebellar cortex in rats.19

An enrichment outlet is good, and may lesson anxiety.21

Treating with Anipryl earlier may be helpful.25 Anipryl® is the veterinary trade name for a drug called selegiline hydrochloride, also known as L-deprenyl. It is used in humans for treatment of Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, and Cushing's Disease. The drug is approved by the FDA for use in dogs for treatment of Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) also known as Cushing's Disease and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction


1.  American Zoological Aquarium Association Behavioral Advisory Group, BHAG, (1999.).

2.  United States Department of Agriculture 1991. Title 9, CFR (Code of Federal Register), Part 3. Animal Welfare; Standards; Final Rule. Federal Register 56(No. 32), 6426-6505.

3.  Behavioral Enrichment in the Zoo, by Hal Markowitz, (1982).

4.  The Zoo Book: The Evolution of Wildlife Conservation Centers, by Linda Koebner, pgs.. 86-90. (1994).

5.  American Zoos, by Steve Dale, (1992)

6.  Therapeutic Exercise and Weight Management, American Animal Hospital Association, (2005).

7.  Diet and Weight Control, (AAHA site).

8.  Steve Ross, behavior research specialist Lincoln Park Zoo personal interview, 2004

9.  Shepherdson, D. 1989. Stereotypic Behaviour: what is it and how can it be eliminated or prevented? Ratel, 16:100-105; 1998; Introduction: Tracing the Path of Environmental Enrichment in Zoos. Pp. 1-14, in Second nature: environmental enrichment for captive animals (D. J. Shepherdson, J. D. Mellen, and M. Hutchins, eds.). Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, District of Columbia, p. 350.

10. Proceedings North American Veterinary Conference Post Graduate Institute, Craig Schultz, United States Department of Agriculture, "Behavior Techniques in Zoo Animals," 2004.

11. Manufacture, Selection, and Responses to Habitat Enrichment Items for Captive Nonhuman Primates, Mary Baker (et al)., in conjunction with San Diego Zoo.

12. Dr. Lore Haug, handout Environment Enrichment for Dogs

13. Dr. Debra Horwitz, "Enriching the Environment of Our Pets: The Psychology of Play and Behavior Modification Veterinary Forum," December, 2002.

14. Dr. Andrew Leuscher, "Enriching the Environment of Our Pets: The Psychology of Play and Behavior Modification Veterinary Forum," December, 2002.

15. Hubrecht RC, Scrpcll JA, Poole TB: Correlates of Pen Size and Housing Conditions on the Behavior of Kenneled Dogs, Applied Animal Behavior, Sd 34: 365-383, 1992.

16. Dr. Gary Landsberg, Enriching the Environment of Our Pets: The Psychology of Play and Behavior Modification Veterinary Forum," December, 2002.

17. Dr. Barbara Simpson, Dr. Jacqui Neilson, Landsberg, Horwtiz Enriching the Environment of Our Pets: The Psychology of Play and Behavior Modification Veterinary Forum," December, 2002.

18. Personal interview Dr. Jean Hawkins (veterinary dentist), 2006.

19. Neuroprotective Effects of Cognitive Enrichment, Norton W. Milgram, Chrstina T. Siwak-Tap, Joseph Araujo, Elizabeth Head, Aging Research Reviews Neurobiology of Aging, Elsevier, pgs. 354-369, 2006.

20. "Studies of the Infirmities of Aging Dogs Offer Insights for Humans," by Jane Brody, New York Times, 2002. (Dr. Gary Landsberg)

21. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, by Dr. Gary Lansberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen and Dr. Lowell Ackerman, pgs. 269-304; 1997.

22. Neilson JC, Hart BL, Ruehl WW: Cited in Hart BL, Hart LA: Selecting, raising and caring for dogs to avoid problem aggression. JAVMA, 210(8):1129-1134; 1997.

23. Ruehl WW, Hart BL: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. In Psychopharmacology of Animal Behavior Disorders (Dodman NH, Schuster L, eds.). Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1998; pgs. 283-304.

24. Proprietary market research, 1998. Pet owner sample size: 255. Data on file, Pfizer Animal Health.

25. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, personal interview, 2007.

26. PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Pet Household, by Amy Shojai, 2005.

27. The Culture Class, by Jean Donaldson, 2nd Edition, 2005.

28. Don't Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor, 1984

29. Pet Behavior Protocols, by Suzanne Hetts, American Animal Hospital Association; p. 131; 1999.

Speaker Information
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Steve Dale

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