Sensory and Food Enrichment
In Part 1 of this series, we talked about two pieces of criteria that help answer the question, “What is an enrichment center?”
Today, we’re going to explain the importance of sensory enrichment and food enrichment.
3. Sensory Enrichment
Sensory enrichment involves combination of games and activities within the enrichment program, and also with dogs enrolled in training classes.
Classes offer a more personalized, one-on-one approach, and you can choose games and activities based on each dog’s interests, readiness, and experiences.
How to offer sensory enrichment
Simply put, sensory enrichment involves offering the dogs different stimuli that will stimulate all five senses.
We also want to assess the dogs by creating opportunities for them to experience different stimuli. This fits in with our goal of achieving behavioral wellness for the whole dog in these areas:
Making sure our environments tap into each of the five senses also helps us ensure the dog is habituated and able to acclimate to change. Being outdoors often meets this goal naturally. For example, the dogs might hear a helicopter nearby, see and hear a dump truck backing up, feel the sensation of wet grass on their bodies, and more.
You want the dogs in your care to experience, through all senses, different types of learning so that they are behaviorally richer. That’s the ultimate goal of meeting the criteria for sensory enrichment.
Let’s look at sight and sound, using an example from Doglando
We often do group howling exercises with different vocalizations to tap into sound. Lure course racing is great for sight hounds and dogs with intense prey drives, giving them an appropriate way to channel those behaviors. We even use mirrors as another way to stimulate a dog’s sight in a new way.
What does this look like in “real life”? Here’s what we’ve noticed in our facility.
At Doglando, we wanted to test which signal the dogs respond to most for our gate that leads to the back of our property. It’s a highly reinforcing area, and all of the dogs are eager to get back there whenever they can.
First, Nicole walked into the area. This is normal, since staff members often pick up poop in this area. Some dogs followed, others simply looked up from whatever they were already doing. Several minutes later, Nicole repeated these actions, but she changed one thing: she touched the gate slightly, enough to make a sound.
The dogs immediately moved toward the back.
Nicole made her rounds again after a few more minutes had passed. Ever so carefully, she lifted the hinge up as if she was going to open the gate. It made a noise that was different in pitch from the previous sound.
Every single dog rushed to her! We knew that noise was the signal, and we reinforced it by letting the dogs through the gate.
It’s an important lesson: Sounds like this are part of the dog’s environment, even if we don’t pay much attention to them. Remember, if a stimulus results in certain behavior, it’s worth paying attention.
Smell, taste, and touch in sensory enrichment
Smell includes dogs and people, but also the odors we use on our toys, like deer urine and quail scent. Doglando dogs even know what chickens smell like!
For taste, you have tons of options! Here are some of the tastes we incorporate into our enrichment program:
- Dehydrated kale
- Sweet potatoes
- Frozen bananas
Similarly, there are a number of ways you can incorporate touch into your enrichment center:
- Collar grabs
- Heat checks
- Blow offs
- Putting the puppies in a settle position
A big part of sensory enrichment is the total sensory enrichment experience, or involving all of the senses in a single game or activity. Two good exercises are swimming and balance – these stimulate body awareness and engage multiple senses at once.
4. Food Enrichment
Yes, you can use food in an enriching manner! There’s more to it than just stimulating taste, too.
You can use food mindfully to provoke behaviors like hunting, foraging, and problem solving strategies.
At Doglando, we might throw food into the lagoon or scatter it around trees. This doesn’t lead to fights, either! There’s no food aggression because we don’t withhold it – it’s just another part of their environment, and part of an activity that they’ve all learned to do together.
The dogs are so aware of each other’s space as they practice their foraging behaviors. They’re also fully engaged in the activity. This is biologically appropriate. We actually work against a dog’s biology when we don’t give them opportunities to hunt and forage together.
That’s because dogs know that hunting together is more efficient, and that solo hunting equals more effort. In pet ownership we work against this natural, biological aspect of canine behavior.
However, as an enrichment center, we want to go back to nurturing what our dogs desire to do biologically.
What kind of food should you use in your enrichment center?
It’s important to offer the dogs food with different textures:
- Cold food
- Room temperature food
- Dehydrated food
- Non-dehydrated food
- Buried food
- Hidden food
- Food scattered on different surfaces (varying elevations, textures, etc.)
- Floating food
- Food that’s been submerged
- Things we can eat with the dogs
You might be wondering how this actually influences behavior… and figuring that out is the fun part! We don’t know what the dogs are thinking, but we can see and observe what happens as a result of the different types of food we offer.
When it comes to enrichment, introduce new things into the environment. Watch the dogs carefully to see how they respond and what they do. Offering enrichment is an ongoing process that you must approach mindfully and inquisitively. When you approach it this way, you’ll realize that it’s just as enriching for you as it is for the dogs.
How can you use these two additional enrichment concepts in your own doggy day care, or in your own home?
The presence of sensory enrichment and food enrichment are two more incredibly important parts of designing an enriching experience for dogs.
In Part 3, we talk about social groupings, behavioral conditioning, physical handling, and relationships, and how these components play a role in a canine enrichment center.
In the Comments below, share an example of sensory enrichment and food enrichment that you can offer the dogs in your facility, or at home. What purpose would they serve? We can’t wait to see what ideas you come up with! We’re here to answer any questions you have too.