Last week was Zookeepers week, and I am fortunate to have had one of our Zoo’s keepers as a former employee, Jenna Harrison. Jenna gets to work with Hudson and his friends, and on our last visit, we caught her working with the bears and were able to get a little extra knowledge that day. Thanks Jenna, and keep up the great work.
Some of the knowledge we got that day is directly linked to my topic: Enrichment. It is important at the Zoo to keep the animals engaged and active. Jenna showed us the different “toys” that they rotate in the bear enclosures, some big, some small, but all different and allowing different play activities. Each day a different item is put in the enclosure giving the animal a fresh experience.
Many behavioural problems can be solved with these simple actions. Diverting an animals stress and frustration to a play task can prevent it from engaging in a destructive behaviour. Play is a very important part of a well adjusted life.
These kinds of enrichment can help our pets as well. Many of our pets have a favourite toy, and that’s great, but it is important to give them a variety of different experiences. Different sizes, different textures, some can involve food or treats, some with sounds or involving an activity. Other forms of enrichment include interacting with your pet, going for walks, playing tug of war, or even simple grooming tasks like brushing all enrich a pet’s environment.
One way of enhancing this enrichment is doing the same thing as Zookeepers do, rotating the toys. Our schnauzer, Zoey, had a basket of toys (benefit of the job, I get a discount on spoiling our pets) . She would generally rotate her toys on her own, choosing her activity for the day. We knew when she was especially frustrated, because we’d come home to find her basket empty, and toys all over the floor. We knew then it was time for an extra long walk.
Every year, new toys hit the market that help us enrich our pets lives. There are toys that dispense treats/food when they are played with, whether by movement or completing a task. The newest one we have dispenses a few kibbles every time a tennis ball is dropped through a hole in the top of the unit. Other ones have doors that need to be slid open to reveal food or a treat. Something as simple as some peanut butter in a Kong can provide a pet with a much needed distraction when you are not at home.
As I mentioned before, enrichment takes place both when you are not at home, and when you are. Your pet craves interaction with you, and it has been scientifically proven that interacting with a pet reduces stress and has a positive effect on our own lives. So it really is a win/win.
Taking some extra time or adding a new toy or food item to your pets day will go a long way to making both your lives that little bit better. And that's a good thing.