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Monday, August 29, 2011

Try this at home: Enrich the Dog

I've been reading The Animal Keeper Forum lately, the newsletter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. It's chock full of "enrichment" ideas--ways to stimulate, entertain, and challenge animals that might otherwise be bored into pacing, chewing on the fence, or harassing their companions. Instead, the keepers rack their brains to come up with puzzle feeders, toys, and a variety of experiences and sensations. They do this not just because they want the best quality of life for the animals, but also because a formal enrichment program is a requirement for Association of Zoos & Aquariums' accreditation.

Mind you, this has to be done is such a way as to not scare the bejabbers out of the critter, not give them the opportunity to damage themselves (think of a two-year-old and a nice length of rope), and not put the keeper or other animals at risk. The ideas are wonderfully creative.

Meanwhile, Murphy nudges my thigh and recommends another walk. How to apply the same creativity to my own dog? We provided lots of toys, puzzle feeders, and walks when Murphy was a puppy because it was entirely clear that he would destroy property relentlessly until and unless we did. But he's grown up now and we've slacked off. Time to think about this again.

Keepers work with scent, object, audio, food, and training categories of enrichment.

I tried scent first by digging out an old bottle of Wrappings perfume, by Clinique, and giving a few squirts to objects in the backyard. Murphy noticed that the yard now smelled like a bordello, but, frankly, he didn't give a damn. Bits of liver treats scattered on the lawn were a different matter. That's enriching as all get out.
 Got one!

Next up: objects. I've neglected the rule for toys: rotate them. The eviscerated hedgehog, the shredded tug-a-war toy, the half-gnawed Nyla bones--yawn. I took them all away and dug out a weird fuzzy egg-thing with a squeaker in it. That is Big Fun. I'll give him one of his toys each day and take one away so they stay fresh.

Oooh! I will destroy you!

Audio: That was a stumper. Then I remembered Birdscapes, a big pop-up book by Miyoko Chu with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (I love pop-up books.) It opens to a landscape with bird and environmental sounds. I tried the Eastern Deciduous Forest, frogs and a ruffed grouse. Murphy was interested and a little scared, but the fuzzy brown egg was more fun. We have music in the house regularly, which doesn't interest him, but people use the sidewalk out front and sometimes have the effrontery to converse, which requires barking. Enough with the audio enrichment!

What the??

Food: See Scent, above. Liver treats says it all. No, we go farther. An adult dog needs to be fed only once a day, but we feed three times. He's a dog who appreciates a little garnish, not much, just--please--make an effort! A light grating of a nice Parmesan, a swirl of chicken gravy, a dribble of bacon grease. I am guilt-free on that subject. And, of course, there are puzzle feeders. I pull one of these out if we're going to be gone most of the day and either put his breakfast in it or a smear of peanut butter.

Training: We haven't done Circus Dog much lately. I've got this book to write! But it's only 15 minutes after dinner, so that excuse is lame. Murphy loves Circus Dog. Focused attention plus liver treats. What more could a dog ask? We have guests coming, so the show will be on. Sit, lie down, speak, shake hands, up on the stool, down from the stool, jump through the hoop. We working on fetch the brown chew toy versus fetch the white chew toy, but it's not in  place yet. Murphy leaves show biz to chew the chew toy.

House guests ought to be on the enrichment list, no? New faces, new petters. And his walks, once or twice a day, to check out the neighborhood and chase the ball at the park. I try to take a different route now and then. Sleep-overs with his friend Sally the cattle dog when we're out of town.

The Enriched Dog

What else can dog people do to keep their canine mentally alert and interested in life? Add a suggestion and I'll see what Murphy thinks of it.

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