Ask Amanda: Shelter Enrichment, Expectations and Equipment


Dog sniffing for treats in a snuffle mat on the floor

Amanda was asked recently, “what is animal mental enrichment?” Dog-Harmony hosted a clinic with Amanda Rietheimer, CDBC, CPDT-KA to answer this question.

On a basic level, mental enrichment enhances and improves an animal’s mental state through activities designed to challenge the brain. The activities encourage problem solving and help build self-confidence. Mental enrichment includes a change in scenery, toys, new scents, social interactions, and auditory stimulation. Animal mental enrichment can be in the form of a training session, going for a walk, playtime with you or another animal, or even having the radio or TV on for auditory stimulation.

In the zoo community, mental enrichment is a huge component to working with exotic animals in captivity. Accredited zoos look for new ways to enrich their animals. Due to this push in enrichment research, trainers and behaviorists have a deeper understanding of the consequences of bored animals and the benefits that enrichment can provide.

For our kibble-fed animals, mental enrichment can help by slowing them down at mealtime to avoid ingesting air and help in the prevention of bloat. Snowstorms, freezing temperatures, rain and extreme heat make it impossible to give our pets the exercise they require. During these times, mental enrichment can help by allowing them to work their brain and olfactory senses to tire them out in place of physical stimulation.

One can also use enrichment toys to help distract and calm an animal when introducing them to new environments, sights, or smells. It helps by keeping stress and anxiety levels down by working the brain. For example, introducing a puppy to his or her crate with toys and feeder toys helps keep stress levels low and promote relaxation inside the crate. Animal mental enrichment is vital to keeping all animals sound and stable.Photograph of Nancy Bown CPDT-KA holding snuffle mats up for sale at Dog-Harmony

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