Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ruffian Goes to the Dog Park: aka Doggy Enrichment

A beagle at the dog park

Like it or not, our dogs are captive animals. Regardless of whether they are pets (highly domesticated) or working dogs like ours (often not quite as domesticated), they are captive animals, just like those in zoos.

When I was a zookeeper, we practiced enrichment activities like most zoos. Enrichment activities are activities aimed at improving the lives of animals by giving them things to play with, stimulating their minds and bodies. An example of this would be a ball or a frisbee for a dog.

Enrichment is important because, just like you and me, animals get bored when their environment is always the same. Enrichment often gives the animal an opportunity to react as it would in the wild, and actually helps animals live longer, richer lives.

Soaring red tailed hawk above the dog park

I am lucky because, having only seven dogs, I am still small enough to provide enrichment to my pack daily. For their safety, our huskies are tethered despite our fenced in kennel area and yard. But twice daily, I unchain them for free play time with our house dogs. This not only gives them a chance to get much-needed exercise, it also teaches them how to exist as a pack and how to interact with other dogs. Additionally, it gives them opportunities to chase, as they would in the wild.

This is vitally important - especially for dogs - because they are pack animals with a distinct pecking order in the wild. A good place to experiment with enrichment is at your local dog park.

Ruffian had her first visit to a dog park yesterday. She did great! Click the video below to see her (and all the other dogs) in action!

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