Enrichment 101: Pet Enrichment Guide

Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Dog And Cat Enrichment

Our pets live the majority of their lives in our homes with only humans as their company. They have all of their basic needs taken care of.

They don’t need to hunt for food or find a den to sleep in. If they were in the wild, they would be constantly looking out for danger or trying to get their food, water, and shelter needs met.

Thankfully, our indoor pets are safe in our homes and want for nothing. Along with this security comes a large expanse of free time that now needs to be filled.

If this free time isn’t filled with species-appropriate activities, your pet will find their own way to fill it, often involving destructive chewing, getting into trouble, anxiety or other behavioral issues

This is where enrichment comes in.

Forward-thinking pet owners can use the following guide to incorporate enriching activities into their pet’s life.

What Is Environmental Enrichment?

You may have heard of the term “enrichment” before but not understood what it meant.

Guess what? That’s alright!

Once you hear the definition you may have a lightbulb moment like I did the first time.

Oooooooohhhh, that’s not as technical as I thought it was going to be.

Often, environmental enrichment is referred to as behavioral enrichment so you may hear the terms used interchangeably.

Here is a brief definition of what environmental enrichment means:

Environmental/ Behavioral Enrichment:

When you set up the animal’s environment in order to elicit normal species-typical behavior to meet the animal’s psychological and physical needs.

In a nutshell: Enrichment gives your pet something to do to keep their mind active. It also gives your pet more control over their environment.

They get to choose whether to interact with or participate in the provided enrichment.

Even if they don’t interact with an enrichment item, it’s still enriching because your pet thought about it and made the choice not to interact.

5 Categories Of Environmental Enrichment

The categories are meant to help you understand the various types of enrichment you can use. The categories aren’t mutually exclusive though.

You’ll find that many enrichment items will crossover into one or many of the other categories, and that’s perfectly fine!

Often, giving one enriching item will cover 3 or more different enrichment categories.

1. Physical Enrichment

Physical objects can include furniture, bedding, toys, new locations, and novel objects.

It’s everything encompassing a physical object or place.

Pet furniture and bedding make up the framework of your pet’s environment.

Novelty is introduced through the inclusion of taking your pet to a new location, giving new toys, or presenting items they’re already familiar with, in a new and exciting way.

2. Cognitive Enrichment

Cognitive enrichment gets your pet to use their mind. They have to think things through to figure out their task.

Positive reinforcement-based training (also called clicker training) is one way to get your pet thinking. This form of training has been scientifically shown to get the fastest long-term results.

It works by reinforcing (usually by food or praise) the good behavior and ignoring/redirecting the undesired behaviors. This positive pet training keeps training fun and your pet interested.

Cognitive enrichment can also include your pet working for their food since hunting is a core part of your pet’s natural history.

3. Social Enrichment

This boils down to relationships. It can be a relationship with you or other family members in the house.

Your pet can have relationships with multi-species or multiples of the same species.

Living in a household that has stable multi-pet relationships is a great way for your dog or cat to be social.

The benefits of social situations are lessened if your pet’s relationships are full of conflict and negative.

4. Food Enrichment

Food enrichment can mean giving your pet food they haven’t had before or is a special treat. It can also mean you’re giving your pet their food in a different way.

For novel food, this can include treats, special wet food, raw bones, or even pet-safe human food.

Puzzle feeders are the common term for an item or toy that makes your pet work for their food. These are great for getting your pet to take their time eating.

The puzzle feeders come in varying difficulty levels so it’s best to test a few styles out to see what your pet can do. As they get better as using the puzzle toys, you can increase the difficulty.

5. Sensory Enrichment

Sensory enrichment encompasses the 5 senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hear.

Allowing your pet to be able to look out the windows at wildlife or people walking by is visually enriching.

Using pet-safe spices and extracts for your pet to smell is an easy way to incorporate scent enrichment.

Having different textures or items for your pet to roll or rub on is tactile enrichment.

Feeding a novel food item or adding broth to your pet’s regular food will enrich your pet’s taste.

Playing music while you’re gone or leaving the tv on is auditory enrichment.

Cat And Dog Enrichment Overview

Enriching the lives of your cats and dogs is important in order to keep your pet’s body and mind healthy.

Incorporating merely a handful of these tips will greatly improve the life of your pet. Pets with prior behavioral or destructive tendencies will now have appropriate outlets to focus on.

I’d love to know if you saw any changes in your cat or dog’s behavior after enriching them.

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Stephanie Mantilla gazing at black cat headshot

Stephanie Mantilla

Positive Reinforcement Trainer & Enrichment Specialist

Stephanie has over 12 years of experience training and enriching exotic animals as a Zookeeper. During this time, she received a certificate in Behavioral Husbandry from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Stephanie now helps people make their pets’ lives better.

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Environmental Enrichment For Your Dog And Cat

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