Module 4: The Case of the Barking Dog


Enrichment refers to a process for improving the environment and behavioral care of confined animals within the context of their behavioral needs. The purpose of enrichment is to reduce stress and improve wellbeing by providing physical and mental stimulation, encouraging species-typical behavior, and allowing animals more control over their environment. Successful enrichment programs prevent the development and display of abnormal behavior and provide for the psychological wellbeing of the animals. Enrichment is not an optional task that can be neglected on busy days. Instead, it is a core component of daily routine animal care. It is a fundamentally important for animal health and welfare and should be a part of every shelter’s wellness protocol. Enrichment is also therapeutic and can be tailored to meet the needs of individual animals and improve behavioral health and emotional wellbeing. Ultimately, enrichment reduces stress and promotes positive emotional states.

Get Ready to Enrich!

Engage the mind, body, and senses! Promote healthy mental and physical activities! Dogs and cats need nice things to look at and listen to, good things to smell, and satisfying things to scratch or chew and taste as well as activities that provide exercise and social contact. Once they have settled into shelter life (after a few days), their need for time out of their enclosures increases. Daily outings are a key to good welfare, offering opportunities to explore, stretch, play, relax and/or socialize in a secure setting. Cats and dogs need variety and choice, and individuals possess different preferences for environmental conditions, levels of activity, and social interactions with other animals and humans. The best enrichment program will provide for all of these choices. The following photos provide several examples while illustrating a variety of enrichment concepts and options for cats and dogs.


(Left) an adult cat sniffs a small container of cat grass on a counter top; (Right) an adult cat in a run watches bubbles being blown by a caregiver
A good enrichment program should be designed to stimulate all of the senses, but that does not mean that it has to be complicated or expensive. (Top) Olfactory stimulation is one important source of sensory enrichment. Many cats like to smell and chew grass, and containers of cat grass or catnip can be introduced for brief periods to stimulate activity. (Bottom) In this case, a cat enjoys watching soap bubbles blown by a caregiver. This is visual enrichment that stimulates both mental and physical activity!


(Left) a caregiver delivers a food stuffed Kong to an eager dog in a run; (Top Right) Empty soda bottles filled with treats and smeared with peanut butter inside the tops; (Bottom right) Empty paper rolls filled with treats and soft spreadable cheese
Novel feeding is another excellent source of enrichment, stimulating the sense of taste as well as providing both mental and physical activity. (Left) Kong toys can be stuffed with a variety of dog foods and treats (such that the dog has to work to extract them) and delivered at a set time, providing a predictable and enjoyable break to look forward to each day. (Right) Many shelters create disposable feeder toys out of empty soda bottles or paper tubes, like  those pictured here. A variety of treats, including spreadable foods like peanut butter and soft cheese, make for good stuffing, and freezing food stuffed toys makes it more challenging for dogs to lick them out, extending the enjoyment time they provide.


(Top) a large dog chews a hard plastic chew toy; (Bottom) an adult cat scratches a corrugated cardboard scratching pad
(Top) For dogs, chewing is a natural, enjoyable, and necessary activity. It may reduce anxiety and frustration, and also serves to condition the teeth and gums. In addition to feeder toys, a variety of other chew toys should be provided. Rotating toys on a regular basis helps keep them fresh and interesting. (Bottom) Similarly, scratching is an essential need of all cats. It conditions the claws and serves as an important means of feline communication through both visual and scent marking.


(Left) an outdoor fenced play yard with grass; (Right) a dog wades in a kiddie pool with floating toys
One of the most important things for dogs is to get them out of the kennel every day for social contact with people, exercise, and play. (Left) Shelters should maintain a variety of play yards—like the one pictured here—to support their enrichment programs. (Right) The addition of items such as kiddie pools, digging pits, and climbing platforms are useful to expand the available activity options. In this case, a dog enjoys chasing floating toys around a kiddie pool.


collage of photos of various shelter dogs enjoy playing chase, wrestling, running, or simply hanging out together in play yards.
Healthy, social play groups are one of the best means of providing enrichment for dogs. For safety, dogs are generally matched according to size and play style. Monitoring new groupings is important for detection of incompatibilities and to be sure everyone is comfortable in the social milieu.


(Left) three cats investigate various feeder toys on the floor including a purpose designed ball, cardboard tube, and plastic container with holes cut in it; (Right)a cat perches on a carpeted cat tree beside a man working at his desk
(Top) Feeding enrichment is not just for dogs: cats surround a variety of food puzzle toys (a ball, a cardboard tube, and a plastic container with holes). Treats are hidden inside, and they will have to work to extract pieces of food. (Bottom) Like dogs, cats need time out of their enclosures. In this case, a cat enjoys time in an “office foster”


(Top) a dog with a tennis ball between his front paws does a play bow; (Bottom) three cats investigate a toy mouse attached to the string of a toy fishing pole
Playing with people is also an excellent form of enrichment and can help shelter pets to connect with potential adopters. (Top) Many people can’t resist a good game of fetch with a dog! (Bottom) In this fun game of “cat fishing”, cats approach a toy mouse on the end of a kitty fishing pole. Games such as these provide excellent mental and physical stimulation for shelter pets.


Dog learning to shake hands; cat learning to give high five.
Positive reinforcement–based training combines pleasant social interaction, mental stimulation, and physical activity, making it a profoundly rewarding form of enrichment for both cats and dogs. It may also enhance a pet’s appeal to adopters in a shelter setting. (Left) “Shake!” A dog shakes hands with a shelter volunteer. (Right) “High five!” A cat raises her paw to touch a caregiver’s hand.



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Integrating Veterinary Medicine with Shelter Systems Copyright © 2020 by University of Florida is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.