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While “environmental enrichment” may be a new phrase to some, it has been a big topic in behavioral research for decades. Turns out that dogs aren’t the only ones who benefit from environmental enrichment – some of the animals we talk about below will surprise you, and each form of enrichment is different to fit the species!
While it might be hard to get over their alien-like appearance, octopuses are highly intelligent creatures that crave challenge! Just like your dog or cat, an octopus doesn’t want to float around all day – they love a good puzzle. Here’s an amazing video of an octopus solving a food puzzle!
Talk about intelligent animals – elephants have amazing problem-solving skills, and even emotional intelligence. Elephants who aren’t given environmental enrichment are known to become aggressive and destructive – all that creativity needs to find an outlet somewhere! Here’s a favorite example of enrichment for elephants: the Toledo Zoo caretaker has placed food out of the elephant’s reach, requiring her to use a ball as a step stool to reach it!
Rodents provide a great example of how not all enrichment routines need to be puzzles. While intelligent in their own ways, enrichment for your pet rat can be as simple as changes in texture, color, shape, and size in their enclosure. For instance, a nest of bedding in a cardboard box, or a simple paper towel tube is enough to give your guinea pig hours of brain food.
Yes, we need enrichment, too! We may not call activities like playing video games “environmental enrichment”, but research is showing it has the same neurological effects. Gizmodo’s recent article on video games points to research showing that our brains light up when playing video games, and can increase the plasticity of our minds!
We’re pretty fanatical about this one, but your dog has a little bit of everything we talked about above – emotion, intelligence, and the ability to get bored. But as we tried to highlight, not all enrichment is the same for all species. Just putting out a cardboard tube would get boring pretty quick for a bright pup – but requiring the use of tools might also be outside their capabilities. Toys, training, and walks are all examples of environmental enrichment for your dog. If you’re up for the challenge, agility training is one really cool, advanced way to add enrichment:
Next time you’re with your favorite animal (…even if that animal is a human), think about ways you can add enrichment – it’s a ton of fun for both of you!
PAW5 is a Philadelphia-based designer and manufacturer of environmental enrichment products for dogs. Our goal is to enrich the lives of our pets, our employees, our community and our world. We tread lightly, commit fully, design thoughtfully and actively give back to the world in which we live.