Will Enrichment turn him into a Destruction Monster?

Ok, it’s slightly dramatic but the question that comes up almost weekly in my enrichment group, Canine Enrichment,  is this,

Will allowing him to tear up boxes to get the food out just teach him to destroy everything?  (In many of the enrichment activities shown in the group, food or toys are placed in boxes for the dog to find)

I must have answered this a thousand times by now (poetic exaggeration).  NO it will not.  Dogs are absolute masters at watching and noticing everything we do. They know when our behaviour might pay (they get a treat) or when it never pays.

If the dog sometimes (and it doesn’t have to be very often) gets a few morsels off our dinner plate when we take the dishes out to the kitchen for washing, what happens? the dog eagerly follows us to the kitchen the minute we stand up with the dirty plate in our hand.  I’m sure everyone has seen this behaviour, its very common.

However, who has a dog which tries to break into the plate cupboard the minute our back is turned? almost nobody.  WHY? Because dogs quite easily understand context and patterns of behaviour and all the cues we are giving off.  They easily understand when we are preparing a box for them (to destroy) just as they know when we are preparing their meal.  They see our pattern of behaviour, they know there’s a chance of something good, they are up and interested; they know the game is on.  They don’t get the same signals at other times. They understand the context.Screenshot (237)

In many years of giving my dogs cardboard boxes to destroy, never have they attempted to access a box not meant for them.  This of course doesn’t mean that a dog will not destroy things which you wanted to keep. It means only that using boxes in enrichment is not teaching them to destroy all boxes, just as letting them walk into your house isn’t teaching them to walk into all houses.

I also remove the box once the food or toy has been found. The game is to find the items in the box, the game is not the destruction of the box.  This allows a clear focus and objective rather than the general destruction of boxes for no reason.  Of course though, it is prudent to keep valuables (or boxes you want to keep) out of the dogs reach so that accidents can’t happen.

As with everything in life, there are some risk factors to consider;  are there any toxins on the box? will the dog eat bits of box? is the glue safe? You should also supervise at all times.

So, will enrichment turn him into a destruction monster? NO.

Now that’s it, I’m never answering that question again 🙂

The PickPocket Fabric Food Forager and Why it’s so Good

It’s always nice to get a freebie, well actually it’s not and sometimes they go in the bin. But this freebie, sent to me by the designer and producer, Kate Mallatratt, was one of the nice ones.  1 As it is

It’s a PickPocket enrichment feeder specifically designed for dogs.  I wasn’t expecting to like it very much but actually, it’s very good.  Kate has resisted the temptation to make the enrichment task too difficult and designed something really quite simple.  Dogs don’t need to solve complex puzzles and have not evolved to do so.  There are many complex puzzles on the market but do we give them to a dog and expect them to be solved? No (or we shouldn’t). We teach the dog step by step how to deal with the puzzle.

I’m a big fan of keeping it simple.  My favourite type of enrichment is that which engages the dog in activities which he would naturally enjoy. These things do not only give him something to do, they fulfil a genetic and instinctive need within the animal to behave in a particular way.  Behavioural issues are often the result of animals not being permitted to fulfil these needs.

To humans, sniffing is no big deal, but to dogs, sniffing is their world.  To prevent a dog from sniffing (constantly pulling him away on walks) is similar to blindfolding a human and expecting them to walk around stress-free.

That’s why this simple PickPocket works so well for enrichment.  It encourages the greatest of the enrichment activities; SNIFFING. It encourages the second greatest enrichment activity; SEEKING.  The dopamine rush, associated with the feel-good factor does not come from getting what you want, it comes from seeking it, from the opportunity of winning (not from the winning itself).  This is why enrichment feeding produces more enjoyment than placing the food down in a bowl.

The pockets are shallow (about an inch or so) which allows treats to be hidden out of sight yet still accessible to the dog without them feeling the need to rip open the pocket to get inside.

 

The PickPocket can be simply laid down flat or hung up. When hanging you should ensure it’s hung from something stable which will not fall.  If hung from shelving (as in my enrichment shed) then the shelving should be secured to the wall.  They may also be hung easily from a dog crate.

 

My advice is to start with the PickPocket laying on the floor and the treats poking out of the pockets. It may be made more challenging in small steps by pushing the treats inside so he cant see them, using smaller treats, flattening the pockets, or hanging it up.

One idea for use in training is to use the PickPocket when you have visitors.  If used consistently each time visitors arrive the dog will learn that visitors mean a great opportunity to go play with the PickPocket forager rather than jump all over your guests.

 

 

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Mr B, sniffing & seeking

 

You could possibly make your own version if you have the skills (I don’t) or you can visit PickPocketforagers.com or https://www.facebook.com/contemplatingcanines/ for more information on purchasing one ready made.

Disclaimer: I have no business or personal connection with Kate Mallatratt or PickPocketforagers.com.  What I write on this blog is my personal opinion (based on knowledge gained from studying canine behaviour at degree level).