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Occasionally we ask permission to share a new graduate’s thesis publicly. Many thanks to Dawn Cassar for allowing us to share hers!

Dawn Cassar ISCP Thesis: Enrichment

When we look at our beloved dogs and we compare them to our dog’s wild counterparts, there is a striking difference in the activity levels. Our dogs spend a large part of their day lying around with not much do, a lot of dogs are also the only dog in the home. If our dogs were in the wild they would be in packs/social group, their days would be filled with challenging activities like hunting, foraging and scavenging. They would experience the thrill of tracking prey, the excitement of finding a new food location or source, also the satisfaction of a little playtime and nap with the pack. Of course, life in the wild isn’t always easy or fun, it is after all survival. They would constantly be under threat from other predators, rival packs and of course humans. When we look at dogs as domestic now it is important to remember that this is the life a dog was built for, then remember dogs have also been bred for certain jobs hunting/herding/guarding for example. These skills bred into our dogs are hard wired into them and some dogs simply do not cope well as pets when they aren’t serving the purpose they are bred for. Survival requires lots of exercise, constant decision making and problem solving, what happens to our poor dogs when they don’t have the opportunity to use these skills and follow their instincts?

We can’t ask dogs whether they are bored or not, just like humans bored dogs crave stimulation. Millions of dogs are confined for extended periods of time like strays, rescue, working dogs, service dogs or dogs used in bio chemical research or the food industry. Concerned for the dog’s welfare, many people looked into methods of enrichment to improve the dogs living conditions. So, what is enrichment?

Meaning: The action of improvement or enhancing the quality or value of something

Enrichment for animals:
Behavioural enrichment, also referred to as environmental enrichment; this is an animal husbandry principle that seeks to enhance the quality of a captive animal care. By identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and Physiological well-being, decreasing boredom and subsequent problems that may arise. You may think of your dog as a family member and not actually a captive animal, although domesticated dogs are still originally from wild dogs.

A study in 2008 by Lidewij L Schipper and Berry M Sprujit showed that given food enrichment toys such as kongs, dogs showed more signs of activeness, the dogs were also less likely to bark this was on laboratory dogs. Dogs with limited ability to interact with the outside world often develop abnormal behaviours like obsessive and repetitive behaviours that don’t serve any particular purpose. Another study in 2005 by N W Milgram and C W Cotman that was carried out on Beagles over a 2-year period shows providing ongoing mental stimulation and enrichment feeding toys actually slowed down dog’s cognitive decline due to age. Enrichment in the form of games and activities that are of high or moderate intensity lowers stress in dogs and encourages them to learn more efficiently. It increases their problem-solving skills and leads to a more emotionally balanced and confident happy dog. Enrichment is a necessity for our dogs and will help us deepen our relationship with them, it also gives you the knowledge you’re doing everything in your power to give your dog lifelong wellness.

Types of Enrichment

Sensory, this includes anything and everything that stimulates the dog’s senses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
Feeding, this is all about making feeding time challenging, engaging and fun. It’s about putting hunting and foraging skills to use, using the power of the dog’s nose and their brains to get the food.
Toys/Puzzles, products made to encourage the dog to engage and manipulate them to get results, normally treats. Can include ropes, plush and balls etc.
Environmental, by adding new things to your dog’s environment you can raise the dog’s curiosity and sometimes the physical activity. Change your dog’s routes, take him in the playground if its empty etc, explore.
Social, interaction with other dogs and people builds the dogs confidence and trust. Engagements in new environments with new people will help keep the dog well socialised.
Training, this provides the perfect opportunity to bond with your pet, build trust and learn the dog some listening skills.

We all have busy lifestyles, most of us work. For most dogs 8/10 hours are spent just lying round waiting for us to come home, when we get home we often have kids, household chores etc, little time or energy left to amuse our dogs. So, what happens when our dogs are left under stimulated and bored? Often our dogs will make their own forms of amusement. Dogs may chew and cause damage in the home, spend the day barking at the neighbour’s dog, try to find ways to escape etc. Dogs may also engage in behaviours such as nail biting, spinning, tail chasing, excessive licking or hair pulling. Your dog may also start to develop anxiety at being left alone, kennels are full of dogs that are rehomed because of their severe separation anxiety that can take a lot of time to fix.

My belief is that dogs are not getting enough enrichment in their lives, I don’t believe people are educated enough in the dog’s mental needs and they believe a walk a day, along with food water and a little attention is all a dog needs. From my personal experience in the rescue world I believe a lot of the dogs that we take in are dogs that are not provided with enough mental or physical stimulation, people really don’t research enough into dog breeds nor responsible ownership. I have devised this questionnaire and have enlisted the help of 50 of my dog owning friends to see what results I get back.


Q1. How Many dogs do you own?
Q2. How many hours a day are your dog’s left alone?
Q3. How do you combat leaving your dog or dogs alone for this amount of time?
Q4. How much exercise do your dog’s get a day?
Q5. If the weather is bad or time short and you can’t get out with your dogs what do you do?
Q6. What toys do your dogs have?
Q7. How much time a day do you spend on play with your dogs?
Q8. Have you heard of enrichment?
Q9. How are your dogs fed and how often?

Thank you for taking the time to help me with my studies
Please return to

I had feared with knowing so many dog people that my results might be a little biased, I counteracted this by involving a load of people from my work that own dogs but aren’t in the dog or rescue world as much as most of my friends are.

I have correlated all of my results and changed them into percentages to make it easier to understand my findings.
Q1 I have found that 60% of the people I questioned have only one dog, 35% with 2 dogs and 5% have 2 or more dogs.
Q2 How many hours are your dog’s left alone? I found 30% of dogs are left for 8 plus hours, 40% left for 4-6 hours and 20% are left for under 4 hours on a daily basis.
Q3 I asked what dogs are left with in the home to occupy them and I found luckily that every dog was left with at least one form of amusement should they decide to play with toys left for them.
Q4 How much exercise do the dogs get daily 55% of dogs get up to one hour’s exercise per day. 30% getting 1-2 hours per day and the last 15% getting over 2 hours exercise daily.
Q5 I asked how dogs where exercised if the weather was bad outside 50% of dogs are still taken out regardless of the weather, 30% are just left till the weather improves and 20% make a little extra play time for their dogs.
Q6 What toys do the dogs have? For this question I found myself pleased with the results that 78% of dogs were left with a couple of food enrichment toys such as lick mats or kongs/food puzzle toys etc. All dogs were left with one from of play toy.
Q7 How much time people played with their dogs, I found only 8% of people spent more than an hour daily playing with their dogs, 52% playing for at least half hour, 36% playing for 10 mins and 4% claiming to not really play with their dogs or not having playful dogs.
Q8 Have people heard of enrichment. This was one of the main questions I looked forward to learning the answer to. I found 78% had never heard of enrichment, 12% had but weren’t sure exactly what it meant and 10% had a good understanding of enrichment.
Q9 How are the dogs fed. The results of this question where 94% of people fed the dogs from bowls only 6% hand fed, or scatter fed their dogs. Most people said at some point during the day their dogs got treats but I found no consistency in this as they were all varying times and for various reasons.

My conclusion in this thesis is what I had imagined, not enough people are aware of their dog’s emotional needs. My research shows that a lot of dogs are singular in the households and most dogs are left during the day for significant amounts of time due to the owners working. I was pleased to find that dogs were left with toys I don’t think people realise how dogs quickly become bored with toys and the fact that playing by yourself isn’t fun for long. I have given a few people a little bit of advice for dogs left with toys that they believe the dogs don’t like playing with, Other than them playing with the dogs which is obviously the best idea. I’m encouraging them to rotate toys, keeping toys out of sight when not in use and trying to get new scents on the toys. I’ve also informed them of how easy it can be to make your own dog toys, braided pull toys, an old bottle in a stitched-up sock etc.

In regard to the dogs exercise I have also to take into account that the dogs are of various ages and some not as agile as they used to be, having said this after a few discussions with a few of the people who filled in my questionnaires I’m pleased to find that most of them offer their dogs alternative routes and mix up their walks quite often which again opens up a whole new world to their beloved pets. Also finding a dog friend can bring a whole new level of fun into a dog’s life.

Just for my own curiosity and obviously to gain a bit of interest from people to use for my thesis without them knowing, I decided to post a video of my dog Saffie having fun with her snuffle mat. I posted this with a little paragraph saying how me purchasing the snuffle mat was one of the best purchases I had ever made for Saffie. I wrote how she spent hours trying to find her treats and how fantastic it was to see her exhibiting natural behaviours and just being a dog without any other care in the world, just living in the moment. I received quite a bit of interest on this post and so many people where commenting messaging me to see exactly where I got it, what a snuffle mat was and how it was so beneficial to the dog’s welfare. There are so many people out there who would move mountains for their dog but simply aren’t aware of what’s out there. I suggested to these people they didn’t even need to spend money on a snuffle mat they could simply hide treats in the house, around the garden or even in boxes etc.

The ways to bring enrichment into our dog’s lives are so easy and numerous but sadly people just aren’t aware of this or the fact the dog needs to be a dog. Of all the people I spoke to every single person was made up with any information that I gave them, and they are all in some way shape of from starting to bring some enrichment into their dog’s lives. I’m so pleased I had the opportunity to engage in this study and its massively opened my eyes in regard to the emotional welfare of people’s dogs. The vast majority of people are all good dog owners, once shown how simply they can enrich their dogs lives and increase the bond with their pets they jump at the opportunity. It feels amazing to know that in such a small way I have helped people to enrich the lives of their dogs and helped them to all be a little happier in the home.