A Comparison of Social and Environmental Enrichment Methods for Laboratory Housed Dogs

Scientific Journal Articles

This study compares the effects of social and physical enrichment on the behaviour and physiological responses of group and pair-housed beagles. Some 432 h of observation were collected from 48 beagles assigned equally to four groups: (1) a control group, (2) a group given increased opportunities for social contact with conspecifics, (3) a group given 30 s day−1 of intensive handling, and (4) a group provided with three different toys/chews permanently suspended in the pen: Rawhide, Gumabone chew and a piece of plastic tubing. After 2 months both the controls and the enriched groups spent less time resting and more time on hind legs looking out of the pen. Both human-socialised and dog-socialised groups maintained pre-treatment scores of ‘sniffing kennel mate’, and ‘time spent in contact with kennel mate’, while the control and environment-enriched groups scores for these behaviours fell, but overall intraspecific socialisation in these groups showed no change. During human-socialisation, dogs’ time spent chewing items of cage furniture was reduced by 90%. Following 2 months of environmental enrichment, dogs spent a substantial proportion of their time (24%) using the toys, showing that frequent changes of items are not necessary to avoid habituation, if the appropriate toys/ chews are used. Time spent inactive by environment-enriched dogs fell by 20% of pre-treatment values to 51% of total time. However, socialising with kennel mates also fell by 70% of pre-treatment values to 4% of the total time. Environment-enriched dogs solicited less play, played less and spent less time in contact with their kennel mate. These changes may show a ‘preference’ by the dogs for toys over social activity or they may be due to competition for toys. Environment-enriched dogs also spent less time chewing items of pen furniture (a fall on pre-treatment scores of 85%) and walked less (a fall of 35%). Following the addition of a platform to the pens these dogs spent over 50% of their time on it observing surroundings as well as guarding toy items. The study shows that appropriate enrichment can: increase the complexity of dog behaviour, substantially change the expression of behaviour and help to prevent undesirable behaviours. Small increases in the opportunities for social interactions with handlers may produce changes in behaviour with conspecifics. In large facilities physical enrichment is likely to be the most cost-effective option, but staff should be encouraged to have regular positive socialisation sessions with their dogs.

Hubrecht, R. C. (1993). A comparison of social and environmental enrichment methods for laboratory housed dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 37(4), 345-361. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-1591(93)90123-7

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Topic(s): Enrichment, Environment, Kennel Design, Play Yards - Complex Environments, Research and Teaching, Types of Enrichment