April 4, 2017
Categories: Animal Behavior

Could something as simple as enrichment in a dog’s kennel or run play a key role in saving more lives? Absolutely, says Kristen Auerbach, Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer at Austin Animal Center. In her guest blog post, Auerbach shares the power of kennel enrichment in reducing kennel stress and improving quality of life for dogs, and how you can embrace it at your shelter to save more lives!

In the U.S., the vast majority of animal shelters are designed to house dogs in isolation from one another, with one dog living in one kennel. While shelter dog co-housing is finally starting to become a reality in a limited capacity, for most dogs, being at the shelter means spending 23 hours a day or more in a kennel. Whether these are spacious adoption ‘suites’ or stacked, metal cages, being confined this way is tremendously stressful on displaced dogs, cooped up with strange and scary sounds, smells and sights.

Not long ago, most shelter kennels were kept bare, with not even a bed or blanket to offer comfort. Today, thanks to programs like the Kuranda Donate a Bed program, it’s easy for shelters to outfit their kennels with washable, comfortable beds. At both shelters I’ve worked at in the past five years, we haven’t spent any money on beds because caring community members donated hundreds of them!

But beds are just the beginning. Since even in the best of circumstances dogs in shelters live primarily in their kennels, providing enrichment activities where dogs live is easy, inexpensive and has an enormous impact on improving their quality of life in the shelter environment. When we say enrichment, what we mean is anything within reason that can make life more fun for homeless dogs.

These can be puzzle toys, stuffed Kong toys, Nylabones, pig ears, ‘pupsicles’ cardboard boxes with treats in them, fun feeders, treats of all kinds, tennis balls, blankets, stuffed toys and anything else your staff and volunteers can dream up. Just do a web search for ‘dog enrichment toys’ and you’ll be amazed at the incredible variety of options. Stick them on your Amazon wish list and you’ll probably get most of them donated to your organization!

One day, we had a staff training. The lunches for our staff came in boxes, so after lunch, we made ‘busy boxes’ by stuffing them with treats and handed them out to the dogs. It was so much fun for the dogs and the people who got to help make them!

What enrichment isn’t fun? Providing the same treat or toy every single day. Pretty soon, even the most-loved items like liver treats or stuffed Kongs just become a part of the regular routine. Enrichment is about fun surprises that give dogs something to think about. Enrichment alleviates boredom. You know you’re doing it right when you actually see smiles on your dogs’ faces.

Start your own free enrichment program today. You’ll be surprised how easy it is and how much your community wants to help make it happen!

It’s really very simple: Enrichment is free or very inexpensive, safe and easy to provide. It reduces kennel stress and the associated behaviors that can put dogs at risk of euthanasia. For this reason, enrichment isn’t just fun, it’s lifesaving. Along with dog play groups and foster opportunities for adult dogs, kennel enrichment is quickly becoming a key component of saving more shelter dogs.