#1 - Enrichment 101

[00:00:00] Allie: Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and welcome to episode one, the mini-sode. Since this is episode one, I want to thank you in advance for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. Now, I know in the trailer, we just said we would be interviewing guests one week and the following week would be a discussion about implementing takeaways from those interviews.

But we wanted to first pop in and talk about some key components that will help you to get the most out of this podcast. And the very first thing that we need to be on the same page about for this enrichment podcast is “what is enrichment?” So, Emily, I know you have this definition off the top of your head at a moment’s notice.

What is enrichment?

[00:00:48] Emily: That’s actually a more complicated question than people might originally think. We have an original definition from Hal Markowitz who we’ll talk about in a little bit. And his definition is more like nature. What he meant by that is we want to create an environment that allows an animal in captivity to behave as close as possible, to how they would behave in the wild as possible.

 However, that definition doesn’t give people a lot of information about what to do or what to look for. So we decided to create a more functional definition that gives people a little bit more information about what is involved in enrichment. So, the definition that we came up with is a little bit long. Hang in there, we’ll get through it together.

The definition is meeting all of an animal’s needs in order for them to be physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy enough to perform species-typical behaviors in safe, healthy, and appropriate ways.

[00:01:51] Allie: And that can be a mouthful. And so a lot of times we shortened that to enrichment is about meeting all of an individual’s needs.

So I don’t know about you, but when I’m talking with someone and I define enrichment, there’s a face that happens.

[00:02:08] Emily: Yup.

[00:02:09] Allie: Do you get that? Yeah.

[00:02:10] Emily: Absolutely.

[00:02:11] Allie: You know what I’m talking about.

[00:02:13] Emily: I do.

[00:02:14] Allie: I would show you, but like podcasts, so it’s not going to translate very well. Because the definition we’re using is pretty different than how most people in the dog training or pet-owning worlds think about enrichment. A lot of times they’re thinking about enriching instead of enrichment.

[00:02:32] Emily: Right. Absolutely.

[00:02:33] Allie: But we didn’t just pull this definition out of thin air. This was after literally years of research that we went with this approach for our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, and this approach is based on the history of enrichment. So can you talk a little about that?

[00:02:47] Emily: Absolutely. So I mentioned Hal Markowitz, and he’s really kind of the starting point of enrichment in a codified or developed way. There was some proto enrichment research that happened for a few decades before him, but Hal Markowitz was a really remarkable individual, who not only studied animals in the wild but also worked in zoos. He was really starting to do most of his important work around enrichment in the seventies, and this was a decade after the conservation movement was really starting to take off.

 So before the conservation movement, zoos were really just focused on entertaining humans, and so they were set up as what, Hal Markowitz referred to as concrete wastelands, not super great for the animal. And then when the conservation movement happened, zoos realized that they could have an important role to play in conservation, and they started these breeding programs, they weren’t super successful.

 Hal Markowitz is one of the people who kind of said, oh, look, the reason that this isn’t successful is because these animals are not physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy, so what if we created environments for them and gave them opportunities that mimicked what their life would be like in the wild.

 That was really where enrichment gained real applicability, as opposed to just the sort of hypothetical stuff that people were doing in the labs prior to that. So that’s where it started out. It started out as let’s make sure that animals have the opportunity to be themselves, the giraffe-iest giraffes and the elephant-iest elephants possible in the confines that they’re living in, in the human world.

And then the pet community took that concept and ran with it, but a lot got lost in translation. So our goal is to help people go back to the original function of enrichment how zoos, aviaries, and aquariums think of and use it, so, that we can apply it and really helpful and applicable ways to the pet community.

[00:04:58] Allie: Cool. So enrichment is all about meeting needs. And the next logical question is then what are the needs that need to be met? Now, obviously, there are going to be nuances to that and based on the species. For example, chewing is something that is absolutely critical for rodents and lagamorphs, which includes rabbits, but isn’t that crucial and say like cats.

[00:05:21] Emily: Right.

[00:05:22] Allie: They’re like, not about that chewing life, really.

[00:05:25] Emily: Not as much anyway.

[00:05:28] Allie: And then there’s species that don’t even have teeth and we have to go down the rabbit hole, no pun intended.

[00:05:33] Emily: I see what you did there.

[00:05:34] Allie: Of does chewing required teeth or does slicing something with your beak a lot count.

And it’s like, we don’t need to get into that. So nuances aside, there are categories of enrichment that are broadly applicable to all species. And when we wrote Canine Enrichment for the Real World, we chose to tease apart a few of those to help folks pay more attention to certain aspects. In our book, you’ll see us reference 14 categories of enrichment, which are health and veterinary care, hygiene, diet, and nutrition, physical exercise, sensory stimulation, safety, which is the act of physically being out of harm’s way, security, which is feeling like you are safe, and those are two very different things, species-typical behaviors, foraging, social interaction, mental exercise, independence, environment, and calming. So when we’re talking about the different aspects or categories of enrichment, this is what we’re referring to. And obviously keeping in mind that the specific needs within each category are going to be dependent on the species and the individual.

[00:06:38] Emily: Absolutely. I think it’s really important for people to learn about all the different contributing factors to behavior and welfare. But at the end of the day, we have to look at the animal in front of us and observe what they are offering us. So it’s always about the individual. We look at the animal in front of us. We see with our eyes, not our ideas to determine what that individual needs.

[00:07:02] Allie: That’s such a good phrase. It should be on a t-shirt. I want to pause here because we get into defining some other terms that you’ll hear a lot in this podcast to talk about the learning journey.

 I mentioned earlier that a lot of times when we’re talking to folks about enrichment, we see that we’re providing information that conflicts or seemingly conflicts with other information that they know or have heard. There’s a face they make. So if that is currently you, Emily, how can folks assimilate this new information?

[00:07:33] Emily: I think, first of all, the very first step is being compassionate with yourself, being aware of your own learning journey. This is really hard because a lot of people, if not most people, have had really aversive, punishing, unpleasant experiences with learning. And our society treats mistakes as something negative that you should be punished or shamed for as opposed to a natural part of the learning process.

 We also think of not knowing something and having more to learn as being shameful or a sign that you’re not very smart or not very competent and so it’s really understandable that people kind of panic when they are presented with information that conflicts with what they thought they knew. That is a totally normal, understandable experience for people to have.

 So, first of all, I’m making a big deal of this because we have to normalize it and it’s understandable for people to have that emotional response. But I would like to see a shift in our culture where instead of thinking of mistakes or conflicting information as something that’s going to predict shame and punishment and feeling you’re incompetent.

 Instead, let’s look at that as something exciting. It’s a journey to go on. We’re exploring new opportunities to learn and refine skills that we already have and acquire new skills. And if we think of it in that way, when we experienced something that seems to conflict with what we know, instead of feeling defensive or shameful, we can feel like, oh, what is that about?

There’s more to delve into here. This is really important because in this podcast, we are interviewing people from a wide variety of backgrounds and different academic fields who specialize in different species. And so throughout this podcast, you’re going to hear people who talk about things in way that seemingly conflicts or actually conflicts with each other. That can potentially feel very overwhelming or confusing or even stressful sometimes.

 And it’s important to remember that it is okay for people who are experts in their fields or experts in subject matter to disagree with each other. That there’s lots of space for that, and we have to allow for those disagreements without feeling like there’s something wrong that we have to fix. We learn more when we open ourselves up to different points of view and different opinions, as long as they are based in, science rooted very firmly in evidence. The other thing that happens is sometimes there are things that seemingly conflict, but when you dig a little deeper, you find out they don’t actually conflict, it’s just different nuances or different facets of the same thing. Let’s all give space for ourselves and the conversations in this podcast to have different perspectives, different opinions, different points of view. And instead of feeling stressed or defensive or shamed by that, this is just an exciting opportunity to put on our little backpacks and go on an expedition of learning and exploring more about these topics.

[00:10:50] Allie: I want a backpack for this learning journey exploration. I love it. All right, so, let’s do a lightning round of defining terms that you’re going to hear throughout this podcast. Emily, are you ready?

[00:11:06] Emily: I am ready.

[00:11:07] Allie: Excellent. Our first term is behavioral diversity.

[00:11:11] Emily: Yay! I love this one. Behavioral diversity is a measure of the number of behaviors that a species exhibits, as well as the frequency of those behaviors. It is thought that when behavioral diversity is high, it is possible that we are meeting the behavioral needs of an animal, and when behavioral diversity is low, it may be an indicator of possibly compromised welfare. If you’re like Allie and me and you love to geek out on behavior, check our show notes for recent article discussing the use of behavioral diversity as a measure of welfare.

[00:11:44] Allie: Yeah, behavior geeks! Our second term is activity budgets.

[00:11:49] Emily: Activity budgets show us how much time an animal spends in various defined activities. In other words, what is typical for that species? There are many uses for activity budgets when assessing welfare and enrichment efficacy, and you’ll hear this topic come up many times throughout the podcast. We talk about it a lot. Actually. I didn’t realize how much until we started listening to the recording.

[00:12:13] Allie: It’s a lot.

[00:12:15] Emily: It’s a lot. So again, you’ll probably want to check the show notes for a link to an article that shows five different ways activity budgets can be used in zoos, and then think about how they could apply to our pets as well.

[00:12:27] Allie: Awesome. Our third is descriptive versus prescriptive.

[00:12:31] Emily: Oh, yeah. We borrowed this concept from the field of linguistics, which is my background, but when we use it with regard to enrichment, this is what we mean. A prescriptive approach to enrichment is deciding ahead of time that an object or an activity is enrichment and then giving it to an animal and concluding that enrichment has happened. In other words. I gave food puzzles to my dog, and therefore I have enriched my dog. A descriptive approach to enrichment, on the other hand, is determining what unmet needs an animal has, what our specific goals are with regard to meeting those needs, and then determining what strategies we might employ to try to meet those needs. But then we need to observe the outcomes of those strategies to determine whether or not they actually succeeded in reaching our goals.

 We can only conclude that enrichment has happened if we have in fact, met our goals through those strategies. We want to use a descriptive approach so that we know what exactly we’re trying to accomplish and how successful we are at reaching that goal.

[00:13:36] Allie: The fourth is the enrichment framework, which will sometimes call the Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework because that’s our company and we created this version of it. So enrichment framework.

[00:13:48] Emily: Enrichment framework, or a Pet Harmony Enrichment Framework, we’ll use that interchangeably. Basically, we developed this for the pet community as a modified version of the SPIDER framework that was created for zoos, aviaries, and aquariums. Many of the steps involved in the SPIDER framework are relevant to pet homes, but on the other hand, many others, not so much.

So we simply took that process that was created for zoos and made it more applicable to pet homes.

[00:14:15] Allie: And our fifth and final definition of this lightning round is agency.

[00:14:21] Emily: Agency means, that an individual has choice and control over their outcomes. And this is a fundamental aspect of behavioral and emotional health.

Decades of research has shown that when individuals across species don’t have control over their outcomes, they experienced profoundly compromised welfare in many different ways. In fact, agency is critical to enrichment. If an animal doesn’t choose to engage with an enrichment strategy and in doing so, they don’t have control over their outcomes by definition. it isn’t enrichment.

[00:14:54] Allie: All right, now that we are on the same page with all of this, we can get started.

[00:14:59] Emily: Yay!

[00:15:00] Allie: Yeah! The first for reals episode is going to drop on March 7th. And let me just say this about our first guest Nathan Andrews. When Emily and I started planning out our guests for this podcast, Emily said, “Nathan needs to be our first interview”.

And I was like, “yeah, okay. I don’t have a reason for that, not to happen, and Emily knows Nathan a lot better than I do so, sure”. We were about 20 minutes into the interview and Nathan said the most brilliant thing. And I just got this big, goofy smile on my face because I was like this. This is why Emily insisted on him being first.

So I am so excited for you to hear this interview. It has dogs. It has bears. It has the cutest monkey story I think I’ve ever heard. You do not want to miss it. In the meantime, you can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram. And also at @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavior professionals.

As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes, and a reminder to please rate, review, and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. A special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode. Our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training!

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