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E: Environment, Enrichment,
Education, & Endangered Species

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Enrichment in Domestic Canids
©1997 by Arnold Chamove

Welcome to E! This section is dedicated to the environment, enrichment, and education about animals and related topics. You'll find a variety of information here. This four part series discusses canine enrichment.

Editor's note: The following article is the view of an enrichment expert out of New Zealand. Terms and strategies of enrichment for domestic animals have long been overlooked. Many of the terms and strategies used in this article are different from those used by professionals in the United States. New Zealand has long been a leader in innovative strategies. In the past, concern regarding the dietary recommendations made within this series has been expressed. This article is meant to stimulate thought but check with your nutrition specialist before changing any dietary changes or strategies.

Enrichment in Domestic Canids
(Part Three of Four)

Copyright ©1997 by Arnold Chamove

Due to the length of Enrichment in Domestic Canids it has been broken into four parts for ease of reading. Part One: Canine nutritional oriented strategies of feeding and food variety; Part Two: Sensory and predatory behavior in canine destruction and hunting; Part Three: Oral and tactile behavior of canine licking and petting; Part Four: Integration of a new canine from day one.

Dogs seem to enjoy licking. We don't seem to enjoy being licked. There are particular times of the day that dogs particularly like these sorts of things. In the wild, when dogs wake up in the morning, or when animals return from hunting or from being outside the group, it's very important to the dogs that they engage in a greeting ceremony to let everyone know that things are the same, that the social group is intact, that an individual is subordinate to the animals that are returning, or dominant to certain animals. So, you'll notice that first thing in the morning dogs are almost desperate to engage in this little greeting ceremony that they have. Also when you come in after being away for a while, again they're quite desperate to assert the fact that you are dominant, they are subordinate, everything's OK, things haven't changed, the group is stable and everybody can relax. Here again you have to decide whether you want to allow them this one or two minutes when you come in at night to demonstrate those things in the way that millions of years of evolution have taught dogs that they must do.

Other dogs are able to pet dogs in places where they themselves can't reach. A dog can't, for example, clean its own ears and often you'll see dogs pawing at their ears when they get something in them. It's quite easy for humans to clean the inside of a dog's ears and normally in the wild other dogs would lick another dog's ears. But if we have one dog in the house, they don't have that option. So the regular cleaning of a dog's ears is something that would naturally occur in their wild group and it's something which you have to decide whether you're going to deprive your dog of or you are going to supply. It's probably something that we don't really think about because if we have something in our ear we can easily get it out by inserting our finger, but dogs don't have fingers. The only way they have of cleaning their ears is to get another dog to lick them; they can't lick their own ears.

We seem to like petting dogs. They seem to like being petted. And when you see people petting dogs, they pet them in long, slow strokes. If you see dogs petting other dogs, how do they do it? Well, the only way a dog pets another dog is by licking it, and when they lick it they lick it in short, one-per-second strokes which move around the body. They don't pet in the same area but they have short, little strokes which move gradually over an area. When your dog licks you it is your dog saying that it likes being licked, it likes being petted, and it would like to lick you. If you let your dog lick you, you will see how it moves over your body and the particular times of the day that it likes doing that. One particular time when dogs particularly like licking you (and they like you doing the human equivalent) is first thing in the morning. And it's likely that that's the period of time when a dog licks the other members of its pack and therefore, although no-one knows, absorbs some of the smell of the group. In some animals like the naked mole-rat, and also in bees, this is an important transfer of odours, and Queen bees are able to influence the behaviour and even the biology of other individuals in the hive by the chemicals which they spread during that period, and naked mole-rats are able to do the same thing. Nobody knows, The importance of the chemicals for dogs but I think it's probable that it is one reason why animals lick first thing in the morning.

So, if you want to lick a dog in the same way that it licks you, or if you want to pet a dog in the same way that it licks other dogs and is licked by other dogs, short one-per-second strokes not staying on the same area but moving around the body are good. Dogs would like to be brushed in the same way and there are probably certain areas of its body, particularly those areas which it can't reach itself, which are likely to be more pleasurable areas than others. That certainly has been found to be the case in horses where those inaccessible areas at the base of the neck are areas which are much more sort out by other horses and also produce a quite a relaxed heart-rate in animals receiving grooming in that part of their body by other horses or by people.

It is interesting that there are other very non-dog-like things that you can do to dogs which they seem to like. One thing which I've done which causes dogs to go into ecstasy is if you give them a massage along their long back-muscle. Now, if you are on four legs for a period of time, your back-muscle feels strained. I don't know whether dogs feel the same strain from being on four legs for a long time, but if you massage those two large muscles on either side of the back-bone of your dog, you'll find their eyes go glassy and they come back for more and more and.....

It's interesting that this form of enrichment is not something that a dog would ever get in the wild. It's unlikely that they would ever experience such a massage, but they certainly seem to like it. Whether they do like it or not has never been tested, but it seems to suggest another guideline for enrichment and that is if humans like it, try it and see if dogs would like it.

Continue to Part Four of Canine Enrichment.

About the Author: Dr. Chamove has practical experience with laboratory animals as Director of Research. He has taught various courses related to Animal Behaviour, Clinical Techniques, and Research Methods. In addition, Arnold Chamove has done collaborative research with H.F.Harlow on primate learning and social development, taught at Stirling University in Scotland and is currently at Massey University in New Zealand. He is the recipient of the Anderson Prize from the Laboratory Animal Science Association for his work on enrichment. Special Thanks to S.J. McComb who made a contribution to both the ideas and the execution of this article. Contact the author by Email:


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