I grew up riding other people’s horses in WA and had two horses of my own that lived with my dad in OH. The horses in WA were nearly always boarded and pastures were relatively small, a few acres tops and typically subdivided to smaller paddocks. These horses spent most of their time in stalls; sometimes stalls had small attached paddocks. At one barn most of the horses lived in a stall 23 hours a day and got 1 hour of turnout in a small paddock.
Some of the WA horses demonstrated stereotypies such as cribbing (chewing on wood), wind sucking (clamping their teeth on a surface and sucking in air), pawing, pacing, or rocking. Some also developed annoying habits like manipulating latches, banging on metal water troughs, or harassing passersby.
Magic and Jak, my two horses in OH occupied a 10 acre pasture with a shed, sharing it with a few Great Pyrenees and occasionally a flock of sheep. During the winter months they shared a large pen in the barn and were turned out if weather allowed. We never even had stalls! They also never developed any stereotypies; they got to live like horses are supposed to live.
Zoos spend a lot of resources on enrichment for their animals and enrichment, in a fashion, comes up pretty frequently in dog training circles. Usually it’s part of a conversation around problem behaviors. We don’t notice how unnaturally we keep our dogs until they do something so irritating that we decide we can’t live with it. Suggested solutions often include more exercise, more training, and food puzzle toys. Those things are great and very important for a dog’s wellbeing, but can’t we do more? What about the world they live in?
Recently I was perusing upcoming animal behavior conferences and I came across The Shape of Enrichment, a group that provides enrichment solutions for zoos. They have a downloadable PDF that goes over the five categories of enrichment: social, cognitive, habitat, sensory, and food. This is what I was looking for!
I’m going to try a few new things. I’ll set up a couple crates even though Wally dislikes them; Ava might like having one as a den. I’ll work harder to find them appropriate dog friends. I ordered a Pet Tutor so we’ll try some new games with that and I’ll give them food puzzles more often. I’ll make an effort to introduce them to novel scents and foods as well as hide or scatter their food so they have to hunt for it. I’ll get a plain old radio that I can leave on for them since Pandora always wants to know if I’m listening. I’ll spend more time training and exercising them. I’d love to get them a pair of mini donkeys to be buddies with but Josh is balking on that. Maybe a cat? I miss having cats.
Like any good scientist I’ll do this for a while and then examine my changes to see what’s working and what’s not. This will be fun!