Animals that are held by, or fully under the control of, humans, meaning they are prevented from escaping, are said to be in captivity. We tend to use the term “captive” to describe wild animals being confined in Zoos or animal in agriculture and farming but in fact the term “captive” also applies to our domesticated pets.
But let’s ponder this and look a little bit closer at the definition of ’captivity’.
Dictionary.com (2022) defines captivity as “the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined”. Think about this for a moment. By this definition our pet dogs are actually captive animals. When I first realized this a few years ago it really made me stop and think about what that actually means to us and our pets and what it means about our responsibility and obligation to these amazing animals that share our lives.
What does that mean to you?
What do you think it means to our pets in terms of their daily lives, their freedoms, their ability to perform their normal species behaviors?
Then we have to consider the domestication of our pets. Domestication is the process of taming an animal and keeping it in our homes involving both biology and culture.
In our culture we ‘own’ our pets and incorporate them into our social structure and our family community. Through domestication our pets experience a morphological change that resembles evolution. This domestication process begins when a small number of the parent animal are separated from the wild species and are habituated to humans. Over the years and through successive generations the “founder group” changes in response to natural selection and their living environment.
In summary domestication is an evolutionary process by which animals are artificially selected and undergo huge phenotypic behavioral and physiological alterations (Trut et al., 2009).
So given that our pets are both captive and domesticated their welfare rests on our shoulders. As pet owners we must take full responsibility to ensure our pets are behaviorally, environmentally, cognitively and emotionally provided for. It is then our responsibility to provide living environments for our pets that are enriching and contribute towards their welfare.
A review of the literature summarizes that ….
As virtually all enrichment definitions require, there has to be:
- an effect for something to be described as “enriching”.
- The effect should be empirical.
- Enrichment is a contingency, not a stimulus or event.
- It can be defined the same as reinforcement; a functional interaction between an environmental stimulus/event and some response. Just like reinforcement, you can’t say “I used enrichment, but it didn’t work”.
So, have a think about what you can do to prepare and setup in your home that will provide more enrichment for your pets.
A few things to consider.
- Add mental stimulation to your pet’s world using audio or visual enrichment.
- Find ways for your dog to work for their food. Ways that require work, not stress or frustration.
- Find or create toys that are stimulating and fun.
- Spend time with your dog each day connecting with them through shared time. This can be active or relaxing, fun or neutral.
- Teach your dog fun tricks. This helps with cognitive enrichment.
- Take them to new places for their walks. This provides new smells, sights and sounds.
- For older dogs take them to places where they can sit and watch the world go by. You can feed them a meal or a food toy in this new location.
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Learn more about enrichment and how you can help your pets and your community pets here
Fernandez, E. J., & Timberlake, W. (2019b). Selecting and testing environmental enrichment in lemurs. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2119
Hoy, J. M., Murray, P. J., & Tribe, A. (2010). Thirty years later: Enrichment practices for captive mammals. Zoo Biology, 29(3), 303-316
Maple, T. L., & Perdue, B. M. (2013). Zoo Animal Welfare. Springer.
Trut, L., Oskina, I., and Kharlamova, A. (2009). Animal evolution during domestication: the domesticated fox as a model. Bioessays 31, 349–360. doi: 10.1002/bies.200800070