Food enrichment is the use of toys, obstacles, and challenges to make meals or snacks more mentally draining and last longer. This is often the first recommendation for anyone looking into enrichment, and for good reason. All living beings require food, so why not utilize that necessity in fun and easy ways? Additionally, Food enrichment is so popular because it stimulates and entertains your pet while you’re doing other things, making it ideal to fit into one’s busy life.
A common misconception about food enrichment is the need to make it ‘hard.’ While that is appealing to us, having our pet’s busy longer, that’s not the actual goal. The real goal is to make it fun! While some animals find it fun to conquer new challenges, others find it frustrating. This is partially why it is so crucial to enrichment to get to know your pet, to make the experience tailored to them.
Food Enrichment is meant to channel a pet’s energy into a focused and controlled activity. Because of the relatively calm nature of this, it is ideal for any pets on crate rest or reduced activity. As mentioned in Physical Enrichment, animals in the wild will spend upwards of 70% of their day looking for food. That is the majority of their day put into working for their food. Now the average pet is given his allotted meal to be eaten in 5 minutes, leaving the rest of the day open for possible problem behaviours.
When taking a closer look at why our pets like food enrichment such as food puzzles, snuffle mats, or stuffable toys, it is important to remember their genetics. Some of our pet’s most basic instincts lie within the act of looking for food. This instinct is satisfied and reinforced as our pet looks for the food, making it a ‘self-rewarding’ behaviour. Self-rewarding meaning the feeling they get from the behaviour or activity is reinforcing and makes them want to repeat it. This is all not to mention the yummy treat they get once they have found or gained access to the food, further reinforcing the behaviour!
When a person adds regular food enrichment into mealtime, it is not uncommon for something called Contrafreeloading to occur. “Contrafreeloading is the behaviour seen in most animals that when an animal is offered a choice between free food or identical food that requires effort, the animal prefers the food that requires effort (Glen Jensen, 1963.)” This is such an interesting phenomenon because it’s further evidence of the importance of enrichment and giving our pets a job.
It just goes to show the work ethic that is within all our pets. To learn more about Contrafreeloading and if it affects enrichment, mosey on over to our friend Taylor at Bindis Bucket List.