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When zoos first became popular, they were nothing more than cages where the public could walk by to view the animals. The animals were given food and water, but the conditions in which they were kept led to depression, anxiety and sometimes serious behavioral problems.

Just like people, dogs and animals evolved to function in a specific environment. The behavior patterns that are necessary for them to function and survive become part of their being. We humans are social creatures and don’t do well in isolation, as we learned during the early days of Covid. We are also very visually oriented, sight is our most important sense.

When we talk about providing enrichment, we want to create the environment or provide the opportunity for the animals to engage in species specific behaviors. We want to provide novel stimuli so they can explore and satisfy their curiosity. There was a time when dogs were allowed to roam more freely and explore their environment. For all kinds of reasons that changed and of course we don’t find it safe now for dogs to roam. So dogs are kept at home while their guardians are at work and when work is done and the people are tired, dogs are supposed to relax and not bother anyone.

Because of how dogs evolved, they enjoy activities like chasing, fetching, sniffing, chewing, and while some behaviors can be problematic in certain circumstances, not giving the dogs an outlet for them, can lead to frustration and more problematic behavior.

At A Walk in the Park, we strive to find opportunities and outlets for these behaviors. We found that an all-day-play environment is not the best way to take care of the dogs. Instead we want to schedule different activities and find out which activities are meaningful to each dog. We watch and listen to what the dogs are telling us. For instance, you can watch us doing this at drop off and pick up. There are a lot of smells at the pathway to the front door, and if the dogs want to check that out, we want to give them the opportunity to do that. Smell is the dog’s most important sense, and giving him an opportunity to smell, means allowing him to be a dog. This can be very calming and reassuring to them.

We are working towards a new model of doggie daycare, sometimes called Daycare 2.0. We want to understand the dogs’ needs and set them up for success. We are eager to learn the latest discoveries in behavioral research and try to implement policies that will deliver a better experience for the dogs. Keep an eye on this newsletter, as we announce and explain these insights regularly.

Dirk Broersma