Measuring the success or failure of an enrichment device
When purchasing an enrichment item, there is an expectation that we are improving the animal’s environment. But how do you assure the chosen enrichment actually works?
Enrichment should provide interest and distraction for the animal. It should also facilitate the normal range of behaviors and stimulate interaction with other animals. Successful enrichment will minimize stress, occupy the animal’s time, reduce fighting and prevent abnormal behaviors. The most effective enrichments build on the animal’s natural behaviors.
In order to assess the success of the chosen enrichment, it is important to know normal behaviors. The use of behavioral markers is an effective way to quantify the success of enrichment. The first thing you should observe is normal species-specific behaviors; more importantly, there should be no abnormal behaviors. Some things to look for are grooming, social interaction, exploration, general activity. You should see a range of normal behaviors, not just a single behavior. If you are breeding animals, there should be successful breeding.
What are the signs of ineffective enrichment items? Aggression, segregation, repetitive behaviors, vacuum activity, and self injurious behaviors are all signs that enrichment is not having the desired effect.
Some vendors create designs that appeal to the user (the human purchasing the item) more than the animal. While “cute” may work for dog toys in a home setting, in a lab setting an enrichment should be easy to sanitize, long lasting, and free from feathers, fabrics and configurations that can’t be sanitized. It must also be free of components or ingredients that might compromise research. It is important to separate the look of the item from its function.