Article by Genevieve Andrews-Kelly, B.S., LATG Huntingdon Life Sciences
Comprehensive enrichment programs for dogs, while not required by regulations, are becoming more common in research facilities. Many institutions are providing chewable enrichment devices and pair or group housing for their canine colonies. Human interaction is a species-appropriate enrichment for dogs, and should be considered in the development of canine enrichment programs. In addition to the importance of human and canine socialization for the animals’ well-being, socialization and positive interactions with people can make the animal’s better research models. Playrooms or exercise rooms provide an excellent means of socialization and exercise for research dog colonies.
Playrooms can be costly; they require dedicated space, time and personnel—potentially limited resources. Finding such resources to dedicate to enrichment and canine socialization can be difficult in an environment that is challenged by limits on time, space and personnel. In situations such as this, it is important to reinforce the benefits and positives that can be gained from implementing a socialization program. Despite the challenges, it is possible.
Get organized. Before starting, create a plan for the socialization room. Summarize the amount of staff that would be required and develop a plan for the time and resource investment. If dedicating space for a socialization room is not possible, another option may be the use of interchangeable rooms, or even corridors. It is important to keep in mind that these areas must be cleaned after use, and that time and personnel should be included in the plan. Flexibility may be the key to the success of your socialization program. Creativity may also help in starting your program. If manpower is a confounding factor, perhaps assistance can be sought from other departments. Often times, administrative staff or others may be interested in spending some time playing with the dogs.
Documentation of socialization is very important. Document progress as well as failure. Socialization is not without risks, such as potential injuries from fighting, resource guarding, or other behavioral problems. By documenting such issues, the program can be refined to help prevent recurrences. Sometimes we learn more from failures than successes. The success stories, if documented, may play an important role in gaining and maintaining support for the program.
Never underestimate the importance of staff morale! Morale is important in creating a positive work environment, and socializing dogs can have a huge impact on staff morale.
All enrichment projects are potentially difficult to implement at the onset; the challenge is to move past the initial difficulty, provide evidence and documentation to emphasize the benefits of the socialization, and incorporate these goals into the daily schedules.