Do scent based enrichment activities make dogs tired when compared to traditional walking as a form of exercise? A feasibility naturalistic case study.

For those of you that have been wondering why we are quiet, its because we have been working on academic proposals solidly for the last 9 months and have started a new project in our lab.

We want to tell you a little bit about our project (we cannot share data for papers that will be submitted for publication), our reason for doing it, our anecdotal findings and what we will be analysing. In addition to this we also wanted to run a fab June offer for all of our loyal customers who want to get a whopping discount 50% of all our courses and the ABA practitioner course for just 50 pounds.

Our project:

There is much talk of enrichment and the peer reviewed literature covers many different aspects of environmental enrichment for zoo and animals kept in kennels. There are books published to help people provide their domestic dogs with activities when they cannot be walked and some of these techniques have even been trade marked. However, there is currently no literature which expressively compares the activity of canines in a domestic setting using enrichment techniques and nothing compares these scent based activities with traditional exercise. Dr Simon Gadbois is a specialist in canine olfaction and reports that after a dog has engaged in scent based work they are very tired. However, are they more tired than they would be if they had a long walk? what about a long walk with minimal sniffing? Does sniffing alone make a dog tired?

We have designed an experiment to answer this question and we are currently (at time of posting this on 5th June 2019) on day 11 of 35. Our treatment conditions are:

Baseline: 5 garden visits 5 minutes each spread throughout the day (8am-8pm)

Canicross: both dogs get 2x 20 minute running with researcher (me)

Free walk: both dogs get 2×20 minute walks off lead to do exactly as they wish

Temporal foraging: Morning and evening feeding is delivered on the grass in the garden and spread out to encourage scent based searching and foraging

Scent based activity: This is carried out in the house with the dogs finding scent based items, getting an extrinsic reward and a game

Kong: The dogs get a Kong 2x per day

Training: 2x 20 minute training sessions per day

Being left: If the researcher is a discriminative stimulus for activity then we wanted to test the effect of them not being there on activity levels to control for this factor.

We are using the activity device to track levels of activity both during and after these treatment conditions and their combinations. The conditions are varied and an Adapted Alternating Treatment Design (AATD) is being used. We have collaborated with Carlos Zualaga a board certified behaviour analyst at Florida Institute of Technology on the design of these conditions and he says it all makes sense (so that’s good).

What is the story so far?

We are taking hourly frequencies of activity (which is given as number of movements). This frequency is going to then be used to calculate a rate. We are looking at post activity rates of activity to compare these conditions with each other and baseline and this will be carried out using an effect size statistic called a TAU-U which compares A/B phases (baseline with treatment or treatment with treatment). We have not calculated rates yet, but our anecdotal observation is that the activity levels of our two domestic dogs seemed to be almost entirely under discriminative control. This is why we have added a condition where they are left, because if this activity is under this control then us leaving would be a significantly reduced rate of activity (we obviously repeat this a few times to make sure its not down to chance). In addition, the participants (two cocker spaniels) have traditionally been used to an almost constant daily activity schedule and shifting to a lower schedule has happened without any problems at all which is a very interesting finding of its own. In fact, observing and tracking their activity in this way has been incredibly reinforcing because of the tendency to put pressure on to meet fictitious activity goals (just one of the many joys of objectivity in the pursuit of science). The monitor has allowed the development of an objective eye towards meeting the dogs needs and as a by product it has reduced stress exponentially (there are no formal numbers on this last subjective interpretation but you catch my drift).

The tracker is similar to a Fitbit type device and gives you a target per day. It is actually very easy with the current participants to meet this goal without the hours and hours of activity that was being put in before. The tracker allows you to monitor and weigh the food so that you are not running the risk of increasing inactive mass on the dogs and it can be programmed to give you all sorts of prompts. So, it can help with many aspects of canine care.

So, the interesting part of this experiment is still yet to come and we are going to be very excited to tell you about the post activity rates as a function of these various activities. This should help anyone who might not be able to take their dog out for traditional walks for whatever reason. For us, it is going to help build a day schedule for the dogs which will combine different types of physical activity based on the researchers schedule and if we find that the entire activity is built from discriminative control then we are hoping this will inform ways that we can meet their activity needs based on the activity measures from the actual treatment conditions.

As you can imagine we are very excited to be able to share this with you and any comments, suggestions or research can be emailed to:

Finally, we are offering a whopping 50% off all of our courses using code: JUNE-50 when signing up here and if you want to take our level 1 ABA practitioner course (level two is not live yet) its just 50 pounds for a limited period only use code: JUNE-ABA50 when signing up here

Future directions:

We are currently looking at the role of contextual manipulations and cognitive load in the role of habit and goal-directed behaviour in humans. We are also planning another Simply Behaviour Laboratory experiment on the olfactory behaviour of Musca domestica (house flies) and their responses to varying concentrations of nutritional substrates.

Does your practice use scientific methodology?

If anyone would like help setting up and running their own experiment then please do get in touch and remember if you are proposing to be using scientific methodology in your treatment practice you still need to be controlling variables and performing function based assessments. A functional analysis is part of any treatment program, relying on the topography alone is not good practice when treating clinical behaviour cases. Clinical applications rely on the use of description, prediction and control. Each of your clients is his own little experiment and each intervention should be designed specifically for them. Relying on research that treats a topography of behaviour is not using science. An application of scientific principles to your practice involves investigation and not the use of protocols that have been designed to treat what a behaviour looks like! Remember FUNCTION based treatments (you can learn about this in our ABA course).

These are our current participants 🙂