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Dog Enrichment and Training: the Dissection Box

Updated: 5 days ago

If you have arrived here, it's because you love dogs and you want to provide yours with the best life that they deserve.

Most pet owners do!

Well, the Dissection Box stems from the idea of the final behaviours in the predation sequence that after the adrenaline rush of the hunt, it is time to 'Dissect' and 'Consume'.

I realize that dogs are not wolves, contrary to some old beliefs, however, they still have a variation of the canine predation sequence. Everything up to the kill bite is within the sympathetic nervous system. So, using this knowledge, when our goal is to help our pet dogs regulate their emotions, we need to teach them how to activate their parasympathetic nervous system.

I talked about classically conditioning a calm/settle cue with tactile, visual and auditory cues in order to bring your dog's autonomic nervous system into 'rest and digest'. With the dissection box, the goal is similar. The act of ripping apart something and eating brings your dog into rest and digest.

So what is this behaviour of 'dissection'? You'll see dogs stand on an item like a stuffie, use their teeth to disembowel the stuffing and/or squeaker from the inside. This is a natural behaviour, with some dogs leaning heavily into this type of destruction. Since animal welfare suggests for humans to set captive animals in our care up with the ability to perform normal species typical behaviours, the idea is to set this up with a healthy and safe outlet.

How to Make a Dissection Box

  1. First, get an empty box. Please also monitor your dog when you first start out making dissection boxes. Some dogs may try to consume cardboard or large volumes of paper.

  2. Using paper towel, tissue paper or unprinted packing paper, wrap some snacks inside crumpled pieces.

  3. Sprinkle some kibble in to extend the duration of foraging.

  4. You may wish to start with the box open, but as your dog learns the game, you can close the flaps to the box.

You will want to see them to step on the paper and rip it apart to get that 'dissection' in prior to consuming.

My dog enjoying her dissection box

When to use a dissection box

After times of high arousal, for reactive dogs after their walk, for dogs who are bored or frustrated that you cannot entertain them all afternoon, or just basically any time you need your dog to calm down and have a snooze.

I personally put our puppy Cola in her X-pen with a dissection box, and once she is satisfied she lays down for a nap. That is the exact goal you want.

Happy Enriching!

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