Peek Into The Pack Blog

A Nose for Enrichment

Article by Rachel Wawrzynski

June 11, 2024

Enrichment is a very important part of our rescues’ lives, and there are multiple types of enrichment meant to stimulate the senses and different areas of the brain – cognitive, environmental, food, social, and sensory. Sensory enrichment is anything that engages an animal’s sense of touch, taste, sight, sound, or smell. While all five categories of enrichment are essential in combating boredom and stress, sensory enrichment, and more specifically scents, are intriguing for animals and aid in maintaining a highly developed olfactory system. For a pack of wolves living in the wild, a keen sense of smell is a necessity. Wolves often travel until they detect the scent of a prey species, and will then follow that smell directly to the prey in an attempt to capture it. Hunting is not the only area of a wolf’s life where scent is important, though.

Late rescue Chuppa enjoying a paper bag enrichment

They also use this sense to locate other pack members or rivals. Their olfactory systems are so perceptive that they can identify age, gender, diet, general health conditions, and breeding conditions of other individuals! Wild canid olfactory systems have not been studied in depth, but researchers have spent considerable time studying those of domestic dogs. A dog has an olfactory system approximately fourteen times larger than that of a human. This approximation yields an odor detecting ability up to one hundred times more sensitive than a human being’s. However, this is the nose of a domestic dog; a wolf relies on these senses for survival, so we can be sure that a wolf has an even stronger olfactory system! Because the olfactory system is so complex, it is crucial to provide enrichment that stimulates it. At Wild Spirit, we do this in multiple ways. We have diluted scents – diluted so as not to overstimulate the system – such as blueberry muffin, vanilla, and pumpkin to spray along fence lines and on objects inside enclosures. Depending on the scent and the animal’s reaction to it, they may spend minutes investigating, scent- rubbing, or even peeing on the affected area.

Rescue Zeppelin scent-rubbing on a log with scent enrichment

A favorite amongst all the rescues is elk and cow estrus because it imitates a natural scent. Lobo and Flicker can’t get enough of it! We also use pet-safe spices in small quantities, which can be bought in a grocery store. These spices are intended for animals to roll in and rub on rather than ingest. Common pet-safe spices for this purpose are cloves, cinnamon, and oregano. As we walk through enclosures, we’ll sprinkle some on the ground and let them investigate. Some animals, like Draco, Aleu, Kabbalah, and Crow, are so intrigued by the scents that they flop onto the ground and spend minutes rolling around in them. One of the best things about scent enrichment is that it’s often an easy, inexpensive way to encourage use of a system that can sometimes be overlooked. While in captivity or domestic living situations, the olfactory system can degrade over time with infrequent use. But with a little investigative work, anyone can provide their animal with new and fun smells to keep the senses sharp. You can visit for more information on safe ways to engage your own canines!​



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