There seems a growing trend to use meditation and mindfulness exercises to ease anxiety and stress in humans. This is clearly a good idea. Research says that the naming of emotions, even a simple acknowledgement such as, “I feel frustrated” can ease the feeling, because naming requires that the brain think about the emotion, not just feel it. Thinking means other neural pathways are opened up.
Simple tasks such as colouring-in requires concentration on a job that uses parts of the brain that are not part of the emotional brain. You don’t colour in angry. Or if you do you start to head outside the lines and so in your refocus to stay within them there comes a calming. You have to choose colours and make decisions. Simple decisions. Creative, thinking decisions. Peacefully.
When we give dogs cognitive tasks such as searching and finding their food from enrichment devices and food puzzles we are giving them a task akin to colouring-in. In using parts of their brain that are necessary in achieving the goal of getting the food they are not engaged in reactive, primal emotional behaviour. Instead, they are thinking. They are using their senses – noses to locate the food, ears to tell if the device is empty yet, eyes to search out the scattered hidden morsels, touch to rotate and push and hold the device. Making use of these senses is what they have evolved to do. As the ultimate scavengers dogs have evolved to search, find and consume. Denying them this search is akin to asking humans not to be creative. To no longer seek. Seeking is strongly associated with a feeling of well being and we all crave it. Let them seek.
Colouring-in for dogs.