Boredom in dogs is a lot like boredom in kids. Remember those boring summer days when your parents were busy or gone, and you had no friends to play with – which gave you two choices.
If your parents were home, you may have pestered them relentlessly. I remember following my mom around, begging to have a friend over. I would lie on the floor in her path, grab her leg as she walked by, or would try to get in between her and whatever she was doing.
Or, if the parents aren’t around, you find something to do. My nephew almost burned down my sister’s house once out of boredom. My mom painted my grandfather’s leather car seats. Kids are very resourceful when it comes to dispelling boredom on their own.
Signs of Boredom in a Dog
Does any of the above remind you of your four-legged child too? A dog that wants you to play with him will follow you from room to room, usually with a toy. Some are demand barkers, and will bark at you non-stop (and if you have ever thrown that ball while they were barking, you just reinforced that demanding gets them what they want). Others whine, jump on you, and even grab you with their mouth.
These are signs your dog has pent up energy and is bored.
And like the kids above, they can be very resourceful when it comes to curing boredom on their own. Dogs have no problem getting into the garbage, digging, chewing your leather shoes, molding, or couch, pretty much anything in your house (even if it’s nailed down).
How to Cure Boredom in Dogs
If you don’t give your dog a job to do, he will find one of the above mentioned things to do. Ever been barked at for two hours? Or come home to find your house in shambles?
A caveat: if your house is destroyed while you are gone, it can also be due to separation anxiety. Have a certified professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist help you determine the cause, because treating anxiety is a different thing altogether. For this article, we are only talking about bored dogs.
One of the best ways to cure boredom is to go out and exercise your dog. There is an old saying “a tired dog is a good dog.” Why? Because they are sleeping instead of deciding which part of your house to chew on next. So, before you go to work, take your dog for a run, play fetch, and/or do some training to tire him out before you leave or go about your daily activities that don’t involve the dog. If I didn’t take my youngest sheltie herding mid-morning (or to play Frisbee on days we don’t herd), he would drive me crazy.
Puzzle toys are great for occupying a dog when you just don’t have the time. They can be a great way to feed them their meals that will last longer than two seconds. However, if you have a problem-solving dog you may find, like I have, that your dog figures out the puzzles pretty quickly and then after that, they don’t take much longer the a normal feed bowl. If you are talented, you can try to make your own.
Food Dispensing Toys
I put these in a different category from the puzzle toys because the dog usually just has to roll an object around to get the food, not a lot of problem-solving going on. HOWEVER, for dogs that are smart, these will still require your dog to push and move it around – regardless of how often they have used one. So, for those problem-solvers, I find these work best. And, I prefer non-round ones (balls are too easy). One of my favorites is the KONG® Wobbler™ Treat Dispensing Toy. It has a weighted base making it a bit harder to knock around and the amount of food that comes out varies. Sometimes he gets one piece, sometimes several. I find it keeps my youngest occupied longer than anything else I have tried.
Training tires a dog out just like doing math makes your kid sleepy. It uses brain power which can be more effective than a run with some dogs. If you have found your dog more hyped after activity, this may be a better option for you. Making time for a few training sessions a day will help keep boredom at bay.
Doggy Day Care
Sending your dog to a doggy day care is a great way to relieve boredom, as long as your dog is friendly and social.
If you don’t have the time or can’t physically exercise your dog, hirer a pet walker to alleviate that boredom.
While not a “cure,” I do want to mention that if, for some reason, you don’t have the time or resources to alleviate your dog’s boredom, you need to manage it. As mentioned earlier, do not give in to the demand barking, pawing, jumping, or biting. This will just strengthen that behavior.
Also, if your dog gets destructive when bored, then he needs to be in a crate or a puppy pen when you are not watching him so he doesn’t have the opportunity to wander around your house looking for trouble.