Written by FOTP Team
Shredded letters, gnawed table legs, and shoes hidden around the house? Your dog is bored. Every dog can become bored if their owner leaves and they have nowhere to direct their energy. Here’s what to do about it.
If you’re here because your dog has been entertaining himself while you were out, then you probably already know the answer.
Dogs do get bored, especially if they’re left at home during the day. They are smart, and that means they need mental stimulation. Not all the time, but some of the time. Some dogs, which are bred for a purpose like herding or hunting, have a low boredom threshold; others, usually the companion breeds, can happily laze on a couch for hours.
They will depend on you (unless there are other dogs living in the home) to keep them entertained, which means you’ll have to plan enough activity and exercise into each day. How much is enough? It’s unique to every dog, and you will have to learn through trial and error.
Some of the signs that your dog is bored include:
Before we launch into the toys and training, it’s important to note that some dogs experience separation anxiety. They may not be bored when you leave: they may be stressed, or worried that you won’t return. Howling and destructive behavior can reflect anxious feelings and if that’s the case, you won’t resolve the problem by entertaining your dog. If you believe your dog might be anxious, ask your veterinarian to recommend a behaviorist.
But if your dog is bored, we have some ideas to help!
If your pup has had the same toys since they arrived, not only are those toys a bit stinky, but they’ve probably lost their appeal, too! Dogs appreciate new toys and there is a wide range available, so you can try different types.
One of the more popular toys on the market is the food-puzzle type of toy (like Kong or the IQ Treat Toy). Kong is made from strong rubber and has a hollow which can be stuffed with small treats or a spoonful of peanut butter. By rolling and chewing the Kong, the treats are released slowly, so it can entertain your dog for quite a while. The Kong is extremely durable and difficult for dogs to destroy!
The IQ Treat Toy is a similar style, but it’s a hard ball which must be pushed and rolled around to release treats.
Scattering your dog’s meal has been recommended by vets to dogs who eat too fast (and subsequently feel unsatisfied). If you don’t want to do it in the yard, scatter their kibble on a Snuffle Mat. This is specially designed to conceal dog food and can go straight into the washing machine.
If your dog has chewed through a chair leg or your favorite shoes, don’t start yelling at them.
Stopping your dog from boredom-chewing is simple: bring home some stuff that they can chew instead.
Don’t forget that puppies need to chew when they are teething – they lose their teeth just like human children, and sore gums feel better when pressure is applied. So choose things which are more appealing for those strong little teeth. Puppy chew toys are widely available, and you can add treats to some (see above) for those whose minds are always on supper.
Note: rawhide chews or bone-type chews should never be given when you aren’t there. These chewing objects need supervision.
If you have a dog who seems to be digging towards the center of the earth, save your yard by providing an alternative. You can set up a sand-box for your dog – it’s crazy but it just might work! Adding a dog-flap to your back door will enable the dog to go outside and entertain themselves while you’re out doing errands.
A well-exercised dog is far more likely to rest and relax when they get home. So plan exercise into their day to help you to get your jobs done.
If, for example, you will be in the office one day a week, make sure you schedule exercise for your dog before you leave. A quick stroll won’t be enough for most dogs: depending on breed, they will require a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
So don’t just repeat the same walk around the block. Make time for this valuable and life-enhancing part of your day. Jump in the car and venture further, explore the country, or find a point of interest on the map. Walking happens to be one of the best forms of exercise for humans, too!
Walking a super-energetic dog? You can increase their activity on walks by bringing a ball, climbing a mountain, or heading to a lake or ocean. Training a dog (like a Retriever or Spaniel) to fetch a ball will multiply the distance that they run on a short walk!
Only one dog in your household? Some dogs become bored because they like to be homed in pairs or packs. You could consider bringing in another one, but it’s an extreme solution to doggy boredom. Can you expand your network and socialize your dog with the help of neighbors or friends?
Especially for puppies, playing with other dogs is a valuable form of socialization – and can tire them out. So if you don’t want to fill your home with canines, arrange to walk with a friend who has a dog or go to the local park so that your puppy can meet some new pals. It’s worth connecting with other dog-owners for the valuable intel as well as extra exercise!
What about trying some canine sports for your dog? There are groups running sporting events all over the country: Bernese Mountain Dogs pull carts, Beagles attempt scent competitions, and all kinds of breeds have sprinted to glory in Fast-CAT races. Lure Coursing (racing with a mechanised “prey”) is beloved by breeds like whippet and greyhound. You can search by state and keyword for dog sports events on the AKC website here.
What is Agility? It is next-level dog training. Once they’ve completed their basic obedience training and reached at least 15 months, your dog can attend Agility training. It looks a lot like the obstacle courses at Crufts – with tunnels, ramps, poles and targets – basically, gymnastics for dogs.
Puppies start with lower and simpler obstacles to build their confidence, and it’s a great way for them to learn about their physical abilities. Because your pup will likely need to focus on the tasks, Agility offers plenty of mental stimulation too.
Agility is a fun and positive form of training, with no punishments for “wrong” attempts, and can help to improve your dog’s attention and control. Not only is it fun for dog and owner, but it can improve their behavior at home too.
Can’t find an Agility session near you? Make your own. You can set up tunnels, see-saws, poles and targets in your own yard and entertain yourself and your pup for hours...
The American Kennel Club awards AKC Trick Dog titles (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Performer, and Elite Performer) to dogs who can complete a selection of tricks from their list. Dogs must have an AKC number but can train with their owners at home. You can arrange to have a virtual assessment once your dog has mastered the tricks required.
For the first title, your dog will need to demonstrate 10 tricks from a list which includes:
You can find the full list here. Alternatively, your dog can first complete the Canine Good Citizen training, and then will only need to perform 5 tricks.
Many of these tricks can be taught through simple methods. A quick YouTube search will bring up tutorials for most of them. At home, trick training can be fun and rewarding for dog and owner – completing a virtual assessment for an AKC title is a nice bonus.
Playing games with your dog at home can help them to burn energy of the mental kind. You can invent your own games, play Hide and Seek (in person or using treats) or tug-of-war with rope toys.
How about some mental stimulation that they can enjoy while you’re not there? Hide treats around the house before you go out so that when they wake up, your dog is interested to move around.
Above all, make sure that your dog is receiving the attention that he craves. If you intend to leave your dog alone while you buy groceries and so on, it’s vital that he knows you’ll be back and ready to play again after a short time. After all, our canine companions depend on us to lead the happy, stimulated and fulfilled lives that they deserve.