At first glance it might appear that our dogs live wonderful lives; most are well fed, well groomed, provided adequate shelter and medical attention. Our dogs certainly appear to be happy and healthy – yet reports of behavior problems seem to be at an all time high. The big question is why.
Many behavior problems and anxiety disorders in dogs today are the result of simple boredom. While nearly every living creature on earth has a long list of activities that must be completed on a daily basis, domestic dogs lie in wait. They wait for us to fill their bowl with kibble then polish it off in 30-seconds flat. They wait for us to come home from work only to find we’re often too tired to play. They wait for permission to join us anywhere, anytime because there is little else for dogs to do. And while our dog’s enthusiasm and interest in all that we do can be a very endearing quality, it probably stems more from a lack of outside stimulation than love. I’m not saying our dogs don’t love us – I’m just saying that I get a very enthusiastic greeting from the shelter dogs I visit each week and we hardly know each other.
Here is some food for thought if you want to keep your dog from getting bored and (sometimes) acting out for this reason.
Signs Of Boredom
- Dog is destructive – destroys things indoors and/or outdoors.
- Self-mutilation – dog excessively licks or chews its paws, legs or other body parts. They will often lick so much they create large open wounds.
- Dog excessively mouths, barks, jumps, runs the fence, paces or eats stools.
- Dog has alone anxiety – exhibits destructive and/or excessive behaviors when left alone.
- Dog is depressed – shows little or no interest in activities or interaction.
Boredom Prevention Ideas
- Feed your dog meals from a Busy Buddy, Havaball, Kong, Roll-A-Treat ball or other enrichment device instead of a bowl. I always take a percentage of my dogs kibble on our daily walks and toss individual pieces for her to chase, find or catch.
- If your dog loves water and you have a section of lawn that is too dry, get a hose and water by hand as you create a fun stream of water for your dog to chase.
- Give your dog old water bottles or milk jugs made of either cardboard or plastic. You can increase the dog’s interest by putting food items inside. (Always remove the plastic rings and the plastic caps before allowing dogs to play with these items and closely supervise to ensure plastic isn’t being swallowed). Many dogs will also play with 5-gallon water jugs.
- Take different routes when walking your dog so he can experience novel smells, sights and sounds.
- Provide lots of chewies. The act of chewing is very calming for dogs. Raw knuckle bones (never provide cooked bones), antlers, cow hooves, bully sticks and compressed rawhide are considered safe for most dogs.
- Get a child’s wading pool and fill it with water so your dog can splash around. Get a second pool fill it with sand then bury things your dog likes in it.
- Satisfy your dog’s need to hunt and forage by letting him play “Find It” games. Hide his kibble or treats around the house or yard and send him out to find them.
- Play games like fetch, frisbee, tug or hide-n-seek with your dog.
- I recently discovered that a lunging whip used for training horses with a toy tied to the end is perhaps, the best toy ever for young active dogs that love to chase toys; especially dogs don’t bring objects back when playing fetch. 15-minutes of active chase and most dogs are plenty pooped for a good while.
- Practice old skills or teach your dog something new. A half hour training session (using a positive training method such as clicker training) generally tires a dog out longer than an hour long walk. There is a wealth of free information and videos on the internet that can give you some great ideas!
- Rotate toys so they stay new and exciting instead of making everything accessible all the time. Some known dog favorites: Hide-a-Squirrel, The Wiggly Giggly Ball, Water Bottle Buddies, Petstages Dog Toys, Teaser Balls and treat dispensing toys. Small dogs often enjoy playing with toys found in the cat section.
- Give your dog a massage or Ttouch.
- One idea that works well for ball-crazy dogs is to hang a tether ball from a cable strung across the dog’s kennel or between two trees. The tether ball should be hung at nose level and should be attached to the cable with some type of roller so that it moves easily. Encourage your dog to chase the ball a few times, praising excitedly when he pushes it down the cable. Soon he will play this game all by himself, sometimes exhausting himself in the process! For added safety, particularly with short or young dogs who can wrestle the ball to the ground, encase the hanging cable/rope in a length of PCV pipe before attaching the tetherball.
- Get your dog together with other dogs and let them play. You can make individual play dates, host parties or take your dog to a location where other dogs get to play off-leash.
- Fill an ice-cube tray or Tupperware bowel with water, add dog treats and freeze. Pop the ice out and provide outdoors for lots of lick and chase play.
- Leave classical music or talk radio on when you leave the home. This can help relieve anxiety in many dogs.
- Consider hiring a dog walker or taking your dog to a daycare facility a couple days a week if you are regularly gone more than 6 consecutive hours/day.
- Hang rope or inner tubes from a branch or other item in the yard for the dog to play tug with.
- Some dogs will play with old tires either loose on the ground or hanging from ropes.
- Blow bubbles and watch your dog dance around in hot pursuit. You can even buy bacon and chicken flavored bubbles just for dogs.
- When possible, take your dog along when visiting friends or running errands.
- Fill a doggie backpack water bottles and have your dog wear it during walks for added benefit.
- Jog, rollerblade, skateboard or bike with high energy dogs that never seem to tire.
So there you have it – a whole smorgasbord of ideas to choose from. And there are many more great tips and techniques available for free on the Internet. Perhaps the biggest benefit of all this interaction is that it will vastly improve your bond with your canine friend. In other words, your dog will love you for it!