Keep your dog out of trouble with these six great boredom-busting ideas from Tim Falk
A bored dog left home alone can cause a whole lot of trouble. From digging up your backyard to destroying your furniture, ripping washing off the line and driving the neighbours mad with incessant barking, any pooch that loses a battle with boredom can cause chaos.
Tim Ring, dog trainer with the RSPCA School for Dogs in Brisbane’s inner suburbs, says that we are beginning to understand more and more about what causes dogs to act out. What would once have been considered the behaviour of a “naughty” dog, we now know might be caused by a lack of mental and physical stimulation.
“Gone are the days where we assumed that the extent of an animal’s desires were food, safety and procreation. Science has proven what most of us who share a home with an animal already knew: animals like fun and will find entertainment whether we provide it or not,” Tim says.
“Bored dogs tend to be destructive,” says Chiara Perri from Point Cook Dog Training. “They often like to do a bit of renovating and landscaping, so digging holes is pretty common, as is chewing plants, pulling clothes off the line, eating their kennel and de-fluffing their bed. Sometimes they bark and howl hoping someone will hear them and come to play.
“In general, dogs find their own fun, but it often comes at the owner’s expense.”
So how can you prevent boredom setting in for your dog and ensure that you come home to a house in the same state as you left it? One of the most important tools to help your dog stave off boredom, Tim says, is social interaction.
“We feel the pain of Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Castaway acutely as he makes a companion for himself out of a ball. Why then do some people happily leave a dog tethered to the back corner of the yard with not a thought to the dog’s loneliness?”
But social interaction is only one part of the puzzle; exercise and mental stimulation are just as important when it comes to ensuring your dog is happy and content — even when you’re not at home. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at six wonderful ideas to help your dog beat boredom.
Boredom buster #1: Get active
The first boredom-busting idea is one that requires action before you go out — and often again when you get home. Exercise is crucial to ensuring that your dog doesn’t become bored. As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog.
“We know that good physical exercise will release endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals, so a good run at the park or beach is great. A good early-morning walk for at least 45 minutes will get those endorphins released so, if you have the time, it is a great idea,” Chiara says. You could also consider a dog walker to break the day up, so your dog gets to go out and catch up with friends.
Tim says that taking your dog for a walk or a jog offers both physical and mental stimulation. “As a boredom buster, a walk around the block is extremely fulfilling. A small amount of mental stimulation or some intense physical exertion will most certainly lead to a snooze soon after. If you can plan your dog’s day to include opportunities to exercise both the body and mind, you’ll find that there’s no room for boredom left,” he says.
However, Chiara points out that mental stimulation through environmental enrichment can be just as satisfying and exhausting for your pooch. “Owners do need to be careful they don’t just try to tire their dogs out by running more and more, as this will only create a super athlete. Balance it out by also getting the dog to focus and problem solve with enrichment in the backyard,” she says.
Boredom buster #2:Interactive toys
Dog toys have come a long way since the days when a humble tennis ball was the pinnacle of playtime entertainment. There is now an ever-increasing range of interactive puzzle toys that provide hours of fun and give your bored dog’s brain a much-needed workout. Feeding your dog this way is stimulating and will also last a lot longer than if you simply serve up a bowl of chow.
“These are a great idea, especially the puzzle toys and self-feeding toys such as the Foobler, KONG Wobbler, Tucker Balls and Bob-a-Lot,” Chiara says. “These are food-dispensing toys that encourage the dog to push, nudge and move the toy for food to fall out. They are very durable and can be left with dogs for hours over the day to prevent boredom.”
However, Tim points out that you can even create your own interactive dog toys at home. “Whether it’s a food-stuffed toilet roll or a Wi-Fi enabled smart toy, giving your dog a reason to self-entertain is the best way to see habits created from boredom work themselves into extinction,” he says.
“Find what drives your dog to learn and make these toys more challenging as your dog works them out. This doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. As an example, once your dog has worked out how to make the treats fall out of the bouncy toy, block the hole with natural peanut butter to raise the difficulty and the reward.”
Boredom buster #3:Doggy treasure hunt
You don’t necessarily need an interactive toy to use food as a boredom buster. Another great way to keep your dog entertained when home alone is to set up a treasure hunt just for him. All you have to do is scatter treats and toys around your dog’s environment and it will keep her busy all day.
“Remember that dogs don’t naturally search much higher than their nose height, so a bit of training is required if you want to get creative with your hiding places. If you’re short on time, scattering some treats around the yard will be enough to stimulate the mind during the initial separation period,” Tim says.
Any activity that encourages your pet to explore and make use of his backyard can only be a good thing. “Putting little parcels of treats and even regular dog food around the yard is fun and it should be paired with leaving the home, so the dog associates the owner leaving with the fun stuff starting,” Chiara explains.
Boredom buster #4: Doggy day care
Dogs are social animals that thrive on social interaction, not only with humans but also with other dogs. So why not
snap your dog out of his mundane everyday routine with a trip to a doggy day-care facility?
“Dog day care is another great way to break up the week, especially if you have certain days where you work long hours,” Chiara says. “Day care is a great outlet for dogs that love other dogs. Dog day-care centres are well set-up, safe and constantly monitored, so dogs go home very tired and happy.”
However, it’s important to make sure you choose the right day care for your dog. Tim says that research is your friend in this process. “Find a doggy day care that suits your dog’s temperament and training requirements. There are many types of doggy day care, ranging from group boarding to in-home pet sitters. If this is an option for you, ask the venue if you can visit during peak hours to see what’s in store for your dog during their days away,” he says.
Boredom buster #5:Training time
Another great way to start your dog’s day off on the right paw and prevent the onset of boredom is to begin with a training session.
“When it comes to mental stimulation, a challenging and well-thought-out training session wins by a wide margin,” Tim says. “Not only will a 10-minute training session provide valuable life skills and increase wanted behaviours, but it will also exercise Fido’s grey matter, reducing his need to find other outlets for his creativity.”
You could do some basic obedience training, more advanced tricks or even start teaching your pet the basics of a canine sport such as agility. Just remember to keep sessions short and fun, stay patient when things don’t quite go to plan and end each session on a high note.
Not only will this help your dog learn how to behave, but it will also provide the perfect excuse for the two of you to spend some quality time together.
Boredom buster #6: Doggy play dates
Your pooch doesn’t necessarily have to go to a doggy day-care centre to get his fix of interacting with other dogs; instead, you could set up a doggy play date with one or more friends and their canine companions.
“Play dates with other like-minded and socially acceptable dogs are great fun. Just be aware that not all dogs at the dog park fit this standard,” Tim says.
By arranging a play date with dogs and owners you know and trust, you can set your pet up to have a positive, fun and safe experience. This will give him the chance to run, jump, sniff, play and explore with his furry friends, allowing him to exercise both body and mind as well as get plenty of social interaction.
The ideas above are just a start of what you and your dog can do to beat boredom; you’ll often find that it’s easy to come up with new and exciting ideas based on the activities, games and toys your dog enjoys. And if you’re proactive, you can hopefully ensure that boredom never becomes a problem.
“Prevention is by far better than cure so if you are starting out with a new puppy, set it up with good habits to encourage independence,” Chiara says. “Teach your dog to feed itself through toys and to cope when left alone. If you are unsure as to what your dog gets up to during the day, consider setting up a spy camera to check in on what is happening. This will give you valuable feedback as to whether your dog is just bored or if it is something more serious such as separation anxiety. It will also provide feedback as to whether your ideas are working.”
Finally, Tim recommends taking steps to remove your dog’s anxiety around you leaving the house and setting up boredom-busting activities to entertain your pet throughout the day.
“If you build your morning around giving 10 minutes to purposeful training and preparing games and toys for your dog, you will find your dog will forget to get bored,” he says. “I was always taught that a bored person is evidence of a boring person; in the case of dogs, a bored dog is evidence of a boring owner. Don’t be that owner.”