Dog Boredom Busters

August 25th, 2008
Boredom busters for dogs

Our dogs get bored, and when they do the results can be disastrous, from digging tunnels to try to escape, to eating the lounge or your favourite shoes. Dogs Life suggests some simple and easy dog boredom busters.

Have you ever come home to discover your dog sitting in a fluffy fairyland after tearing apart a cushion? Or perhaps your pooch prefers the tasty delights of his plastic food bowl, or a pair of your favourite shoes or beloved teddy bear? Or possibly your dog has amazed your family with that freshly dug crater in your backyard, or stood proudly next to your best white linen, which was left blowing in the breeze but is now crumpled, filthy and torn in his kennel! Chances are, at some stage in your dogs life it has destroyed something precious when you were not around. But have you ever considered that this is all because your dog is bored?

To discover more about this phenomenon, Dogs Life caught up with renowned behaviourist Joanne Righetti and top notch dog trainer (AKA the Dog Whisperer) John Richardson.

“Boredom may be one of the most common causes of behavioural problems,” Joanne tells Dogs Life. “This question should always be asked when trying to solve a problem, Could this dog be suffering from boredom? If so, then it must be treated accordingly.”

Why do dogs get bored?

Like humans, dogs need constant stimulation or they run the risk of getting bored. Put yourself in your dogs shoes: would you be bored playing with the same old toys day in day out, or staring at the same old fence all day, every day? Just imagine being forced to watch the same television show every day, that’s how your dog sees your backyard … the same old show, with the same old noises and same old activities … B-O-R-I-N-G!

Dogs were bred to work alongside humans. However, in this day and age, many dogs are left alone for long periods of time while we work. They need to be able to burn off this natural energy they would normally exert if they were working with us (on a farm, chasing rats etc). If they don’t get this in terms of mental or physical stimulation, they will turn to whatever is around them to satisfy their needs, be it plants, washing, or even Johnny’s bike seat!

“Many dogs suffer from boredom. Our canine companions are clever creatures and need activities to occupy their bodies and brains,” says Joanne. “Sure, some dogs will snooze the day away when we can’t be with them, but many need stimulation, otherwise boredom sets in.”

Dogs living in a confined area for most of the day, like a backyard, will sometimes show signs of boredom, such as chewing everything in sight, digging holes or attempting to escape (roaming the streets provides ample entertainment to a bored dog). John suggests they may even begin to show physical signs.

“Most dogs are naturally active and when restrained in a backyard, they easily become bored,” he says. “Owners may notice that their dogs coat has become dull and dogs usually show signs of stress, such as yawning or running around in circles to relieve built-up energy levels.”

Signs of boredom in dogs

Probably the most common sign of boredom is barking. The sad thing is, people will use spray collars and even electric collars to cure their dogs barking habits, when in fact the dog is expressing signs of boredom. So if you’ve ever had a visit from your local council after a complaint made by a neighbour, it is probably a good idea to assess your dogs environment.

“Bored dogs can do all sorts of weird and wonderful things,” Joanne says. “They take themselves for walks, scaling fences or digging underground to do so. They pull washing off the line. They dig up plants. They make lots of barking and howling noises which can really entertain the neighbours.”

John agrees that a bored dog can be a very destructive one. “A bored dog will often exhibit what is known as displacement activity,” says John. “For example, chewing everything in sight, barking for no apparen’t reason, pulling washing off the line or digging holes. Some dogs also escape from their backyard and go off exploring the neighbourhood to alleviate boredom.”

If you are experiencing behavioural problems its probably a good idea to do a little test for boredom and perhaps solve the problem yourself.

“If your dog has problem behaviours, then try giving it more and varied activities to do. If the problems subside, then chances are boredom was the problem,” Joanne suggests. “Boredom tends to occur after the dog has been left alone for some time, so observe your dog when you have left it alone for several hours. Is it then that problems start? If you are not experiencing problems, chances are your dog is not bored. But you might like to give him some novel experiences, such as taking him for a swim once in a while just to keep his mind active.”

Activities for bored dogs

Enriching your dogs environment can play a huge part in alleviating boredom.

Examine your dogs play area inside or outside. Do the same toys lie in the same position every day? Are there new things for your dog to discover? Or does your garden resemble the moon, with huge holes under the fence? If you’ve ever had an escaped dog that was picked up the council I’m sure you’re aware of the fines imposed … not to mention the worry you go through. With a little thought your dog won’t want to escape as he’ll be having too much fun in his own area.

Toys can be a great tool in abolishing boredom, as with treats. Try throwing a handful of your dog’s dry food around the lawn so he has to sniff out a portion of his dinner when you are not home. Buy a treat ball and a KONG and rotate it from day to day with different goodies inside. Hang up ropes with toys on the end and push a few treats inside so your dog has to jump and work for his food. If you are concerned about weight gain, take this food from your dog’s daily diet. This way you are feeding him the same amount but making him actually work for it rather than just eat it from a bowl. Overweight dogs may also begin to lose weight as you stimulate them to do more than just sleep all day.

Another good idea is to have numerous toys but don’t leave them lying around as your dog will get bored with all of them. Rotate them daily and have toys for specific situations for when you are away, when you are home, toys for throwing at the park, retrieval toys etc. Not only will this extend you dogs interest in the toy, it will also extend the LIFE of the toy.

Prevention is always better than cure,” Joanne recommends. “Give them lots of different activities to do. Rotate their toys. KONGs and treat balls are great as they release food as the dog plays, keeping them active. Walking in different areas and at different times of the day keep a dog’s mind and nose active and playing with other dogs is great for letting off steam.”

John is also quick to point out the importance of training. “As our dogs are very intelligent creatures, their minds need to be stimulated,” he urges. “Training is a very powerful tool as it stimulates our dogs’ minds and, in turn, alleviates boredom.”

Joanne is also a big believer in the importance of training and emphasises that it doesn’t need to take long, tedious hours every day. Training can be in short bursts and even just one minute a day can help a bored dog.

“Training keeps a dog’s mind occupied,” says Joanne. “He has to think ahead. He wants to please you. Even little bursts of training, a minute a day, can help a dog that is bored. Not only does the dog get to be active but it gets a toy, a treat or some lovely praise from its best friend (owner) after each command. If you really enjoy training and/or games then other activities such as flyball or agility might appeal to both you and your dog.”

Other boredom busters

  • Use your imagination to come up with new and interesting things to keep your dog occupied. If you have a sandpit, try hiding treats so your dog has to dig them out.
  • Give your dog a huge marrow bone he can chew and hide it during the day. Just remember to always remove the bone once the knuckle has been eaten as the rest cannot be broken down and your dog will simply grind down his teeth.
  • Exercise also plays an important role in eradicating boredom. A daily walk or off-leash run is the ideal way to let your dog burn off energy.

“Some dogs need more exercise and others get by on less, especially if there are other things going on in their surroundings,” says Joanne. “Walking stimulates mind and body the legs work, the nose works. Playing with other dogs or running with your owner (trying not to get chased by other dogs!) in an off-leash area is great for most dogs. Those who are under-socialised may find the experience too stressful, however, and may need to be walked solo.”

John Richardson also agrees that enriching your dogs environment and whole life can help bust boredom. Basic things can make a huge difference.

“Preventive measures to stop doggie boredom include long walks, games of chase the ball, a sandpit in the corner of your yard with hidden goodies (a bone, biscuit or toy) or a KONG filled with your dog’s favourite tibits. Play toys also help keep your dog from being bored and these should be given to your dog one at a time and rotated on a daily basis, to maintain an element of surprise,” John advises. “Music played in the backyard may also keep your dog company when you’re away from home.”

In some rare cases, boredom can be almost genetic as extremely active breeds need to be kept busy and entertained all day, every day!

If the guardian is a couch potato with a breed like a Border Collie, Whippet, Weimaraner or any other highly energetic dog, they could be in big trouble look out plants!

“If we think of dogs in terms of breed, then dogs that are active, working breeds are more likely to suffer boredom,” says Joanne. “However, the dog that is most likely to suffer from boredom is the dog whose owners haven’t understood the level of stimulation that their dog needs or are unwilling or unable to provide it.”

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