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As a dog trainer, Nicole Ellis gets a lot of requests for help with destructive, naughty, or loud dogs. More often than not, the owners are surprised that most of these negative behaviors are symptoms of one big problem—boredom.
Dogs need both mental stimulation and exercise. If confined to a small space, or not given enough variety in routine or interaction, dogs can suffer. Researcher Charlotte Burn has studied the negative effects of boredom on animals and writes that, “boredom occurs when arousal inputs are low, but arousal motivation is high.” In other words, bored animals want more stimulation and will seek it out, even if that means digging through the trash or tearing up your shoes.
Fortunately, dog owners can help alleviate this problem. Activities like scent games, interactive puzzle toys, stuffed KONGs, a game of fetch, or a nice long walk can keep your dog occupied physically and mentally. Nicole recommends all of these for her clients, and also emphasizes the importance of training. “Even mini-training sessions during walks,” she writes, “will help.”
Of course, each dog is an individual, and we suggest working with a trainer, behaviorist, and in consultation with your veterinarian about specific concerns you have regarding your dog. Age, breed, background, and temperament all play a role in determining how your dog responds to their environment.
Here’s Nicole with her beloved dog, Maggie, who knows over 100 commands and also works as a therapy dog and actor. They’re here to offer some practical advice for battling doggy boredom.
Nicole belongs to Rover’s Dog People panel of professional trainers, veterinarians, and dog lifestyle experts.
Negative behaviors associated with boredom
- Excessive barking or whining
- Chewing on furniture
- Getting into things like the trash, your clothes, etc.
- Scratching at furniture
- Following you around
- Tail chasing
- Excessive licking (when dog has no allergies or reason to lick)
If you don’t see any improvement in these behaviors after trying the following tips, it’s best to consult a vet or certified professional dog trainer for help.
Strategies for dealing with dog boredom
1. Give your dog plenty of exercise. Say it with us: a tired dog is a good dog! Bored dogs often have a lot of pent-up energy. Give them enough physical activity, though, and the same dogs will be pooped and more likely to spend the rest of the day napping.
Got a dog that just won’t quit? If a good long walk doesn’t get the sillies out, a quick session with a Chuckit Launcher, frisbee, or flirt pole can help use up the last dregs of energy to ensure your dog enjoys a lazy day while you’re at the office.
2. Try doggy day care. The socialization and mental stimulation will keep your dog engaged and busy.
3. Make mealtime fun. Turning mealtime into a game will help keep your dog entertained. Try a slow feeder dish, stuff some peanut butter or wet food into a classic KONG, or let your dog knock around a treat-dispensing ball filled with part of his dinner or small, low-calorie treats.
If you’ve got a real food hound, spread kibble all the over the house so your dog can find it.
4. New toys, Mom! The same old toys get boring after a while. Bored dogs will look for inappropriate toys, so giving them a variety of approved playthings will help keep them out of the trash.
You can mix up your dog’s toy stash to keep them interested—don’t leave toys scattered about, but hide and rotate toys over time so when they come back into rotation, they’re brand new again. You can also hide toys around the house or yard so your dog can hunt them down while you’re away.
5. Let your dog watch TV. DogTV, that is. If you’re a DirecTV subscriber, you can add this channel tailored to stimulating your dog. It’s also available on Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire. Alternatively, leave on Animal Planet or NatGeo Wild to keep your dog engaged while you’re away.
6. Give your dog a playmate. Bored dogs are often solo dogs. Although it’s a lot of work in the beginning, being a multi-dog household gives your dogs built-in socialization and stimulation. Make sure your dogs get along, though, and invest in training up front. Get help from a certified dog behaviorist or trainer before bringing home a second furry family member.
A bored dog is more apt to get into trouble. Provide opportunities for exercise, socialization, and mental stimulation, and they’ll go a long way toward alleviating doggy boredom.
Remember, your dog wants your attention most of all! Don’t underestimate the power of a 15-minute play session in the morning, or some extra snuggles before bed. A little extra attention can go a long way for our dogs.