By Jane Harrell, Co-Owner of WorkingwithDog.com and President of ‘cause Digital Marketing. Jane’s spent nearly 20 years working, volunteering, writing and educating in the animal welfare industry. She regularly writes for both consumer and pet brands and has served as Editor-in-Chief for both start-up and some of the world’s largest pet websites.
Is your dog smart? I mean, really smart? I have two grey-muzzled gals at home and it’s given me the real-life experience of why so many folks in the pet industry have been focusing on Environmental Enrichment for animals for nearly two decades.
Dog #1, Fiona the Taco Dog, is sweet, 15 years old, a cancer and puppy mill survivor and (gotta love her), dumb as nails. She sleeps most of the day, cuddles, trots and wags her tail and enjoys life without many frills.
And then there’s dog #2, a now-12 year-old Terrier mix rescue, Liza the Misfit. Liza is SMART, and through her I’ve learned first-hand what it means to have a bored dog. She chews, barks, steals food, climbs, pees on the bed and follows our 6-year-old foster child around like a messiah, knowing good things will come.
Liza has taught me the curse of the smart dog—the dog that needs and wants a job and will find something to do if we don’t give her one.
The fact is, dogs are social animals who traditionally were given jobs to keep them occupied—hunting, herding or protecting. Without a job, boredom and loneliness can seep in and lead to destructive dog behavior. So it’s a good idea to learn the signs of boredom and things to try to keep your dog happy—and out of trouble.
Signs of Boredom
We all want the best for our dog. And we want our dog to be happy and loving when they are with us. But if your dog is constantly on you begging for attention or seems restless, he might be bored.
- Does your dog always ask for attention?
- Is your dog overexcited and jumping up when guests arrive?
- Does your dog knock over trash cans or explore other interesting smelly places?
- Does your dog chew furniture, shoes or other objects?
- Is your dog a wanderer or has your dog attempted to escape?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, your dog may have a case of doggy boredom.
But be careful not to confuse dog boredom with separation anxiety, which is a deep fear that may need to be handled differently than boredom. It’s important to figure out if your dog is truly just bored or incredibly upset and afraid about being left alone. If you realize you do have a bored dog, it’s time to un-bore them.
7 Ways to Bust Your Dog’s Boredom (and yours too!)
1. Go PLAY! Regular physical exercise is a great way to alleviate boredom. Teaching your dog how to be happy on a leash is a great bonding experience and will help keep you both safe during walks. Try making walks a special event for your dog (and you) instead of just another stroll around the same block.
- Allow time for you both to take in all the good, interesting smells and fresh air!
- Find new places or paths to explore or walk.
- Include some romping play during the walk (if there isn’t a safe, enclosed place to romp, finish with a play session at home).
- Be sure your dog is comfortable with a well-fitted collar or harness.
2. Turn playtime into learning time. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
And a young dog.
And a middle-aged dog.
You get the point. By incorporating a little learning during playtime, your dog gets mental stimulation. Not only will your dog be more engaged and less bored, he’ll also be a more obedient and happy companion. You can try to:
3. Make dinnertime fun. Sometimes the food is too delicious not to wolf it down. If your dog has the tendency to eat in one minute flat (or less), making dinnertime more fun might be the perfect solution.
- If you have a vinyl floor, scatter your dog’s food over the floor to make it interesting and slow him down.
- Pick up a specially designed bowl like the Outward Hound Fun Feeder or use a Lick Mat for wet food. They’re affordable, easy to clean and will make dinnertime interesting for Fido.
4. Keep chewers and tuggers active with safe and fun chew toys. If your doggy loves chewing or tugging when bored, give them something you’re okay with them gnawing on.
- The Classic Kong Toy can be filled with treats or peanut butter to keep your dog engaged longer and keep their teeth away from your furniture.
- The Booda Fresh and Floss Tug Rope is another awesome option for a fun game of tug with your dog. And it’s a heck of a lot better than having your dog tug at the tongue of your favorite shoe.
Careful though. If your dog is a pro at completely destroying or damaging toys, make sure you keep toys out of reach when you aren’t around. Breakable toys, rope and rawhide can cause dangerous obstructions when ingested that require a vet visit. Best to be safe.
5. Let them play with their food. Well, not exactly, but a food puzzle is a fun and enriching way to fill a hunting dog’s desire to search a bit for dinner.
6. Get some company for your dog. One IS the loneliest number.
- If you have to be away from home for long stretches during the day, you may want to get a neighbor or professional dog walker (check out these tips to find an awesome one) to add some enjoyment to your dog’s afternoon.
- Doggy day care is a blast for your dog too, even if it’s only once or twice a week.
7. Spice up both your dog’s life and yours with a subscription box. Humans aren’t the only ones having all the unboxing fun these days. There’s a whole bunch of companies out there offering subscription boxes for pets and pet parents so there’s a little surprise in the mail every month.
Smart dogs—like my Liza—aren’t bad dogs. They’re just asking for a little more challenge, a little more excitement and a little more fun. And that’s exactly what I give her.