You probably know very well how it feels to be bored and wish you had something to do to entertain yourself.
But do dogs experience the same emotion? You may be surprised to learn that dogs seem to experience boredom very similarly to how humans do and that boredom is the root cause of many behavior problems.
Here is how you can identify boredom in your dog and provide the physical and mental exercise they need.
Is my dog bored?
What exactly does a bored dog look like? You need to recognize doggy boredom to provide a solution for the problem. Here are a few signs to look for:
While you’re cooking, suddenly, your dog looks at you. You want to give them a little treat but wonder if they can eat the food you are holding in your hand.
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- Inability to focus. Suppose your dog seems unable to pay attention to commands or focus on you when trying to get them to do something. In that case, it may be a sign that they are bored of the training session or bored in general.
- Hyperactivity. Does it seem that your dog can't seem to contain their energy? A dog spinning in circles, running around without any direction, or generally appearing out of control may well be a bored dog.
- Getting into trouble. Any dog can find ways to get into mischief. Still, a bored dog might be especially likely to find new ways to cause problems like getting into things they shouldn't or displaying destructive behaviors.
- Barking or whining at you. Many dogs will let you know that they're bored by telling you so directly. A dog that barks or whines at you, especially when going to the front door or their toy box, is probably trying to tell you that they would like something to relieve their boredom.
Why is my dog bored?
Dogs require a lot of mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. After all, these are highly intelligent animals, most of which were initially bred to do a job.
Your dog's boredom may result from too little mental and physical stimulation. Different dogs require different levels of exercise and mental workouts. Some dogs, such as herding breeds, often need more than others.
Regardless of how much training and exercise your dog is getting, it may not be enough if they're showing signs of boredom.
My dog is bored: now what?
Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to alleviate dog boredom. If what you're doing isn't having the kind of results you want, consider some of the following options:
- Dog sports. Generally, a tired dog is a happy dog and not a bored dog. Dog sports like playing frisbee, dock diving, barn hunt, etc., are all great ways to tire your dog out and give them the exercise they need to prevent boredom.
- Nose work. Nose work can be a great way to stimulate your dog's brain and an easy thing to work into your dog's routine. It can be as elaborate as training your dog to search for objects or people in a forest or field or as simple as making a point to hide treats around the house.
- Food puzzles. A puzzle toy can be a superb way to relieve boredom for your dog. These simple boredom busters can be used over and over again. Stuff them with your dog's kibble, wet food, peanut butter, yogurt, fruit and vegetables, and whatever else your dog may enjoy, and let your dog work to get the food out. Freezing can increase the challenge.
- Chew toys. Chew long-lasting toys like bully sticks, nylon bones, hooves, antlers, etc., are a great way to give your dog entertainment and mental stimulation healthily and make destructive behavior less likely. Be sure always to observe your dog as they get used to a new chew toy to ensure that it won't become a choking or impaction hazard.
- Dog park. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, going somewhere where many dogs can play together is a wonderful way to provide both physical exercise and mental stimulation. Many dogs love going to dog parks and come home tired, relaxed, and relieved of pent-up energy.
- Consider another dog. Another dog isn't always a solution to bored dogs, but it absolutely can be. Canine companions for your pup in a multi-dog household can be a great way to keep your dog engaged and provide an alternative to whatever they may come up with on their own, such as the choice to chew furniture. Fostering another dog from your local shelter is a great way to try this out before making a permanent decision.
- Doggy daycare. If you would like your dog's routine to include some playtime with other dogs, but you don't want to take a risk with a dog park or get another dog, daycare can be a great solution. Very good daycares can also provide positive reinforcement training and help your dog with separation anxiety.
- A dog walker. Some dogs need a few more walks during the day than you can provide. A dog walker can be a great way to leave you with a happy, tired dog at the end of the day and also fit in a little bit of animal behavior training.
Keep your dog busy and relieve boredom
A bored puppy can result in all kinds of problems, but there are lots of things that you can do to alleviate your dog's boredom and keep them happy and healthy.
Be sure to watch for signs of boredom and provide entertainment for your dog as soon as you see them.
My experience as the liaison of integrative medicine, neurology, and zoo medicine at UF Small Animal Hospital gave me valuable insight into the challenges faced by pet owners with animals who have medical conditions. My time there also gave me the opportunity to care for a disabled dog and write a book about the experience.
As manager of a dog daycare, I learned about how dogs play and interact, warning signs for aggression, and how to rehabilitate dog-reactive dogs. During my time there I was under the mentorship of two groomers, from whom I learned grooming essentials.
I currently work with high-risk shelter dogs and manage a blog to help other volunteers and foster families. I have two dogs of my own, a Maltese and a Standard Poodle.