Dogs can get bored just like people! Many dogs begin to experience boredom when they don't get enough physical as well as mental enrichment. Just taking your dog for a quick walk around the block once a day, letting your dog into the backyard on their own, or going to dog parks while you scroll on your phone answering emails doesn't necessarily provide your dog with the kind of attention and enrichment they need to avoid boredom.
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Causes of boredom
Boredom for dogs is generally caused by spending too much time alone, and/or a lack of mental/physical engagement and enrichment. High energy dogs especially herding dogs, working dogs, terriers, and sporting dogs were all bred to do a specific job and can get bored easily. These dogs often struggle to just spend their days home on a couch, because they need a job or activity to keep them physically and mentally stimulated.
Symptoms of boredom
Dogs who are bored often react in one of two ways. Some dogs will become depressed, lethargic, and shut down. Other dogs who experience chronic boredom may take matters into their own paws and find ways to entertain themselves. People will often mistake a dog's "misbehavior" as a dog being bad or untrained. These behavioral challenges are often a direct result of a dog trying to entertain themselves, self-soothe, or communicate that they are bored. Symptoms of boredom to watch for include destructive behaviors such as:
- Excessive barking
- Chewing up items in the home, walls, furniture etc.
- Digging at floors
- Excessive licking, scratching or chewing at themself
- Digging at floors or in the yard if they have access to the yard, or escaping
These behaviors can understandably be frustrating for dog owners, and will likely intensify if the underlying source of boredom isn't addressed.
Helping bored dogs
The best way to manage a dog who is bored is to do whatever possible to ensure that your dog is getting enough physical and mental stimulation. Spend some quality time with your dog. Put your phone down, turn off the TV and play with your dog. Take your dog for a walk, practice teaching your dog some tricks, or even schedule regular play dates with people and dogs that are well-matched to your dog's play style.
A great way to decrease your dog's boredom is to increase the enrichment in your dog's daily life by spending quality time together. Dogs love to learn and learning new skills provides them with great mental stimulation. Fun options include teaching your dog a new trick, playing parkour games with your dog, or creating an interactive playground in your backyard.
A simple way to increase enrichment for your dog is to provide them with interactive toys. Puzzles and toys that challenge your dog's mind are a great way to help prevent them from getting bored. Stuffing a Kong or other chew-safe hollow toys with (dog safe) peanut butter, or even your dog's food can help provide enrichment when your dog is home alone. Dog puzzle toys are also a great way to build enrichment activities into your dog's day and give your dog an opportunity to use their brain if the weather is bad and you can't go outside together.
Take a class
If you have a dog who is bored, and you're struggling to figure out how to engage with your dog, signing up for a fun training class together can be a great way to spend time together. You can brush up on basic obedience skills, or try a new sport like nose work, agility, rally obedience, barn hunt, and other canine sports and activities that dogs of all breeds (and mixes) can get involved with either recreationally or even competitively. This will improve your bond with your dog, and help keep them from getting bored.
If you are struggling with a dog who seems to be stressed, distressed, or bored, it's always a good idea to get help. Talk with your veterinarian if your dog is excessively licking, scratching, or chewing at their skin. This could be symptoms of a skin infection or an underlying allergy in need of treatment. If you're struggling with destructive behaviors in the home, and don't know how best to support your dog, working with a positive reinforcement focused dog trainer can help give you and your dog skills to better understand each other, and provide ideas for how to increase your dog's enrichment to decrease boredom. If you are also going into a busy season at work, hiring an experienced dog walker who can come in while you're away can give your dog socialization when you aren't able to be home.