I Feel Guilty My Dog Is Bored
Making sure your dog is mentally stimulated throughout the day encourages good behavior and reduces boredom.
Being a pet parent should bring you happiness and not more stress, guilt, or frustration. There are a few possible definitions for boredom, one is about satisfaction from a task.
Do Dogs Get Bored?
We can’t actually know if a dog is getting satisfaction from something, but we can make a strong guess based off of what a dog is doing and his body language!
When a pet parent says that a dog is bored, there are a few other possible causes for the behaviors we see.
A dog might do ten repetitions of sit to lie down in a training class and then the dog stops participating. Is he bored? Or is he physically getting tired - do you stop doing push ups because you’re bored or because you’re tired?
Dogs need a lot of rest each day. Many pet parents worried about “bored” dogs during the work day. As a species, dogs are a type of animal that sleep at night and rest during the day. They naturally tend towards having most of their activity at dawn and dusk. A behaviorally healthy dog should rest.
Each dog has different needs for mental stimulation and exercise, and this will change throughout your dog’s life.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Bored
While we can’t easily evaluate boredom in dogs, we can try different activities to see how your dog responds.
If your vet gives the “ok,” you can try increasing your dog’s exercise for a week or two and note any behavior changes at home. You might try longer exercise periods, more intense exercise, or variation. If you normally go for a leash walk, maybe try calling your dog back and forth between two people or finding a safe swimming location.
Training, whether for skills, a specific goal, or tricks can provide physical exercise and mental stimulation. Many tricks require dogs to move in new and different ways, which provide physical challenge in addition to the mental stimulation. There are great books, tutorials online, and resources for online virtual coaching.
Some dogs labeled as “bored” have actually trained their pet parents! These dogs may have been wandering the house or barked for attention once. A caring pet parent might see if the dog needs outside, offer water, offer food or a chew toy or play time. By running through this cycle, dogs can learn, consciously or not, to bark or pace the house to get our attention and get interaction. For a few weeks, try to reward your dog when he is resting, playing on his own, or calmly watching you. The rewards might be a tossed treat, a smile, getting up to go for a walk, or you getting up to play.
If your dog is barking while you are away, set up a camera to gather more information. Barking is most likely to be separation distress or alerting to sounds/sights outside your home. Video will help you best evaluate what is happening and then you can consult with a professional.
Some destructive behavior is from fun. Many dogs like to tear up cardboard or are attracted to fringed rugs. “Dissecting” things is part of a normal dog predatory sequence. Instead of opening a small animal for dinner, your dog may be tearing apart your belongings or his toys. Finding safe and appropriate outlets for this natural dog behavior can be a great compromise. For some dogs, this might mean putting a few treats in a paper bag and then putting that in a box. Supervise to be sure your dog doesn’t eat the cardboard pieces.
Puppy-proofing the house to protect your belongings is a good way to prevent destructive behaviors. A crate or a pen may help at times too.
How to Keep a Dog from Being Bored When Home Alone
For the most part, dogs should rest when they are home alone. Depending on which research we look at, dogs should be sleeping or resting a majority of the day. Give your dog a quiet rest area.
Try different amounts of exercise before leaving your dog to find the ideal amount. Hiring a professional dog walker to break up a long day can be helpful for adult dogs. A dog walker or professional to visit a young puppy a few times per day will be necessary.
Best Toys for Bored Dog
A “flirt pole” toy is a long stick with a long string and a toy at the end. This looks like the cat fishing pole toys but is made to be sturdy enough for dogs. These are not chew toys, but are great for interactive play with your dog.
Some food puzzle toys are designed for dry food. You can put your dog’s meal in the toy and let him work to get the food out. You can take even a simple toy and add challenge by placing it in a size-appropriate cardboard box so your dog has to work a little harder to get the food out.
There are many types of hollow rubber toys. These can be filled with canned food and then froze. This type of toy can keep many dogs busy for 20+ minutes, depending on the size of the dog and the size of the toy.
My Dog Is Bored But Won’t Play with Toys
Not everyone likes to watch documentaries or do 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles. If puppies are not exposed to toys or encouraged to do toy play at certain developmental stages, they may need to learn how to play as adults. Sometimes a specific toy or type of toy is not interesting to a dog. For many dogs, it’s the play with a person that’s fun - not the specific toy.
You can meet your dog’s needs for normal dog behaviors like sniffing, exploring, moving, social interacting, and foraging (searching for food) in ways that don’t involve toys. Walks in new places, scattering treats in the grass or a “snuffle mat” style toy, or hiding treats in the house for your dog to find can all be some great activities for him to enjoy.