Dogs get bored, just like people. Imagine expecting your child to play with the same toys, indoors, alone, all day every day. What would your kid do? They may get creative and build a fort or find other things to play with or they may act out, become antsy, and frustrated. Dogs, like kids, find their own unique ways to curb boredom. Some dogs chew shoes or destroy furniture others become restless, bark or pace incessantly. Cold months in the midwest are especially hard on dogs since we tend to walk them and spend less time outside playing. So how do we prevent boredom in our dogs that can lead to destructive, unwanted behaviors? A healthy mix of mental, physical and emotional stimulation in the forms of exercise, interactive play, training, and new activities and toys. Here are 12 ways you can help your furry family member be a happy, bored-free dog:
1. Switch Up Your Walking Route – If you aren’t already walking your dog daily we highly encourage you to work this into your routine. Walks not only give your dog the exercise and physical release they crave but it also gives them a wonderful opportunity to explore their neighborhood therefore getting mental stimulation. If you have a set walking route, switch it up a bit. You can also try running or jogging with your dog instead to switch the pace up.
2. Hide and Seek with Treats – My dog LOVES playing hide-and-seek game and it can be played a couple different ways. If your dog has a nose for finding food then you can turn this into a fun hide and seek game. First get a handful of their favorite treats. Put your dog in a sit/stay, show them the treat, let them sniff it, then hide the treat, out of view, in the house. Use your release word to release them from their sit and then follow it with a command specific to the game like “fetch it up” or “find it.” You will probably need to show them how to play a few times by guiding them to the treat but a lot of dogs catch on rather quickly. Once they find the treat (assisted or not), celebrate with them and then repeat.
3. Hide and Seek with You – If your dog isn’t food motivated, and/or you want to work on recalls (come) in a new way, then you can become the treat in hide-and-seek. Put your dog in a sit/stay. Hide somewhere in the house (make sure they don’t see you hide) then call your dog to you. If your dog knows to come when they’re called they will start searching around the house for you. If you hear them stop looking, call out again. Once they find you be sure to celebrate big. Lots of “good boys” and love. You can also reward them with a treat. Put them back in their starting sit/stay spot and repeat.
4. Don’t Buy New, Swap Your Toys Instead! – Dogs get bored playing with the same old toys day in and day out. But this doesn’t mean you need to run to Chuck & Don’s to buy Fido new toys every week. An easy, money-saving alternative is swapping out toys. So have some of your dog’s toys available to them and rotate them out every few weeks with other toys keeping it fresh and fun. Old toys become new again!
5. New Tricks – You know that saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Well it’s not true. Dogs love learning and the more you teach them the easier it becomes for them to grasp new tricks. Plus every time you teach your dog a new trick or command you’re giving their brain a good workout. Mental stimulation is just as important and physical stimulation to prevent boredom in dogs. So why not teach them to roll over or give you a hug. There are several YouTube videos that give play by plays on teaching pretty much every dog trick imaginable.
6. Basic Obedience – This is not only a great way to give your dog that mental workout we’ve been talking about but also build a bond between you and your dog, keep your dog safe, as well as shape your dog into a well behaved family member. Spend 10-15 minutes a day working on basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, kennel up, come, and down. Your dog will enjoy it and you will enjoy seeing them improve.
7. Kongs and Frozen Treats – Offering stuffed kongs with peanut butter, yogurt and other goodies is something practically every dog loves. If your dog finishes these quickly try freezing the filled kongs to make them last longer. This isn’t a substitute for exercise or interacting with your dog but it’s a great treat to give them when you kennel them.
8. Emotional Stimulation – One-on-one play time with your dog helps build your bond with them, as well as wears them out and prevents unwanted behaviors. Don’t rely solely on chew toys or other dogs to play with your dog. Your dog needs time with YOU. It can be as simple as a game of tug or as advanced as agility training.
9. Puzzle Games – You can buy or make your own puzzle games for your dog. One of my favorites requires a muffin tin, treats, and tennis balls. Place the tennis balls in the muffin tin cups and hide a treat under a few of the balls. Your dog will need to move the tennis balls to find the treats.
10. Kick it up a notch – If your dog is high energy you may need to step up their daily exercise. Enroll in an agility course, teach them to run with you while you bike or rollerblade, take them jogging. Activities that burn energy and get you and your pooch out of the house will prove to be rewarding for both of you.
11. Work for your dinner – Instead of always feeding from a doggie bowl consider using a dog treat dispensing toy, it will keep your dog busy and make dinner time fun. Not interested in buying a special toy? Turn meal time into a mini training session. Before my dog gets her dinner she knows to sit patiently and wait for a series of commands. It’s usually a combination of sits, downs, sometimes a roll over or wave. Be sure to mix it up. Sometimes I only give her a single command then use her release word “ok” to let her know she can go ahead and eat. Other times we train for 2-3 minutes going through a quick string of actions. This makes training extra rewarding for your dog since they get a large bowl of food at the end!
12. Enroll in a class – If your dog has never attended an obedience class I highly recommend trying it. Classes are mentally, physically and emotionally stimulating for your dog. They are challenged to think through problems and stay focused on you instead of their doggie classmates. They also receive a healthy dose of exercise. Plus your dog is building their emotional bond with you as well as learning to listen to you. **Bonus** – they get doggie and people socialization. Every time I take my dog to a class she comes home happy, completely wiped out, and full of yummy treats. Cuddling and Netflix typically follow…
Your dog isn’t mad at you when they destroy your favorite pair of shoes. They’re just bored. So spend some quality time with them! Teach them a new trick, switch up their toys, try a new game. The result will be a happier, better behaved dog.