Contributed by Samantha Randall, editor in Chief of Top Dog Tips
Many people value the “intelligence” of the dog as one of the key characteristics of a pet. This is why the most sought-after breeds are also the most intelligent ones – Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Poodles, etc. What we tend to do, unfortunately, is that we adopt such an intelligent dog that requires constant stimulation, and then we leave him alone all day every day while we are away from home for hours on end. With this routine, there should be no surprise when our dogs get extremely bored while they are at home, and thus develop mental health problems or behavioral issues.
Many pet owners fail to consider that dogs are not animals that evolved to stand idly like cows, and research shows that they require constant mental stimulation. A lot of the modern breeds were specifically bred to perform tasks, both physical and mental. That’s especially true for the more intelligent breeds. Leaving a dog confined in home alone, or worse – in a single room – all day is like locking up a workaholic; it’s not going to end well.
Because this issue is so common and is sometimes unavoidable, there’s a lot of research and expert advice available on the dangers of boredom in dogs, how it affects them, and how to deal with it. A few studies (this, this, and this) found that animals including dogs can develop depression and apathy from the lack of mental stimulation. Another two studies (this and this) observed that stress can also be the result of consistent boredom in dogs. Because of these mental conditions, dogs also develop bad habits and behavioral issues, such as:
Dogs that bark throughout the day are hated by all their neighbors, and you won’t be a favorite to said neighbors either. But this is a slight problem in itself – bored dogs that learn to bark at anything can quickly turn barking into a habit that is very hard to unlearn. What’s more, constantly being home alone with nothing to do but endlessly bark on anyone and anything that passes by your window – that’s not a life you want for your pet.
We all love to be greeted by our dogs as we come back home, but a bored dog can go overboard with his welcoming greetings – jumping on you, barking maniacally, tipping things over, and so on. This can not only be irritating after a while – especially when you are tired and want some rest – but it means that your dog has been more than just slightly bored; he’s been bored as a human stranded on an island.
Dogs, especially those that require a lot of mental stimulation and physical exercise (such as working breeds), are capable of a lot of mischief. Rummaging through the trash, opening a food cabinet or the fridge, breaking something of value as they try to play with it and amuse themselves due to boredom. Intelligent dogs can do all sorts of things when they are left to their own devices because their brain requires stimulation.
Chewing, digging, and other ways dogs do damage to your belongings and property is what you can expect from a bored dog. Your Fido can easily rip your pillows or mattress apart. The couch or the sofa are common targets for destruction. If you have flower pots at home, a bored dog is very likely to dig them up in his quest for entertainment.
Having your dog escape from home is a scary thought. You may even take it personally as if your dog didn’t want to be with you, but the truth usually is simply that your dog was bored while you were gone. With too many interesting things happening beyond the window, it’s no wonder that a dog wants to go out into the world instead of spending time locked up.
As discussed in the above-mentioned studies, depression is a possible and very serious consequence of boredom in dogs. More research demonstrates how dogs understand the absence of their owners very well, and if nothing interesting is happening in the majority of a dog’s life, it’s likely your dog will become depressed which leads to a number of other health issues, both physical and mental.
You know the risks of allowing your pet to go bored, but you have to go to work and leave him home anyway. How do you keep your pooch engaged and mentally stimulated while you’re away? Here are a few effective ways and ideas to try, because anything is better than simply leaving your dog on his own:
Pet owners who are constantly on the move and live a hectic life often don’t have as much time to spend with their dogs as they would like. Depending on the dog, going for 10-minute walks twice a day is just not enough. If you want your dog to avoid getting overly bored, you need to make time for him when you are together – give your dog plenty of exercises, a lot of playtime, and interaction.
Interactive fetch toys, like Chuckit! launchers, provide an outlet for dogs to expel pent-up energy while getting exercise to help keep them healthy. Fetch play is also ideal for strengthening the human-animal bond, as it’s a game that’s played together and is fun for both the pet and the pet parent. Keep your dog busy with other cool dog products like toys and accessories. An exercise pen creates a safe indoor and outdoor play area for your dog to romp around in. Having an assortment of products allows for more pet-and-owner interactions that your dog is longing for. If your dog gets plenty of exercise and playtime, he will be more satisfied and calm when you are away and will likely spend that time sleeping.
There are a lot of exercise or sports classes for dogs nowadays. They are perfect not only because they help keep your dog in a healthy and athletic shape, but also because they tend to work well with working pet parents. Drop off your pooch in the morning before work and pick him or her up on the way home.
Classes and doggy day camps can be expensive, so another thing to do when you are away is to hire someone to walk your dog or to spend time with him. This is a great way to keep your dog’s life interesting, keep him stimulated, and not spend a fortune. Be sure to do your research before committing to a sitter, and ask for references if possible.
There are a lot of great dog toys and treat dispensing toys that are designed to engage your dog mentally. For example, the JW Pet Treat Tower is a playful learning activity and treat-dispensing toy that makes your dog "work" for their treat. Fill it with your dog’s favorite kibble or treats and it will entertain him for hours with its continuous stimulation and treat motivation. Buying a few different varieties of these toys and changing them every couple of days will always give your dog plenty of mental stimulation and prevent boredom.
All dogs love to chew on things and chewing toys are far more preferable than the couch. Make sure that the toys are durable enough and are the right size. Try to avoid rawhide and opt for a safer alternative instead. You'll want something that's super tough that you don't have to worry about your dog chewing up while you're away from home. Pet Qwerks Nylon Bones are nylon chews, shaped in the form of a bone, and are infused with different flavors that dogs love. The hard nylon material is designed to stand up to a dog's chewing, yet is just soft enough to give dogs a satisfying chew experience.
Hiding treat-dispensing toys around the house before leaving for work and letting your dog look for them is another great way to keep him busy. Just make sure to hide them in places where they can be found without any unwanted destruction.
Some dogs love listening to music or watching TV. Things like a soothing melody or the Animal Planet / Discovery Channel can hold your dog’s interest for a while and distract him from what’s going on beyond the window. You could even pull up some YouTube videos created or edited just to keep dogs busy. Just make sure to do this while you’re at home first, to make sure that your dog doesn’t jump at the TV or device.
If you have a neighbor, friend, or relative that your dog knows and loves, ask them to stop by your home to visit with your dog. Half an hour of playtime and fun with a loved one can be a great distraction for a dog. Just be sure to properly thank and/or compensate them for their time!
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