6 Signs your dog is bored, and what you can do about it

Many of us who love our pets also have jobs outside the home and children who are in school all day.  This means that our companions can spend several hours alone in our homes or in our yards.  Dogs are social animals, and when left alone for such long periods, they tend to become bored.  Boredom can lead to behaviors humans find unacceptable and frustrating.  Here are 6 signs your dog is bored, and how you can help them get relief!

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Destructive Behaviors

Destroying furniture, window treatments, or clothing and shoes is one way a dog may try to entertain herself when left alone.  We acknowledge how unpleasant it is to come home to a destroyed chair or pair of shoes, but punishing the dog for this behavior is not going to get you the result you want.  Think of it like this: the dog is trying to find a way to play while you’re gone.  Punishing the dog for playing can be confusing for the dog. 

Find some games for your dog that he can play while you’re gone.  There are many games that involve hiding food and having the dog find it as a reward.  There are also food based treat containers like Kong that you can fill with a sticky treat like peanut butter or spray cheese, that your dog can work at, providing entertainment and reward.  If your dog is outside, a DIY idea is to fill a balloon with water and kibble, freeze it, then take the ice ball out of the balloon; the dog gets an icy treat that he can push around the yard and enjoy.

Trailing you when you get home

Your dog won’t leave your side when you arrive home, because he’s so anxious for your attention.  This can be frustrating for us humans because we are tired after a long day of work and may just want to sit and relax.  We tell the dog to calm down, sit, or lay down, and get upset when the dog is simply incapable of doing these things.

One way to alleviate this behavior is simple: give your dog your full attention when you walk in the door.  Pet him, rub his tummy, play tug of war, fetch, or other simple interactive games to let him know you missed him too. Take him for a quick walk or run.  These things take energy but will reap benefits by allowing your dog to have your companionship and release his anxiety about being alone.

Lack of socialization

As we’ve mentioned, dogs are social animals who are most comfortable as part of a pack or group. When dogs are alone for most of their day, they can become anxious about being confronted with a new person or new animal.  This leads to a vicious cycle: the dog is unsure around people, so he lunges or barks when out on a walk or in a new place, therefore we don’t take him out on walks or to new places, which makes the dog more anxious and lonely, and the cycle repeats itself.

When possible, take your dog out!  Let her walk around the neighborhood, smelling new smells (and old smells – checking her peemail and Facebark accounts at various trees and mailboxes!), and meeting new people and other animals.  Short walks are good to start, but try to be consistent and even try for multiple walks per day. One in the morning and one at night, for example.  Gradually extend the walk time until she is more comfortable with the diversity of things she’ll encounter outside. 

A dog park is also a good option for socialization.  We recommend a park with a fence to start with, until you are sure of your dog’s ability to come when called and not chase another creature too far away.  We also recommend going to the same park at the same time for several weeks, to get to know the dogs that are there and find a good dog community for your pup.  (You may also find a good people community for yourself as a bonus!)

Chewing

A bored dog will chew to entertain himself.  Similar to the destructive behaviors listed above, the dog is simply trying to find a way to play alone. 

The solution here is to find toys that will withstand heavy chewing and gnawing so that the dog can chew for a long period.  Toys that are made with Kong or Nylabone type plastic, or with firehose or seatbelt material, with few seams, tend to be the longest lasting.  In our experience, plastic toys with holes on one end allow for the dog to get his teeth into the toy and rip off and digest small pieces. Not good for the dog!  Once your dog has “breached’ the toy and is creating smaller bits out of it, either plastic or fabric, it’s time to take it away.

Digging

A bored dog left alone in a yard may take to digging as his play of choice.  He may dig for the sake of digging, or because there are small animals like chipmunks or moles that are enticing him to chase and find them.  Either way, digging in the yard is generally something we’d like our dogs to avoid. 

Can you create an area of your yard that is “dig safe”?  Perhaps section off a small area, filled with a combination of dirt and sand, and bury some kibble in it for him to find. This allows him to engage in a natural behavior (especially for digging breeds like Terriers) and keeps you sane at the same time. 

Sleeping

Most dogs are not “couch potatoes.” If your dog is sleeping all day, she may be bored or lonely. She may have given up on entertaining herself as it’s not as rewarding as playing with another creature, human or canine. A dog that sleeps all day is then possibly too active at night, which is frustrating for their person.

In this situation, some daytime stimulation may help.  For example, a dog walker, either a professional or a neighborhood friend, could come by each day to play and walk your dog.  There are also doggie day cares in many areas, which may be an option for you, depending on your budget and ability to get your dog to or from the facility. 

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