Help Your Dog Chase Away His Boredom

Have you ever scoffed at the idea of doggie daycare? You might think, "My dog sleeps all day while I'm gone. Why would I pay for daycare?" The truth may be that your dog sleeps all day because he is bored. Here are a few boredom busters to help get your dog up and moving again, without the expense of taking the dog to daycare.

Dog chewing on a shoe
If you come home to ruined shoes and destroyed cushions, your dog may be bored.

Identifying a bored dog

How do you know if your dog is bored? One big clue might be to talk to your neighbors. If your dog barks a lot or tries to dig out under your fence while you're gone, you may be seeing the results of his boredom. A bored dog might also be prone to jump your fence and go exploring throughout the neighborhood, chasing cats and other small critters.

Another indicator is destructiveness. If you come home night after night to destroyed couch cushions, trash from the wastebaskets strewn around your house, scratched up doors and walls or chewed up shoes, you can be sure your dog is suffering from boredom all day while you're at work.

Containing the damage

The first step you will want to take is to contain the destruction to a specific area of your home. Use a dog crate or baby gates to keep your dog confined to an area where he can do the least amount of damage. This is not only to relieve your frustration; it's to keep the dog safe. If your dog is getting into your stuff, then that means your stuff is getting into your dog, as well.

House plants, batteries, cleaning chemicals, electrical cords, and many other things in your home can be poisonous to your dog. Even if your dog is not permanently harmed or killed by chewing on these items, he may develop an upset stomach, giving you yet another mess to clean up.

Buster food cube dog toy
Toys like the Buster Food Cube can help alleviate your dog's boredom.

Proper preparation for being alone

Your first idea for dealing with your dog's destructive behavior might be to punish the dog by refusing to walk him or play with him when you get home because you have to spend all of your "free" time cleaning up the mess he left you. Unfortunately, this does nothing but make the problem worse.

One of the keys to busting boredom is to make sure your dog has so much fun with you when you're at home, that he really does need to sleep the entire time you're gone so he's ready for the next time you come home. Take your dog for frequent walks, toss a Frisbee with him, go to the dog park, or participate in dog sports like agility, Earthdog trials, lure coursing, dock diving, or Rally.

Simply turning your dog out in the back yard is not sufficient exercise or interaction for your dog. Dogs are pack animals and yearn for your company, as well as exercise. Go outside with your dog and spend some time throwing a ball or playing with a tug rope.

If your dog is not already obedience trained and properly socialized, invest in some classes where you can spend quality time with your dog while both of you learn some important skills. Socialization can give your dog the skills he needs to cope with being alone. Proper socialization exposes the dog to a wide variety of situations and noises which will help him learn to deal with his fear.

Sometimes the destruction you see when you come home can be because your dog gets scared from hearing the creaks your house makes or from being alone. Socialization will also make your dog better behaved on your walks, which may help you actually want to spend the time for an evening and morning excursion. The more time you spend with your dog when you can, the less you'll have to worry about him when you're away from home.

Even when you're too tired to do something active with your dog, be sure to include him in the cuddling and television watching. Let the dog sit near you or on you and talk to him during the commercial breaks so he knows you're not ignoring him.

Kong Wobbler dog toy
The Kong Wobbler challenges your dog and helps keep him occupied.

Environmental enrichment

When you go to the zoo, have you ever noticed that the zookeepers often put balls or other toys in the animals' habitats? These toys help keep the confined animals occupied during the day to prevent boredom. The same principle applies to your dog at home. Provide lots of toys to enrich your dog's environment to keep him from getting overly bored and destructive.

Chew toys give your dog something to chomp on besides your shoes. You can use them to divert your dog's attention when he starts to gaze longingly at things he shouldn't have, and leaving them out for your dog to play with will give him something to do while you're gone. Choose sturdy toys that your dog won't destroy in a single setting so you aren't constantly picking little pieces of flimsy rubber or plush toy stuffing out of your carpets.

Puzzle toys make your dog think. Most have little compartments in which you can hide some peanut butter or a dog treat. The dog can spend his day trying to figure out how to get the treat out, rather than looking for treats in your garbage can. To add an extra element to the game, you might hide the toys, forcing your dog to follow the scent and find the toy before he even begins to work on the puzzle aspect.

Examples of this type of toy include the Kong Wobbler and Buster Cubes, but you can also make an inexpensive version by putting a few pieces of kibble in the bottom of a clean milk jug. Your dog will have to figure out how to tip the jug over and shake it to get the kibble perfectly positioned to fall out. Alternatively, you can put some peanut butter inside a paper towel tube and crimp the ends closed. To keep your dog from gaining too much weight, you might want to make these puzzle toy stuffers his breakfast, not an extra treat.

You can make an inexpensive puzzle box by filling a shoe box with crumpled newspaper and a few treats. Tape the lid shut and cut some holes in the box so the dog will be able to smell the treats inside. He'll have a fine old time tearing open the box to get to the food.

If your dog stays outdoors during the day there are ways you can provide enrichment activities out there, too. Use a couple of bungee cords to attach a rope or a scrap of denim fabric to a tree trunk. Show your dog how he can use it as a tug toy when you're not around.

It will take some training, but you can actually teach your dog to "throw" his own tennis ball if he likes to chase things. Simply provide a child's playground slide and build a ramp up to the top. Show your dog how to walk up the ramp, carrying the tennis ball, then get him to drop the ball down the slide. He can then chase the ball and repeat.

Do you have trouble with your dog digging in the garden? You might try giving him his own digging space. Fill a child's swimming pool with non-toxic sand and bury a few treats in it. Soon enough, your dog will be digging there instead of in your prized rose garden.

Children's playground toys such as those made by Little Tykes might give your dog something to do other than lounge around outside. You can even use these toys to start exploring dog agility skills to see if your dog has any aptitude for the sport.

For more ideas on activities to curb your dog's boredom, check out Sue Owens Wright's 150 Activities for Bored Dogs: Surefire Ways to Keep Your Dog Active and Happy, available at Amazon.

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