Many common dog behaviour problems including excessive barking, digging and destructive chewing occur when dogs are left alone in the backyard all day with nothing to do, so addressing boredom in dogs is vital.
Dogs are pack animals and in the wild they would spend their days hunting and foraging for their food, keeping their brains and bodies active, so it’s not surprising we see so many bored or anxious dogs acting out in this way.
And, if you own a working dog breed and they aren’t getting enough exercise and mental stimulation, then you are just asking for trouble.
In my book Eat, Play, Love (your dog) I talk a lot about this and share my Tips for Beating the Backyard Blues, so let’s delve into what some of these are and how you can use treats and games to make your dog’s life, and yours as a result, much happier by preventing boredom in dogs.
Firstly, all dog owners have a responsibility to ensure their dog is receiving daily exercise appropriate to its breed, age and temperament. For the large majority of adult dogs this means at least a 30-minute walk every day, while active breeds require much more.
Short, daily bursts of obedience training is also a great way to not only work their brains and expel some energy, it helps promote desired behaviours rather than unwanted ones and provides your dog with the leadership they need to help reduce stress and confusion in an uncertain world. Try just 5-10 minutes before and after work each day and see the difference it can make. You can download my ‘Golden Rules of Obedience Training’ excerpt from my book HERE.
Ditch the bowl
A dog’s sense of smell is its most important sense and our dogs absorb the world around them through their nose, so tapping into this when they do spend time alone is of great benefit and a way to address boredom in dogs.
If you feed your dog dry food, ditch the bowl and hide it around the house or backyard instead. Use treats to up the ante with a game of Treat Treasure Hunt.
You can also leave them with a couple of treat dispensing interactive toys, I like to cut up a chicken or milky stick into small pieces so I don’t feed my boys more than than 10% of their required total daily calorie intake in treats.
If your dog is digging, do just make sure they have enough shade or cover to protect them from the sun or rain. But, if its due to boredom or anxiety, or they just love to dig, then you can use a sandpit to divert the digging to a designated area and bury treats or toys to encourage them to dig in just that one spot.
Interactive toys and long lasting chews
This, like the interactive toys and hiding food and treats around the yard, is a great way to mimic how they would be foraging for their food throughout the day. If they have gotten into the habit of digging up your garden bed or under the fence, then block those areas off to help.
Long lasting chews or occupiers are another weapon in your armory to help address boredom in dogs. If you can, why not ask a family member or neighbour to pop around with a Vitapet Lambs Ear or Rawhide Alternative Chew in the middle of the day to top off their activities.
Hire a dog walker to reduce boredom in dogs
And, if you can’t avoid leaving them at home all day or struggle to meet their daily exercise needs, then a dog walker is definitely something to consider.
With all of this combined, your dog should be feeling fulfilled rather than frustrated and spend their afternoon getting some well-earned rest – which is another important part of looking after their health and keeping problem behaviour at bay.
All of this combined will go a long way to help, and ideally stop, boredom in dogs when they are left alone.
Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog).