How To Tell If Your Dog Is Bored & 7 Things You Can Do About It
While you definitely can't entertain your dog 24/7, if they aren't getting enough exercise, time outside, or mental stimulation, they will find a way to let you know. When dogs get bored, they often act out the same way a kid might, by doing whatever they can to get your attention — even if it means destroying your house. So for their sake, and the sake of your belongings, it's super important to listen.
"Signs of boredom will be different for every dog, and severity is often breed-dependent," Dr. Jess Trimble, DVM, of Fuzzy Pet Health, tells Bustle. In general, you'll want to keep an eye out for signs your dog is acting differently or going out of their way to get your attention. (Think chewing on furniture, or barking obsessively.)
"For 'high-drive' dogs, like herding, sporting, and working breeds, they often become more destructive or develop anxiety faster as compared to a low-energy dog breed," Dr. Trimble says. There is good news, though, in that any breed can feel better, with just a few small changes.
"Investing time in your dog is the answer to keeping boredom at bay, and it doesn’t have to be much," professional dog trainer Kim Paciotti, CPDT-KA, CDT, APDT, tells Bustle. Sometimes all they need is one more walk per day, a new toy, or a bit more attention. Here are a few behaviors that may mean your dog is bored, according to experts.
1. Tearing Up Furniture
If you come home to find a half-eaten couch, it may be a sign your dog was bored, and didn't know what else to do with themselves while you were away. And the same may be true for other destructive behaviors, such as chewing on shoes, digging at carpet, or mangling table legs.
"All of these things are fun for a dog to do, and mimic behaviors that they would do normally in an outside environment — like digging in the dirt and chewing on sticks," Dr. Trimble says.
To keep them from getting this bored again, it may help to give your dog more exercise, including long walks and trips to the park. "Tired dogs are happy dogs," Dr. Trimble says. "Different breeds and ages will need different amounts of exercise, so it may take time to find the perfect amount for your pup." If you aren't sure how much exercise your dog needs, ask a vet.
2. Barking Incessantly
It's fine if your dog occasionally barks at someone passing by on the street, or if they run around whining whenever the doorbell rings. These are normal dog behaviors, and not a sign that they're bored.
Take note, though, if your dog barks a lot or whines constantly throughout the day. "These types of behaviors are more of a warning sign to me as a veterinarian that the dog's boredom has escalated to the point where their mental health is affected," Dr. Trimble says.
But it is something you can easily remedy. Getting them a fun toy is a great place to start. You can also turn on a dog TV show (yes, that's a thing) whenever you leave the house.
"It's not for every pup, but some dogs do love watching the tube," Dr. Trimble says. "There are dog-friendly channels for your [pup] to enjoy while you're out. I had a friend who's labrador loved watching the food channel."
3. Stealing Food
If your dog is getting the right nutrition, but is still breaking into the biscuit container or stealing food off the counter, take note.
"[Many people] eat more when [they're] bored, and our pets do the same," Dr. Trimble says. "A dog who may not normally dig through the trash, when bored, can become a counter-surfing, trash-eating monster."
One way to counteract this bad habit is by making their mealtimes more fun. "Giving a bowl full of dry kibble is boring," Dr. Trimble says. "Putting the meal in a puzzle toy, maze, slow feeder, instituting the meal into a training session, hiding it around the house, sticking the meal in a treat ball — there are a ton of great options for more fun dinners."
4. Pawing At You For Attention
Most dogs want attention from their owners, and will do whatever they can to get it. This may include normal stuff like sitting in your lap, following you around the house, and so on.
When a dog is bored, though, they'll take it to the extreme. Pawing, jumping up, extra licking, and neediness are all things to watch out for, Dr. Trimble says. "Going to their human friend — and the one who provides the entertainment — is a natural next step when your pup is looking for something to do."
If your dog is getting desperate, don't brush them off or push them away. "Mental stimulation is critical, especially for the super-smart, high-drive breeds," Dr. Trimble says. "Puzzle toys are a great way to provide entertainment, especially for food-driven dogs. Mental stimulation is a fantastic add-on once your pup is exercised well!"
5. Trying To Escape
If your otherwise well-behaved dog has taken to escaping the yard, or slipping out the front door, it may be their way of telling you they need more fun in their life. They may also dig under fences, chew or scratch at the door, or leap over gates, all of which are signs something needs to change.
You can start by making the outside world less appealing by taking them out into it more often. Letting them interact with other dogs and people can help, too. "Your dog wants friends," Dr. Trimble says. "Doggy day care, or group walks, can be a great way to increase social interactions and exercise."
6. Sleeping All The Time
Just like people, many dogs take a nap when they're feeling bored, simply because they have nothing better to do, Kayla Fratt, an associate certified dog behavior consultant at Journey Dog Training, tells Bustle. It's common for dogs to spend about 50 percent of the day asleep, 30 percent resting, and 20 percent being active.
But if your dog is lazing about more than necessary, you may want to play games and get them out of the house more often. Do, however, consult a vet if they're lethargic or won't get up, as this may be a sign of a health issue.
7. Obsessing Over Their Tail
Some dogs, when they're starting to go batty with boredom, will begin to chase their tale, chew on their feet, or fixate on a certain toy — all of which are worrisome obsessive compulsive behaviors.
"Dogs resort to these behaviors because they are a release for the stress and frustration they’re feeling," Paciotti says. "Essentially they are coping mechanisms. Left unaddressed, they can actually become an addictive behavior or habit." So the sooner you can make their routine more interesting, the better.
"While physical exercise is important, the key to relieving boredom in any dog is mental stimulation," Paciotti says. "It could be as simple as learning a new trick, hiding and finding treats, or even teaching them to imitate you! It’s important to find out what your dog enjoys and do it with them on a regular basis."
You certainly don't have to entertain your dog all day long. But if they're showing signs of boredom, spicing up their routine by adding in more exercise, teaching them new tricks, or providing them with mentally-stimulating activities can go along way in keeping them happy.