There are usually very few reasons for the wide range of problem behaviours in dogs. Whether a dog digs up the back yard, barks at the neighbour’s cat, eats your couch, or has an accident on your prized rug, it is usually (not exclusively) caused by anxiety and/or frustration. Mental health of dogs is receiving a lot of attention with researchers, to which we are discovering that the mind of a dog is much more complicated than we first thought.
When a dog lacks purpose and focus in their day, they expend that mental and physical energy into behaviours that we often find irritating. Destructive behaviours are not really problems until they start to bother the owner, and by then usually, the dog has done something that leaves some owners wondering why they got the dog in the first place.
For me as a behaviourist, I am much more interested in seeing 'problem' behaviours as a symptom of a dog's underlying emotions, as we can't ever expect to help an intelligent animal overcome issues, if we don't help them address the cause. So, today, I have come up with a list of 'boredom' busters for you and your dog. These are simple and inexpensive ideas that will help to give your dog purpose during their day.
Mental health of dogs improves markedly when they have positive focus and control in their environment, and often dog who suffer from underlying anxieties are able to work through them faster and with greater success. The idea or boredom busters is to not only give your dog something to do, but also to engage your time with them whenever you can.
Dogs yearn for interactions with their owners and if you can involve yourself with these activities, it makes the activities even more beneficial. Of course, you may not be able to be by your dog's side 24 hours a day, so the following tricks and games can be played either with or without you.
1. Dog bowls.
I really am not a fan of dog bowls. They provide a meaningless resource that is over in 20 seconds. Try to scatter your dogs food, hide it in show boxes or treat dispensers or even play a 5 minute game where your dog has to guess which hand the food is in.
Exercise is so understated in the world of mental health. Now that dogs are domesticated, they don't need to travel, migrate, hunt and forage. So, it is important to maintain their physical health by giving them as much exercise as they can cope with. For older dogs, low impact walks are more appropriate. Young adult dogs depending on breed and energy level can travel between 1km and 50km. It might sound extreme, to think a dog may run up to 50km across a day, however working dogs will typically travel this distance in their jobs. If you have a working dog at home, it may be worth considering increasing their exercise considerably.
3. Use the nose.
Dogs instinctively sniff everything in front of them. It elicits a range of chemical reactions in their brain and improve their overall mental health when allowed to freely explore. Allow your dog to sniff and explore on you walks. Keep your back yard interesting by scattering different scents around, as well as incorporating rewards into the game if you can. This means that you can teach your dog to sniff out a scent - such as lavender for example. When they smell the scent, play a game such as tog of war or provide a yummy treat. You can teach your dog to detect the smell on cue, knowing that when they find it, they will be rewarded for it. Not only is this a valuable brain game, but it enhances the relationship between dog and owner as well.
Dogs who are well socialised often enjoy visits to other people's home who have dogs. If you have a busy day at work and may be home late, do you have a neighbour who would like to have your dog play with theirs? A good Doggy day care is also a great option for many dogs, or simply a visit from a trainer or pet minder to break the day up.
I'm not a huge fan of the word 'obedience' because it implies your dog should obey you. I am much more of the mind that your dog should cooperate with you, which means you also have to put up your end of the relationship bargain. Having said that, dog obedience classes can be great fun for both you and your dog. The other advantage is that you can apply what you are learning at the class back at home each day. A quick game of sit and stay at home can be a good way to teach your dog to focus and cooperate with you, plus it helps drain their mental energy.
So there you have it, some simple tips to bust your dogs boredom, and even help build a stronger bond between you both. Good luck!