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Behavioural problems: boredom

Dogs, just like people, can get bored if they do not get enough mental stimulation.  In the modern world pet dogs are often left alone at home for longer periods of time and in some animals this can cause significant problems.

Your questions answered

Why do dogs get bored?

A lack of mental stimulation can result in boredom but it is often related to a sense of frustration. For example, if your dog does not expect there to be any activity at a certain time of day it may take the opportunity to relax. Conversely if it expects to go out and this doesn't happen your dog may become frustrated and start to display other behaviours which may be interpreted as signs of boredom. Similarly if your dog doesn't get enough physical exercise it may become over active in inappropriate situations. Of course, physical exercise and mental stimulation are often linked and if you provide one you may also be providing the other.

How can I provide more mental stimulation for my dog?

There are lots of things you can do to reduce the chance of your dog becoming bored. If you interact with a dog more often you may increase its interest in its day to day routine. Training in its various forms at home and during walks, including teaching your dogs tricks, will provide mental stimulation. Dog training classes can be beneficial and many dogs get a lot of mental stimulation from doing activities, such as agility. Whatever you do the important things are that it is fun and your dog enjoys it.

Asking your dog to search for things when at home and during walks will give it mental stimulation whilst searching and a sense of satisfaction when it finds what you have asked it to look for. You could ask your dog to look for a family member who has hidden, or for toys you have sneakily dropped. If your dog does not have any interest in toys then you can hide food treats which may provide more reward when these are found. Whatever your dog has been asked to look for, reward it when it finds it so that he will be keen to search for it again.

There are toys specifically designed to provide mental stimulation, such as mental puzzles and balls or cubes your dog has to manipulate to get food out of. A search on the internet for "Dog activity toys" will provide lots of options. Some breed types are likely to be more interested in certain types of toy but you will get to know what your own dog likes and dislikes.

Will my dog get bored with these activities?

If you continually provide the same things to do your dog may get bored with these. There are a number of things you can try to provide variety. Firstly, interest can be maintained by changing what your dog does or has access to. Rotating its toys may help to maintain your dog's interest in them, as will changing the types of game you play. In the same way changing the types of training and the training exercises and introducing new ones will help to provide variety. Your dog's long term interest is also likely to be maintained if you always stop the game or other activity while it still wants to do more, in other words before it becomes bored.

Another way to provide variety is to provide play or other activities in different locations and situations. Exercising your dog in different locations and varying the routes you use will also add to the richness of its environment and provide some extra stimulation.

How can I control my dog's expectations so that it does not become frustrated?

Most of the time dogs have an expectation of what will happen next. Sometimes it can help to provide specific clues for your dog. One way of doing this is to put out an object, which is normally kept hidden away, when you are going to do something with your dog. When the play period is over you should put the item away. Through repetition your dog should learn not to expect play at other times and the chances of it becoming frustrated should be reduced.

Are over or underactivity always signs of boredom?

There are many reasons why a dog may seem to be over or under active. These include physiological issues and emotional disorders. If you are concerned that your dog is not behaving normally you should consult your veterinary surgeon who can assess what underlying causes there may be and what help may be needed.

Does my dog chew things when alone because it is bored?

What your dog chews when it is left on its own is a clue as to whether it is a sign of boredom. If your dog chews movable objects, including items that are not strongly impregnated with the scent of family members, it is possible that it has done it for entertainment. This will be more likely if they are the same things your dog would like to chew when you are at home. If your dog has damaged doors, windows, furniture or only items impregnated with the scent of family members it is likely that the cause is an emotional disorder.

If you think your dog is chewing because it is looking for something to do you can provide activity toys or things to chew when you leave. If your dog does not touch these until you are home again but continues to chew other things it is another indication that there may be an emotional disorder. If you think your dog is suffering emotional disturbance you should seek advice from your veterinary surgeon who can first ensure there are no medical issues contributing a reduced capacity to cope when left alone.

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