Boredom-related behaviours… what are they and why is it that some dogs seem to be able to sit at home all day seemingly just enjoy the sunshine, whilst others seem to spend their spare time re-landscaping the back yard or annoying the neighbours?
Often I can pick the dogs and puppies that are predisposed to boredom-related problems. How? Because they are really, really smart! Often owners will comment how quickly their dog learns new things, their dog only has 2 speeds; off and on, owners find it difficult to gain the dogs attention when they are in a more distracting location, the dog is ‘nosey’ and likes to know what is going on and will follow the owners from room to room … the list goes on.
So what are boredom related behaviours? Barking, chewing, shredding, digging and pacing are some of the most common. Often boredom related behaviours occur once the dog is on their own. Most boredom related behaviours occur, well, when the dog has nothing to do and becomes bored!
So what can we do to prevent these from occurring or reduce them once they start? Give your dog better options like the following:
- Replace your food bowl and feed using enrichment ideas. Let’s face it, for most dogs eating out of a food bowl is really easy! I like to think of my dog’s food as their currency. I work for my currency so why shouldn’t they? Believe it or not, most dogs actually PREFER to work for their food as it uses all their skills – which is fun and mentally exhausting!
- Scatter your dogs’ dry food around the yard so they have to forage to find it.
- Put your dogs’ food in cardboard boxes that they have to shred to access. Once they become good at this game increase the difficulty by making a ‘babushka’ box – a little box with food in, in a bigger box with food in, in a bigger box with food in…
- Put your dogs’ dry food in milk bottles with the plastic ring and lid removed so your dog has to knock it to get the food out.
- Hide your dogs’ food under old plastic plant pots, behind rocks, etc. Watch their noses go to work!
Lick and chew;
- Ice blocks. Fill up a container with water mixed with tuna or sardines or diluted stock then add your dogs’ food. Freeze then tip out of the container.
- These food toys come in a range of styles to suit each dogs’ skill levels. These work best when filled with a moist food rather than dry as the aim is for the dog to lick and chew. Once your dog becomes a Kong master, try freezing them!
There are many other wonderful interactive food toys on the market or you can DIY – the ideas are endless!
- Theme your back yard. If you think of your backyard like a book. Your dog has to read the same book, day in day out. Why not try setting a theme for your backyard and changing it every week or so. Themes can be anything! Here are a few examples:
- Farmyard; hay bales and varying types of manure.
- Seaside; seaweed, sand, cuttlefish, driftwood.
- Bushland; different types of nuts, branches, leaves.
- Boxes everywhere; boxes of all shapes and sizes.
- Move your body; tyres, tunnels or other obstacles that your dog has to go up, over, under and through.
- Change it up! Set up different activities in your backyard for your dog;
- Digging pits; set this up in a location where the soil remains damp and keep it motivating for the dog to dig in this location by lightly burying food rewards and toys.
- Leave a scent trail for your dog to follow; skewer a sausage on a piece of string and drag it around the yard to form a scent trail or drizzle sardine water. When laying the scent trail make sure you only pass over the same area once to prevent the dog becoming confused. Un-skewer the sausage and tip out the sardines and leave them at the end of the trail for your dog to discover!
I’m a huge advocate of prevention rather than cure, as prevention is far easier than trying to break a habit after it’s been well learnt!
ALERT!!! Some behaviours labelled as ‘boredom’ may actually reflect an individual who is not coping with being alone. Chewing, shredding, digging, pacing and barking can all be performed as part of a coping strategy for dogs suffering separation anxiety or other types of anxiety. Spy-cam is ideal for understanding whether your dog is ‘making their own fun’ or attempting to cope with aloneness. If you are unsure, Kalmpets can help.