How do you tell if your children are bored? Easy: They’ll remind you every three minutes or so, loud and clear. If things get really dire, they may even chant.
But how do you tell if your dog is bored? That’s a little harder. Dogs can’t complain about boredom, but they do try to communicate their frustration—and unfortunately, we humans don’t always get the message.
“If a dog is chronically bored, it’s most often because the owner doesn’t recognize the signs of boredom or needs some help understanding how to provide their dog with appropriate enrichment,” say Sarah Fraser, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, as well as the co-founder of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training in Manhattan.
If your pup is showing symptoms of boredom, it’s important to make some changes to his day. “Dogs are intelligent, emotional animals,” says Robert Haussmann, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and owner of DogBoy NYC. “They’re calculating problem-solvers and diligent workers. Exercise is a must for all dogs to stay mentally and physically fit, but just as important is mental stimulation and environmental enrichment.”
Here are three common signs your dog is bored, and what you can do to keep your BFF happy and healthy.
1: Destructive Behaviors
A bored dog will find something to do—and that something just may be destroying your couch.
“Destructive behavior can be a sign of boredom, and a pretty common one at that,” says Fraser. “Chewing, in particular, is a highly rewarding and satisfying behavior for most dogs, so for a bored dog, seeking out an interesting new item—like a couch cushion or a TV remote—seems great.”
If you come home to a half-eaten ottoman, it’s important to remember that your dog wasn’t acting out of “spite.” While your human roommate may seek revenge, dogs are far less petty creatures. “Destructive behavior is often mistaken for a dog being disrespectful and can lead to a rift in the bond between dog and human,” says Haussmann. “It can usually be treated through increasing exercise and environmental enrichment. It’s always important to find the ‘why’ to the behavior.”
To make your dog’s day more interesting, Haussmann suggests spicing up mealtime. Use a food puzzle or treat-dispensing toy to make a game out of dinner, or play “hide and seek” and let him track down his meal one bite at a time throughout the house. Engaging your dog’s sense of smell is a quick way to make his day more interesting. “His nose is his most important sense and can be a real brain stimulator,” says Haussmann.
A bored dog has energy to spare. If your pup is constantly moving from one activity to the other, never seems settled, and is always seeking attention, boredom could be to blame.
Luckily, there are plenty of easy, fun ways to get your dog’s brain and body working. Fraser suggests switching up your exercise routine. “Variety is the spice of life, but we are creatures of habit and it’s easy to fall into a boring routine with our dogs,” she says.
If you usually toss around a Frisbee in the afternoon, try a brisk walk instead or schedule a doggie play date. Always take the same evening walk? Find a different route and let your pup enjoy some new scenery and smells. And don’t forget to play yourself—a game of tug-of-war or hide-and-seek can provide a good bonding experience as well as burn off excess human energy.
3: Excessive Barking
Dogs can’t talk, per se, but some will get vocal about their boredom. Excessive barking, aimless barking, attention-seeking barking, and whining can all indicate that your pup needs something more interesting to occupy his time and mind.
Enrolling in a training program with a certified professional can be a great way to combat doggie boredom and improve your relationship with your dog. “Just like humans, dogs love to learn and have fun,” says Haussmann. “Learning about your dog and engaging in some training and mental stimulation will strengthen your bond.”
Basic commands are great, but get creative and teach your dog some more interactive, challenging cues, suggests Haussmann. For example, engage his brain by having him work to get the things he wants—a spin move to come up on the couch, a “speak” to open the back door, or a series of “stays” and “downs” to gain access to the puzzle toys.
Who’s a good dog owner? You are!