Is my dog bored?
Are you coming home to a daily dog mess? Is every work from home meeting interrupted by your needy dog? Pup seeming listless and sad? Whether the dog is home alone all day or underfoot while you’re home, bored dog behavior can be more than annoying. If Scout doesn’t seem fulfilled by just lounging around all day, be on the lookout for these common signs of dog boredom:
- Excessive barking (at every sound from outside, all passersby, the mailman, a strong wind, etc.)
- Velcro dog (your pup is clingier than a newborn)
- Nagging (the dog needs all of your attention!)
- Destructive behavior (chewing your slippers, scavenging in the trash, digging up your backyard, all that fun stuff; be sure to rule out separation anxiety)
- Frequent licking (with no underlying cause, of course)
- Panting with no apparent reason (a common sign of dog anxiety and restlessness)
- Escaping (like finding a hole in the fence to go on a grand adventure)
- Tail chasing (it’s only cute for a minute)
Sound familiar? After confirming some of these boredom signals, finding ways to entertain your bored dog can still be a chore, especially since they need daily enrichment, preferably something different each day to really keep their brain working. We’ve curated a great list of low-prep tips and tricks to cure your bored dog, and even created a free downloadable checklist to help you help your dog every day. Read on to learn a little more about dog boredom and our “big list of fun stuff” for your pup.
But what causes dog boredom?
Dogs get bored when they lack physical and mental stimulation. According to WebMD Pets, wild dogs spend around 80 percent of their time actively hunting and searching for food. As humans domesticated dogs, most were bred with specific purposes like hunting, guarding, and tracking. For example, Great Danes used to hunt wild boar, Boxers were used to chase and pin down prey, and Border Collies herded livestock. But our housepets today rarely get to exercise the instincts they still have, resulting in lots of bored dogs who have to make their own fun!
Do I really need to provide daily dog enrichment?
An annoying bored dog is no fun for you, but it’s definitely less fun for your pup. Besides a happy dog and happy home, some other benefits of canine enrichment include:
- Keeps your dog out of “trouble”
- Decreases canine stress and can help treat dog anxiety
- Provide physical exercise for a healthier pet
- Increases the owner-dog bond
- Prevents damaged property
What can I do to help my bored dog?
As much as we’d love to spend all day hanging out with our dogs, that’s an unrealistic goal for most busy dog owners, so we kept that in mind as we made our list. These DIY ideas require minimal prep and most can be accomplished with stuff you’ve already got at home! No need to break the bank on puzzle toys or wait for new Kongs to be delivered, you can try these boredom busters right now, even if you don’t have a big yard for doggy play dates or the budget for a daily dog walker.
We’ve broken our list down into the different ways to activate your dog’s senses, engage their brain, and get them moving. Try to do at least one of these activities every day with your dog, and you’ll be amazed how much more happy and content they’ll be soon!
Activate their senses
One way to cure a bored dog is to engage their senses. Dogs use their senses to understand the world around them, but the same-old same-old home life gets pretty stale after a while. Mix it up for your pup with these sense triggering activities.
Did you know dogs’ noses contain over 300 million olfactory receptors?1 Their sense of smell is 40 times greater than yours, but the smells in your home don’t change much; this is why Scout is intensely interested in sniffing you when you return from an outing! You can replicate this behavior without leaving the house by trying a variety of nosework activities.
Perhaps the easiest scent game is to hide a treat in one fist with nothing in the other, then let your dog guess which hand has the treat. Repeat until you’re sufficiently covered in slobber.
Another easy idea: spritz or drip a bit of essential oil onto a fabric item like a bandana, sock, or stuffed toy, then encourage your dog to sniff and investigate these exciting smells. If you’re a crafter with fabric scraps lying around, try scenting them, then hiding treats or kibble underneath to make a quick sniffing puzzle.
Smart cookies may enjoy variations on the “shell game” popularized by street swindlers. You can use any opaque cups, bowls, or small containers you’ve got lying around—just grab three that are as identical as possible, let your dog check them out, then hide a treat beneath one. You can let your dog watch you place the treat, or place it secretly and have them sniff it out. Rearrange the cups , then encourage your dog to find the treat with their nose; praise heavily every time they find the prize!
Veg out with some dog-friendly TV
Of course we don’t want to turn your pup into a furry couch potato, but the right programming can provide some much needed visual and auditory stimulation when you don’t have time for a walk or playtime. You can find tons of hours-long dog TV videos online, but aim for the ones without a hokey soundtrack—dogs are most likely to engage with images and sounds of other dogs or animals. For more bonding time, put on a high-def nature documentary and watch with your dog.
Have a spa day
You probably appreciate a nice self-care day, but your dog may also benefit from a little canine self-care. Schedule a spa day and pamper them head to tail—we’ve got you covered on the dog spa supplies!
Fluff a few towels in the dryer while you treat Scout to a refreshing and invigorating bath with a soothing shampoo, then use one hot towel to dry the dog thoroughly, and wrap them up snugly in another. Warm towels and blankets stimulate the senses while soothing and relaxing. If your dog enjoys it, you can also apply some healing balms to their paws and belly for the full spa experience.
After a day (or an hour) at the spa, your pup should be too blissed out to be bored, and cuddling is a fun way to bond with your pup, too.
Does your dog like to chase the ice cubes? Even if they don’t come running to the kitchen every time you inadvertently drop a cube from the freezer, experiencing different temperatures is fantastic sensory enrichment for canines. Get them interested by freezing fruit chunks, berries, or vegetables in water or broth; blueberries, cantaloupe, green beans, and butternut squash are a few dog-friendly favorites. Keep the mess under control by “serving” pupsicles on a cookie tray or outside.
Play with a “new” toy
Although your pup may have a veritable treasure trove of toys, they likely lose interest in new toys after a few weeks. Save on your dog toy budget and keep Scout interested in their collection by rotating toys in and out of a storage bin or closet every few weeks. When you pull out a “new” toy, make a big deal about it and sneak one of the old toys into storage in its place. This endless supply of “new” toys will help prevent dog boredom without draining your bank account!
Go for a sniffari
When you take your dog for their daily walk, who is leading the mission? Do you keep them in a strict heel or drag them along when they get too interested in something? Remember, the walk is for the dog, not you! Smell is a dog’s primary sense, meaning that they “see” the world with their noses; allowing them freedom to sniff on a walk provides more mental stimulation and satisfaction.
Next time you go for a walk, let your dog lead the way and if they want to sniff that fencepost for 5 minutes straight, you just stand there and hold the leash. Having the freedom to thoroughly sniff and investigate the world around them will help your dog feel more fulfilled and relaxed by their walk.
Engage their brain
Although your dog’s lemon-sized brain is smaller than yours, it packs some impressive problem-solving skills—if you’re not encouraging this type of brain work, your dog may find their own “problems” to solve. If you don’t want Scout unraveling the mystery of ‘how to retrieve the smelly chicken trimmings from the bottom of the trash can,’ or ‘what’s inside mom’s favorite ballet flats,’ try working some problem-solving activities into their daily enrichment. You may be surprised at how well these thinking games tire your dog out, and a tired dog is a good dog!
Encourage your dog to use their nose with a simple, structured seek-and-find game—you can use a favorite toy or some treats, just choose an item with a scent to it. Ask your dog to wait in another room (or just close the door if they’re still working on their “stay”) while you hide the toy or treat, then release them with the command, “Find it!” You may have to lead them to the prize the first few times, but after a few rounds we bet you’ll have trouble finding good hiding spots! Celebrate when your dog finds the reward, then repeat until Scout is contentedly panting.
Teach a new trick
You’re never too old to learn something new, and neither is your dog—learning new behaviors keeps the canine brain engaged, and will make Scout a hit at parties, too! You’ve probably already taught the basic stuff like sit, stay, and down, but what about handshakes, high-fives, and speaking on command?
Use bite-sized treats or single kibbles for positive reinforcement during a training session, to keep your dog focused on learning rather than eating. Try a technique called free shaping to teach more complicated behaviors. This is where you let your dog interact freely with an item (something simple like a box, stool, even one of their toys) and mark desired movements with a clicker or the same consistent “yes!” response every time.
For an easy example, you can teach your dog to stand with both front paws up on a stool. First, mark and treat when your dog sniffs the stool, and again when they step towards it. They may start offering behaviors to figure out what you want, but only offer feedback if they’re closer to the action you want to capture. If they touch the stool with one paw, mark and treat heavily. They’ll continue offering actions if you’re encouraging them, eventually doing the action you want, at which point you’ll shower them with treats and praise.
You’ll be surprised at what behaviors your pup will offer and how quickly they’ll pick up on new ones with this training method. Once they are repeatedly performing the action you want, you can add a spoken command which they will later associate with that trick.
Here are some other ideas for your upcoming circus routine:
- Spin around
- Roll over
- Back up
- Cross paws
- Be shy (paw over face)
- Play dead
Make meals more fun
Since dogs are natural scavengers, the urge to seek and find is instinctive to them. Eating an easy meal presented in a bowl really isn’t natural, and although you might not have time to make a game out of every meal, your dog will benefit from mealtime activities that engage the instinctive parts of their brain.
Ditch the bowl once in a while and scatter their dry kibble on the floor or in their crate for them to hunt out. Level up by laying an old towel over the food, or even rolling it up inside the towel like a burrito so your pup has to unroll it to retrieve their meal.
For more mealtime enrichment, you can build a simple food puzzle: pull out a muffin tin, fill each cup with a handful of kibble, then drop a tennis ball in each cup. Your dog may carefully remove each ball to access the kibble, or more boisterous pups may just kick the whole thing upside down, but either way, they’ll be problem solving!
For dogs who are crated or otherwise expected to relax all day, try serving their breakfast as a scavenger hunt to kickstart their day with a brain game. Simply hide their kibble around the house and watch them track down their meal as you enjoy your morning coffee in peace.
Take a chew break
According to ASPCA, chewing is normal behavior for all dogs, young and old. Puppies chew to relieve pain caused by teething, while adult dogs chew to relieve boredom and anxiety. Chewing is a self-soothing action that should be encouraged, so make sure your dog has appropriate chew toys and treats.
Our all-natural gnawers are available in two varieties (bully stick and Himalayan yak chew) and several sizes, perfect for any dog! Encourage your dog to settle on their bed or in their crate with a chew to promote relaxation and alleviate boredom.
Get them moving
Different breeds have different physical needs, but even if you have a couch potato pup, every dog benefits from regular physical activity. On days when it’s too cold or rainy for a long walk or game of frisbee outside, try these indoor games for dogs to get Scout moving.
You probably have a forgotten vial of bubbles lying around from the last wedding you attended, right? Put them to good use as free dog entertainment! Most dogs enjoy chasing and pouncing these little floating delights, just don’t let them swallow too much soap if they are particularly good at catching them.
If you don’t have premade bubbles or your dog isn’t terribly excited by them, try making some DIY flavored bubbles: mix ¼ cup unscented Dawn dish soap with ½ cup water, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of broth, then blow bubbles using a pipe cleaner or straw.
Build an obstacle course
Your pup doesn’t need to be a blue ribbon agility star to benefit from an obstacle course—moving their body in unusual ways is great physical enrichment for all dog breeds.
You can create a simple obstacle course in your living room from objects you’ve got around the house—think about broom and mop handles laid flat to step or jump over, a step-stool to balance on, cardboard box tunnel, hula hoop to jump through, etc. Get creative and be patient with your pup as they explore and navigate the course; lead them through it slowly with treats and encouragement and remember it’s not a race, just a fun game!
Cardboard box demolition
Speaking of cardboard boxes, try redirecting your dog’s destructive behavior to something useful: helping to break down the recycling after your online shopping deliveries! Shredding cardboard is an engaging challenge and a great alternative to destructive behavior, just supervise to make sure they don’t swallow the cardboard bits. You can up the ante by leaving the packing paper (no styrofoam peanuts, please!) in the box and scattering kibble inside. Unfortunately, Scout will probably not help you sweep up all the cardboard bits afterwards!
Play indoor mini-fetch
You don’t need a big yard or to hike all the way to the dog park to get your dog moving! If they enjoy a good game of fetch, you can expend some excess energy right in your living room: kick a ball to your dog from across the room, toss a toy over the couch (hopefully your dog goes around and not over!), or practice their catching skills with some gentle underhand tosses. The more you can vary the tossing and chasing motions, the more tired your pup will end up, and as we mentioned, a tired dog is a good dog!
Walk a different route
Although dogs are creatures of habit, they do enjoy experiencing new things once in a while. If you walk the same old route around the neighborhood day after day, try switching it up and walking down a different street, or even backwards from your normal path. Your pup will certainly be stimulated by the new sights, smells, and sounds.
Download the Free Checklist of Daily Dog Diversions
If you’ve got a bored dog, they’ll probably remind you that they need daily enrichment! But in case you need some daily inspiration to keep things exciting, we’ve created a free printable checklist of boredom busters—post it on your fridge or bulletin board for a quick reminder to make sure your dog gets daily stimulation. Your dog will thank you with better behavior!