How can my dog be bored, you ask? I give him everything he needs. That just may be the reason– your dog needs mental stimulation.
By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Cynologist
Dogs have split from their wolf ancestors and evolved over the last hundred thousand years. During those thousands of years, dogs had to use high-level problem-solving skills to survive. It is unknown whether humans domesticated wolves or if wolves sought out humans, but as we grew together, humans began breeding for specific traits. As human needs have changed over the centuries, we have bred dogs to be more proficient at specific tasks, thus creating a diverse species of no less than 150 different breeds.
Over the last 15,000 years or so, humans have found constructive uses for their dogs’ abilities, such as hunting, clearing rodents, herding, providing early warning, or helping haul heavy items. However, in the modern era, dogs have come to be viewed as companions to humans rather than a trusted worker. Compare dogs’ previous work habits to today’s dogs that wear clothes for fashion and stay most of the day indoors. The difference is stark. However, dogs’ basic needs have not changed; dogs need shelter, food, water, and work. Dogs are beings that have worked throughout generations because it is in their genetics to do so.
Dog trainers all too often hear this phrase, “but my dog looks sad.” This is a misinterpretation of the dog’s body language, which leads to misplaced empathy. The reason people think their dog is unhappy because humans and dogs are different species and thus interpret actions in different ways.
Humans can easily reason with other humans but the same is not valid with dogs. Humans can visually see what dogs see, but most often, the perception between the two species is not the same. People misinterpret a well-balanced personality by thinking a hyper dog is a happy dog.
Usually, a nervous dog lacks structure and leadership in the home, which owners (knowingly or unknowingly) encourage. However, a high-energy dog can be taught how to control its impulses and follow commands depending on how dedicated its owner manages that dog’s behavior.
Dogs who are left to their own devices will start developing behavioral issues.
When they are bored, they will find inappropriate activities to keep them occupied. Some of these activities could include barking, pacing, incessant licking of the tail’s paws or base, getting into the trash, chewing couches, drywall, shoes, or window coverings. Dogs can destroy entire rooms due to boredom, lack of structure, or neuroticism. We need to fill dogs’ innate need for purpose with structure and work.
We need to give dogs tasks to accomplish throughout the day, every day. Obedience training is one way to provide dogs with that sense of accomplishment they need. Obedience training increases the dog’s self-esteem and confidence and creates a well-behaved dog receptive to its owner’s commands. Obedience training also provides dog owners with the knowledge to keep dogs well balance by providing work. Long walks offer outdoor distraction while demanding your dog’s attention with various commands used in an unpredictable pattern.
Using commands and obedience provides great mental stimulation.
Distraction training is going to increase your dog’s reliability and ability to hold commands in real-life situations. Incorporate obedience commands while playing games like fetch, Frisbee, and hide and seek. Daily aerobic exercise of about 30 minutes is another way to expend energy.
Keep in mind, when your dog is only physically exerted, you are increasing its stamina to do even more damage when left to its own devices.
Games and exercises fulfill a dog’s sense of purpose.
Find exercises that fit your dog’s breed
Finding exercises that are tailored to your dog’s breed will fulfill your dog’s sense of purpose. Agility training for retrievers, shepherds, and terriers is a great workout physically and mentally. Swimming is a great physical and mental workout for many dogs including retrievers. Laying out a scent track is fun for you and keeps your hound on its toes.
Food puzzles are fun for any dog.
Oftentimes, dog food is either left out the entire day or just given to them without your dog working for its sustenance. Owners can make your dog’s activity more interesting for them by hiding the food or using toys to distribute the food.
You can hide your dog’s food in the bedding in its crate. This is also a good way to get your dog to like its crate more, although this may not be a good activity if your dog already chews its bedding. Toss the food in your back yard to have your dog forage through the grass, but beware of pesticides or fertilizer.
Boomer Balls, Busta Cubes, or Kongs are great toys that offer your dog complicated ways to work for its food. Boomer Balls are balls with holes in them that distribute food, Busta Cubes have drawers which the dog has to learn to open to attain its food, and Kong offers a variety of toys that have holes or compartments for food that your dogs have to work for to be able to eat. Have a variety of different toys but only offer your dog 1 or 2 of those toys and rotate the toys when your dog tires of them.
Getting your dog out and about is an excellent way to keep them occupied. Take your dog to classes like Therapy Dog, Reading Dog, scent training, soft mouth retrieval, agility, or trick training. These specialized classes can offer your dog distractions during training, mental stimulation from learning something new, and socialization with other properly socialized dogs.
Take your dog with you while you run errands. For instance, you can take your dog to get the mail and have them bring it back for you. You can take your dog with you to the ATM or when you return movies(k9station.com). Find doggie buddies that your dog can play with for 30-60 minutes once a week. Weekly field trips to the pet stores can also provide distraction during training, social interaction, and mental stimulation.
A Final Note
Dogs are problem solvers and opportunists. If dogs are left to their own devices, misbehaviors will develop and escalate unless humans step in to be their leaders. Just having a dog around is not in the dog’s best interest. You must be willing to be a part of your dog’s life by providing social interactions, obedience training, and mental stimulation along with the basic needs of life.