COVID-19: How to Recognise the Signs of a Bored Dog
Although there’s talk of a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions, it’s not all back to normal here in the UK. The good news is that exercise is now unlimited, which might be great for your dog… but socialisation is still out of the question, and your dog is probably missing his friends just like you are. So how can you recognise signs that you have a bored dog? And how can you help them to get through these difficult times?
Dogs are a little like children. When they’re bored, they’ll look for something amusing to do. And if you’re lucky, that might be running around the house like a mad thing playing ‘zoomies’. But many dogs will turn to destructive behaviour to ease their boredom and give them the attention they crave. You might find that they’ve started stealing slippers, chewing up knickers or pulling the toilet roll around the house. Giving them plenty of brain-busting things to do is the best way to combat this. And, if they have the urge to chew, try giving them a dog-safe chew toy.
Affectionately called zoomies, when your dog puts his ears back, tail down and tears around the house, it’s a way of blowing off pent-up steam. Dogs that do this usually need a little more exercise, although tiring them out isn’t entirely a physical thing- mental stimulation is important, too. Whilst indoor gyms are still out, outdoor activities are allowed. You could consider getting a home agility set, or try dog parkour whilst you’re out on your walks. The combination of the extra activity with the brain work of learning a new skill is sure to tire out your dog.
Some bored dogs seek attention. This might come in the form of destructive behaviour as we’ve already discussed, but more often appears as a direct begging behaviour. Your dog might be barking at you, at people passing, at next-door’s dog, following you around, or generally making a nuisance of himself. Although it’s difficult, it’s important not to engage directly with this behaviour- even a telling off counts as attention in your dog’s eyes. Instead you should try to reward your dog when he’s being good- perhaps lying quietly in his bed- with unexpected and lavish attention and treats, and ignore him when he’s being bad. He’ll soon realise he’s not getting what he wants from barking or causing trouble.
Sometimes a bored dog will lick repetitively. They might lick themselves, or you, or an inanimate object- like the furniture. You may not see them licking if you’re not around, but you may notice wet patches or see pink staining on their body where they’ve been licking. Try providing distractions to your dog that simulate the same movements- food ‘lick’ mats work well.
A bored dog may try to escape in order to get the interaction and stimulation they need. If your dog is prone to slipping through the garden gate or leaping over the wall, consider why. If the answer is that outside is more interesting than inside, it’s time to see what you can do about that.
One of the harder boredom signs to spot is listlessness. After all, a contented dog is likely to sleep, too. If you’ve noticed your dog sleeping more than usual, and interacting less, they may not be getting enough stimulation.
Dog Boredom Busters
You may not be able to go out as much as usual, but there’s still plenty of things you can do to keep your dog occupied.
The first thing to try is feeding patterns. Dogs that are fed from a bowl can consume their food in under a minute, leaving them unsure of what to do for the other 23 hours and 58 minutes of the day. Try giving them challenges and make them work for their food. You can use treat balls, toys than can be stuffed with food, snuffle mats, or lick mats. There are lots of DIY options available, too! Remember to supervise your dog closely when using any toy- you don’t want them to eat the treat ball once all the food has gone!
You should also consider your dog’s toy options. Does he have any toys left, or are they all broken? Are there toys of different styles to provide interest? Do you rotate toys so that there’s always something ‘new’?
When you do get to go out for a walk, remember to consider what that looks like for your dog. Is it around the block, only on tarmac, and walking to heel? Does it involve some running, chasing or play? Are there complex commands to follow that make it harder for him, increasing interest? Playing games whilst out on your walks can really spice up your dog’s life.
Lastly, there are Facebook groups for dog enrichment that revolve around keeping life fun for your dogs, so it’s a great idea to check in there and see what you can find. You can use the search bar to look for specific things like Kong recipes, or toys for destructive dogs, or scent work skills. Or you might want to post a question for people’s top tips.
Whatever you do, make sure you’re both safe and keeping well, physically and mentally, in these difficult times.