Understanding our dogs isn’t always easy, they do things which annoy us and we can’t always work out why. There are also so many conflicting ideas and confusing advice out there about what we should be doing with our dogs and why they are behaving in certain ways. The truth is, it’s never simple and there isn’t always an easy answer, but thinking about what might be causing certain behaviours can help to unpick the problems and find a solution. So is your dog bored and in need of more stimulation?
1. Destructive behaviours
Our dogs need outlets for their natural behaviours, naturally many dogs like to chew or shred things, they don’t understand why our doorframes and sofas might not be appropriate options for this, so if your dog is a chewer then you need to give them appropriate outlets.
If your dogs’ needs aren’t being met, destructive behaviours can be a sign of boredom or anxiety. If your dog is worried about being left alone or they’re stressed out for other reasons, destructive behaviours can indicate something isn’t right. Look at WHY your dog might be destroying things and address those causes first.
With any underlying causes understood, make sure your dog is able to perform these natural behaviours in suitable ways. For example, shredding cardboard boxes, chewing long-lasting chews or toys like Kongs. In some cases, added physical or mental exercise will solve the problem. Training or scent-work are perfect for tiring out your dog while also building your bond and teaching great skills.
Don’t forget to manage your dogs’ environment while he’s learning what he can chew and what is not appropriate. Create a safe area where he can only access suitable chewing items and limit access to other areas when you’re not able to supervise. If he chooses the ‘wrong’ item, quickly redirect him onto a suitable option instead.
Dogs bark. It’s as simple as that. It’s a natural behaviour and a way of expressing their feelings. But as humans, we don’t always appreciate hearing their voices so we need to understand why they’re choosing to bark and teach better alternatives.
For some dogs, it becomes a self-reinforcing habit, especially if they’re lacking enrichment or activity in their day. Barking at people passing the house can be a fun game for many dogs, and very reinforcing because barking makes the people go away (in our dog’s eyes anyway!).
Barking can occur for many reasons, it can indicate boredom but it could also be a sign your dog isn’t coping with something in their environment. Think about when the barking is happening and what might be causing it. It’s not always a case of ‘a tired dog is a happy dog’, because barking can happen when your dog is in need of sleep too.
Like all the behaviours in this list, digging is a natural behaviour for our dogs and many find this incredibly self-reinforcing. Leaving your dog in the garden on their own will most likely mean they find their own fun out there. Digging will be a favourite for lots of dogs … especially if your garden is made of lovely soil and flower beds which are perfect for digging in.
Rather than leaving your dog to find their own fun outside, take the time to play some games out there with them. A few minutes of training will be far more tiring than an hour spent creating their own fun outside. Scentwork is an ideal training activity for the garden, or teaching some tricks, or playing ‘find the toy/treat’.
If you have a dog who just loves to dig, even with their other needs met, you could create an outlet for this. Building a sandpit for digging in, and hiding some treats or toys in it, will encourage your dog to practice the behaviour in a suitable place. Make sure you manage their access to the garden though to prevent them continuing to dig outside of the allocated area!
If there isn’t an option for a digging zone, you can encourage other behaviours like chewing or sniffing … hiding treats around the garden or in cardboard boxes can create a fun game and something your dog can enjoy in the garden without digging up the flowers.
For certain breeds, pacing comes very naturally. For other dogs, it becomes a learnt behaviour. It can become an unhealthy habit if your dog is performing it due to boredom or stress, but it’s something many people don’t notice or don’t consider beyond ‘it’s a bit annoying’. It can be quite subtle in some dogs, perhaps looking like they’re just following people in the house or checking out different rooms. But in other dogs it will be more obviously obsessive (e.g. pacing the same route repeatedly or walking back and forth in a repetitive pattern).
It can become obsessive and increase stress levels if performed repeatedly so rather than assuming it’s a normal behaviour, make sure you look into why your dog is pacing. Are they bored and in need of more stimulation? Are they stressed or in pain in some way?
Stressful events might not be occurring inside the house, they may be feeling stressed on their walks or from events that have happened in recent days, but if your dogs’ stress levels aren’t reducing you may see other behaviours which indicate this. Pacing is common in dogs who are struggling to cope with stress, and it can be a sign of over-tiredness too.
Distinguishing whether it’s occurring from stress, over-tiredness or boredom, will mean you need to look at your dogs’ daily routine and decide whether their needs are being met properly. Adding in more activities, and also maintaining regular rest time, should help improve any pacing behaviours which are due to boredom.
5. Attention seeking
Unsurprisingly, if your dog is bored, they will be looking for some attention. Dogs do what works. They repeat the behaviours which they find reinforcing, and a bored dog will very quickly learn how to entertain themselves!
If your dog is pushing your buttons and winding you up, you need to think about whether they’re getting the level of activity and stimulation they need. Our relationship with our dogs can become strained and frustrating when attention seeking behaviours are happening, so adding in some bonding activities can help reduce these behaviours while also re-building your relationship with your dog.
Any form of training or game which involves you and your dog will serve as a good bonding exercise. Alongside these activities, you can give your dog things to do on their own, for example, chews, Kongs or other enrichment activities and toys. However, this shouldn’t replace time spent with you too, these should be used in addition to you also putting more time into being with your dog.
Behaviours which stem from boredom can often be similar to behaviours which stem from over-tiredness or over-stimulation. The only way to understand whether your dog has had too much or too little stimulation is to look more carefully at how your dog is spending their day and what your dog really needs.
Many people, especially those with high-energy breeds, will assume their dogs’ irritating behaviours are happening because they need more exercise, when actually the dog really needs to chill out and rest in between activities. If you were to try and treat this problem with more exercise and more activity, you will only be teaching your dog to expect more and more … and eventually you won’t be able to keep up with your dogs’ expectations.
It depends on your individual dog and your lifestyle as to how much activity is ‘enough’, but as a general guide, make sure your dog has regular activities throughout the day, each followed by a good rest period. For example, a walk followed by a decent sleep time, then a game or activity, followed by another rest, another walk followed by rest … and so on. For some dogs, being awake and following people around the house or playing with the family will serve as an activity so this should be followed by, or broken up with, a rest period. Some dogs will find simply being awake and hearing different noises or seeing sights out the window very tiring and stimulating so they might need periods away from sights and sounds where they can relax.
Ultimately, you need to get to know your dog and respect that they will have different expectations to you. Just because you’re tired after a day of work and you want to watch TV or read a book, doesn’t mean your dog is tired or they’re gaining any enjoyment from your chosen activity. Owning a dog requires a level of compromise and sacrifice, so be prepared to put your own activities on hold until your dog has had their needs met.
Finding a balance
Remember it’s always a balance. Your dog does not need to be occupied every hour of the day, nor does he need the same level of activity every single day. Most dogs are surprisingly satisfied with quiet rest days, as long as this isn’t happening all the time. So enjoy the quiet days from time-to-time and don’t feel guilty if your dog is sometimes a bit bored, in some ways it’s good for them to learn to cope with boredom. However, this should not be their normal or routine state, they will cope with boredom if it happens on occasion but no dog will cope with being bored on a daily basis if their needs aren’t being met.
Written by Naomi White
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