Bored Dog: How to Recognize (and Help!)

Some dogs can be very naughty, and others can be very whiny. When we see these behaviors, it is tempting to wonder, “why?” In many cases, the answer is boredom. A bored dog will always be more likely to get into trouble, and more likely to whine and bark incessantly. In this article, we will explore the problem of canine boredom in greater detail and propose some remedies that might help.

Why Dogs Get Bored

Dogs get bored for many of the same reasons that humans do. Let’s start with the biggest one: Dogs get bored because they are very intelligent creatures. Although you wouldn’t believe it when you see them drinking out of the toilet, dogs are some of the world’s smartest animals. We cannot find an “official” list of the world’s smartest animals, but dogs are nearly always included in the lists of the top smartest animals.

Dogs Are Meant To Be Active

Most dogs today are nowhere near as active as their ancestors. In the wild, much of their time would have been spent finding food, water, mates, etc. Basic survival would also have consumed much of their time. After being domesticated, most dogs were put to work in some way or another. Whether they were employed as hunting dogs, herding dogs, or otherwise, dogs did a lot of work in the past.

Border collie dog herding a flock of sheep

All of this boils down to one thing: Dogs don’t have as much work to do these days! Most modern people keep dogs as companion animals. While there are still many people who use dogs as protection animals, this job does not require hard work on a daily basis. Since they no longer have to fulfill any of their basic needs, they will either get lazy or get into trouble. A bored puppy will be especially likely to choose that second option.

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Bored

Your dog cannot speak up and tell you how bored they are, so you will have to look for the signs. Here are the usual signs of bored dogs.

1. Pawing for Attention

First, they will likely try to get your attention as much as possible. Most dogs will attempt to get their owner’s attention when they want something. They might whine, bark, paw at your legs, or jump up and lick your face. Of course, there are other reasons that a dog might do these things, but these can often be ruled out with some trial and error.

If your dog is trying to get your attention, and they have already been fed, check their water bowl. They might simply want a drink. If the bowl is full, you know they aren’t begging for water. Unless the dog is hurting in some way, they are probably just bored. They want your attention because something is wrong, and they want you to make it better.

2. Getting into the Trash

As we said before, most dogs tend to respond to boredom in one of two ways. They will either become lazy or mischievous. For instance, some dogs love to get into the trash. A lot of people have dealt with dogs that constantly dig in the garbage when their master isn’t looking. This is a frustrating problem, and it is tempting to think that this behavior is the result of hunger. This explanation is probably false, however, because even the most well-fed of dogs might dig in the trash. Thus, the best explanation is to conclude that the dog had nothing better to do.

3. Counter Surfing

Dog Counter Surfing

Getting into the trash might be the least of your worries, especially if you are dealing with a bored puppy. If they can find a way to get onto your counters and tables, these dogs will have a field day, knocking everything off your surfaces and skidding around having a good time. If you’ve ever come home from work and found all your countertops mysteriously cleared, your dog might have gotten bored enough to do a little counter surfing.

4. Chewing and Clawing

Chewing is probably the worst problem that results from canine boredom. A dedicated chewer can absolutely wreak havoc on your home and can destroy things you would never have thought them capable of destroying.

Guilty dog next to a hole she just chewed in a leather sofa

With larger breeds, this is an even bigger problem due to their greater jaw strength. Because chewing is not related to feeding, sleeping, or any other basic canine need, it is safe to say that chewing is mostly the result of boredom.

5. Antsy and Nervous Behavior

Some people have proposed that dogs get “separation anxiety” when they are away from their owners for too long. It is theorized that this anxiety makes them more likely to get into trouble. 

a labrador retriever puppy lying tired in the mud in front of a hole he dug before

Some other dogs will engage in nervous behaviors like digging in the yard, chasing their tails, or rubbing themselves against the carpet. They might also tend to run in circles and jump around a little bit. These are all symptoms of an animal with a lot of energy, but nothing constructive to do with that energy.

6. Trying to Escape

If your dog does not run loose, it is likely to spend a lot of its free time trying to escape. The dog probably doesn’t want to run away, but they probably do want to get out of their cage and find something to do. Frequent attempts to escape are one of the hallmarks of a bored animal.

7. Sleeping All the Time

Older and less active dogs will normally respond to boredom by sleeping a lot. They don’t have quite as much energy as the younger dogs, so their natural response is to take a nap when they have nothing better to do. Dogs tend to spend a lot of their time asleep anyway. If your dog is not that old, but still sleeps more than half the day, it might be that the dog is just bored.

How to Prevent Or Treat Dog Boredom

This is a case in which prevention and treatment are more or less the same. The very same measures that work to prevent canine boredom will help to alleviate an existing problem, and so we can talk about these two things at the same time. 

Here are six ways to help your bored dog.

1. Exercise Can Help A Lot

As we mentioned earlier, your dog’s boredom is often the result of being a high-energy animal without much to do. A bored dog can benefit greatly from regular exercise, as it gives them an outlet for all that excess energy. Dogs seem to be at their happiest when they are active, so this really is an essential aspect of dog ownership.

In general, it doesn’t really matter what kind of exercises you do with your dog. You might take them out in the yard and get them to fetch a tennis ball repeatedly. You might take them for a walk or a jog around the block. You might play a little tug-of-war with them. If your dogs are so inclined, you might even wrestle around and play-fight with them. Either way, you need to give them something to do. The more energy they expend in play, the less energy they will have to tear up your house!

2. Socialize Your Dog Properly

Proper socialization also helps, as dogs can entertain each other to a certain extent. Anyone who has ever watched a large group of dogs can tell you that they are always playing and interacting with one another. Of course, this is only possible if the dogs can get along. Dogs sometimes fight, and those fights can sometimes get pretty ugly. It’s a good idea to break this habit by socializing the dog at an early age. 

They have to learn that fighting with other dogs is not ok, and they need to learn how to share. Like humans, dogs are much more likely to fight when they have an object over which to fight. This could be a food bowl, a toy, or whatever. Unless you are raising a dedicated protection dog, you want to discourage that sort of possessive behavior.

3. Consider Some Canine Classes

There are also many kinds of classes in which you might choose to enroll your dog. Obedience lessons, agility lessons, scent identification training, and many other options are available. This gives your dog a weekly or bi-weekly activity in which they can use their abundant energy to the fullest. Also, you might even get the opportunity to place your dog in dog shows, agility contests, and other canine competitions. This results in more mental stimulation for the dog (meaning less boredom) and can pay off for you in the process.

Dog Agility Jumping

You might also consider some breed-specific training and exercise. All breeds of dogs were created to serve a purpose, and that usually meant performing a specific job. While there are some breeds that were created solely to be companion animals, most were created by humans to serve a specific purpose. By learning about the history of your dog’s breed, you can get an idea of what they truly and naturally want to do.

For instance, let’s say you have a labrador or a golden retriever. Both of these dog breeds were created to retrieve game for hunters. As such, they love to fetch and play games that involve retrieving things. While most dogs will fetch, these dogs will happily play fetch until they run out of energy. If you like to hunt, or if you are thinking about taking up hunting, you might consider bringing your retriever along so that they can fulfill their intended purpose.

4. Dog Toys Can Be Helpful

Since we are discussing dog boredom and how to alleviate it, we should definitely mention the use of toys. Although a toy cannot substitute for the company of another dog or the guidance of their master, they still serve as one of the best dog boredom busters. Dogs with a chewing problem are especially in need of good toys.

As for what kind of toy you should get, it is hard to say. Different animals respond to different things, so you might want to try a large variety of dog toys. Thankfully, dog toys usually tend to be cheap, so you probably won’t have to waste a bunch of money. If your dog doesn’t respond to a certain toy, don’t try to force the situation. Instead, get them a different toy and see if they enjoy that one.

Dog holding toy in his mouth

With any toy that you get for your dog, it is essential that you use it to interact with them. For instance, a lot of dogs enjoy chewing on tennis balls. You can roll the ball toward them, or roll it down the hall and get them to chase. In any case, you want them to associate that toy with your attention. Rope toys are perfect for tug-of-war, and bully breeds tend to love that particular game.

There are also some fun interactive dog toys that are available. For dogs that have a destructive streak, these are not really the best of options, because the interactive toys tend to be more expensive. These toys usually have moving parts so that the dog can learn to interact with the toy in all sorts of ways. Some of them are even rigged up as puzzle boxes” that reward the dog with a treat for solving a particular problem. These are great for small dogs who are less able to destroy them and can help to build your dog’s intelligence.

5. Get A Friend For Your Friend

As you probably know, the dog is a pack animal. They naturally crave and require the reassurance of a group. Because of this, solo dogs will be more likely to get bored, more likely to get depressed, and less likely to behave as you want them to do. Also, a dog will never exhibit their full range of social behaviors when they are deprived of other dogs’ company.

If your living situation permits, you might want to think about getting another dog. You will do better if you get a dog of the same breed as your current dog. Your pet will likely recognize another animal that looks like them, and this will make it easier for them to get along. However, you will need to consider the gender of the new animal.

Portrait of two young beauty dogs

On the one hand, dogs of the same sex are more likely to fight. In the wild, male dogs will often fight with one another for mating right, and they have retained the primitive instinct to do so. When you have animals of opposite sexes, they will be far less likely to butt heads. In fact, they will probably be more likely to develop a close bond, but then you have another problem: Dealing with the puppies that may result from this meeting! Obviously, you can choose to spay or neuter one of the animals to alleviate this issue.

6. Some Dogs Like Watching TV Or Listening To Music

As strange as it may seem, some dog owners report that their dogs enjoy watching television or listening to music. These dog owners have found that their dogs will behave much better when they are given some entertainment. Of course, dogs cannot understand the words and concepts that they see and hear, but many of them take a liking to digital entertainment.

At the same time, it should be noted that many dogs are indifferent to television and music. If your dog likes these things, you will be able to tell by their reactions. In the end, this is just an idea that you might try.

Summary

As you can see, there are many different ways in which you can work to alleviate your dogs’ boredom. Animals might not understand complex concepts, but they are driven to fulfill their biological programming, just like any other animal. By giving them an outlet for those drives, you make sure that their life isn’t a dull series of events. 

We should also mention that dogs are easily entertained. As long as they have the attention of their master, they don’t seem to care what is going on! We hope that this article has been helpful to you, and we hope that you and your dogs enjoy your long and happy friendship.

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