Given that dogs rank high on the animal-intelligence scale, it is widely accepted by canine behavioral experts that dogs need both physical and mental stimulation to stay happy and well-adjusted. If they’re not mentally challenged, they get bored -- and the consequences of that boredom can have major repercussions for pet owners.
Boredom in dogs is easy to misunderstand or overlook, given the differences in canine and human behavior. While people who are bored may sit passively as they wait for something to happen, dogs express their irritation in more physical ways, through actions such as gnawing, relentless pacing or loud barking. Faced with such aggressive behaviors, many owners worry that their dog is “bad” or has developed behavioral problems, when in fact the dog’s actions are a plea for more stimulation.
In the comprehensive guide "Caring for Your Dog," veterinarian Bruce Fogle shows how a dog who is not challenged can progress into an all-around nuisance: “Boredom leads to anxiety, which leads to creativity on the dog’s part, which produces mayhem.” A dog that chews its owner’s shoes, digs up the flowerbeds in the back yard or howls at every person who walks by the house is a dog desperate for both physical exercise and human interaction.
Giving a dog challenging activities and providing variety are the key to minimizing such behaviors. Chew toys allow dogs to feel the satisfaction of gnawing without destroying personal possessions. (Keep in mind, however, that boredom will set in again if dogs are offered the same toy every day, so it’s important to have a variety of shapes and sizes available.) Dogs that love to dig can be given their own sandbox outside.
Most importantly, owners can recognize that their actions and attitude play a role in their dog’s behavior. A dog that is lavished with personal attention and given plenty of time to exercise will be a happy dog, and one less likely to turn to disruptive behavior to fill the time.
Do dogs get bored? Given all of my previous experiences with dogs (I've had eight since I was a child), I think dogs certainly get bored, although perhaps not in the same way you and I do. Dogs are instinctively active animals -- they're hunters, herders, protectors and retrievers, by nature, so when they're forced into a life of isolation with little exercise, they'll find a way to exert their energy, often at the expense of their owners' property and things.
And I know this first hand -- my beloved German Shorthaired Pointer, Jake, who died of cancer in 2010, was notorious for destroying things when I wasn't home -- including a sofa -- but only if there was a thunderstorm. He became terrified of them in his old age. But when he was younger and crated while I was at work, he shredded a number of pillows and blankets I added to his crate to make it more comfortable. Leaving him home day after day, and crated for long hours while I was at work was always tough. But clearly it was tougher on him, and he certainly became bored and eventually had some fun with the pillows. The sight of the crate filled more than half full with pillow stuffing and his head just barely popping out is one I'll never forget!
Of course, dog experts suggest leaving chew toys or even bones that are specially designed to fill with treats so your dog will have something to play with while he's crated and you're away. The bones and treats can help prevent him from finding other things to do -- like chewing shoes, tearing up furniture, barking incessantly, or even licking and gnawing on his feet and legs -- things we often consider bad behavior even though it may really just be him trying to find something to do.
So if you don't want your dog to get bored and fill the time the way he sees fit, here's my advice: Give him plenty of exercise and attention every day. And when you have to leave him home alone, make sure you leave enough bones or dog toys behind to keep him occupied while you're away. Otherwise, you could come home to find some unwanted evidence that your dog got "bored."
Researchers have found that animals kept in cages all day can exhibit behaviors indicating boredom. This is particularly so of larger animals. The thought is that when large animals, like dogs, are kept in cages, they can't engage in their typical behaviors, such as inquisitiveness. So a dog stuck in a cage can't get out to explore. Instead, it is forced into abnormal behaviors, such as licking the cage or chewing on itself. If you must cage your dog all day, one recommendation is to leave your pet with toys and food inside with them. This might provide activities that keep their interest and prevent them from getting bored.
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