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6 Signs your dog is bored (and what to do about it)

Approx. 6 minutes read

If you’ve ever been swallowed up by life’s busy-ness – spending hours working away in front of a computer or never finding the balance between work, social and family obligations – you may have guiltily wondered whether your furry friend is perhaps getting a little (or a lot!) bored.

How do you know your dog is bored? Boredom in dogs doesn’t only look like a furry bundle lying in the corner, sleeping his time away. Canine boredom comes with signs – lots of them! Context can help you to determine whether your dog needs some exercise or stimulation, but he is trying to tell you something if he exhibits some or all of these signs:

Signs of boredom in dogs

1. Barking

In a previous article, we went into a lot of detail about excessive barking in dogs. One of the reasons why dogs bark is because of boredom: an under-stimulated dog builds up excitement, which is not only satisfied by barking (because barking is a natural dog behaviour), but barking further stimulates that excitement. This leads to more barking, more excitement, more barking, etc.

2. Chewing

Similar to barking, chewing is also a natural canine behaviour, so when a dog is bored, he may have the inclination to chew. Since chewing also satisfies a dog’s arousal state, which can lead to more chewing, this bored behaviour can become destructive – especially when your bored dog decides to chew shoes, furniture, doorframes, plants… and even himself!

3 Digging

Like barking and chewing, digging is another natural dog behaviour. And as with barking and chewing, dogs can get into the habit of digging when they need to relieve their boredom. Digging gives dogs a job to do, it stimulates them physically and mentally, and it relieves the arousal created by boredom.

4. Hyperactive behaviour

Boredom is usually the result of being under-exercised and mentally unstimulated, which means your dog will have a lot of energy to burn to reduce his boredom. Behaviours like pacing (where you can see a visible path next to your fence or in a particular pattern around your garden), circling, or over-excited greetings are other signs of boredom.

5. Licking/Chewing himself

Boredom can manifest along with relief behaviours like incessant licking or chewing. If your furry friend licks or chews himself to the point of losing fur or developing sores, this can lead to a cycle of licking for pain relief, which can further worsen the problem. Keeping your dog occupied and exercised is an important way to prevent incessant or habitual behaviours.

6. Excessive sleeping

Do dogs sleep because they are bored? It depends on dog, but yes – some dogs will experience boredom and simply switch off: they will choose to sleep if they don’t have anything to do. In general, dogs tend to sleep a lot during the day, but if your dog is sleeping excessively, it may be a reaction to being bored. But is my dog bored or depressed? You can tell whether your dog’s excessive sleeping is a symptom of boredom or depression by also looking at his other behaviours.

If your snoozing pup seems relaxed, but eager to go walkies at the drop of the house keys, then it’s probably just boredom. If your dog is sleeping excessively and is also not interested in treats or other activity, then he is probably depressed and it’s seriously time to drop what you’re doing and focus on getting him happy again.

How to relieve your dog’s boredom

You don’t necessarily need to draw up a list of activities for bored dogs, but rather understand your dog’s boredom and then change his environment and routine in order to prevent him from getting bored in the first place.

Most dogs were bred to perform a task: hunting, herding, retrieving, chasing, burrowing – a specific goal towards which they worked and for which they were rewarded. That drive still exists in pet dogs, and their brains are geared towards this work and the satisfaction of doing a good job. Dogs still possess the mental and physical need to work, so when those needs are not met and they are stuck with excess mental and physical arousal and no release, they can become bored.

The symptoms of boredom listed above do not need to be individually addressed to relieve your dog’s boredom – they all arise from the same cause: lack of activity, and lack of mental stimulation. A dog who is exercised, trained, played with, and has a fixed daily routine, will not get bored. So, make sure the following elements are part of your dog’s day:

Daily routine

If you put a routine in place, your dog will know what to expect from his day. Surprisingly, a daily routine can cement your dog’s self-esteem and help to keep him calm. If he knows what time he’s going to be fed, walked, played with, and given downtime, there will be no time for boredom and no anxiety around what comes next?

Exercise

It’s true that some dogs need more exercise than others; for example: the Pekingese was bred to provide surveillance from within palace walls while he lived lavishly on royal laps. He has a strong little body, but possesses a medium to low amount of energy, so he needs a short daily walk to keep him healthy and to keep boredom at bay. The Belgian Malinois, on the other hand, has endless energy (and then some!) and will quickly get bored if not exercised at high intensity for at least three to four hours a day.

Find out what your dog’s exercise requirements are and make sure you give him enough space and opportunity to burn off his excess energy. The most effective way of doing this is, first and foremost, with a daily walk.

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Mental stimulation

All dogs’ brains need to be exercised to ensure their mental wellbeing. This may be something as simple as a snuffle mat for a basset hound, or a puzzle toy for Boston terrier; or more complex mental stimulation like agility trials for a border collie, or search-and-rescue training for the bloodhound. Speak to a dog trainer or behaviourist about the best ways to provide your dog with mental stimulation and then make sure you meet your dog’s needs.

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Playtime!

Somewhere between physical and mental stimulation is the emotional wellbeing factor that combines exercise with bonding. This is the purpose of play! Whether you combine your dog’s daily walk with a play session before or afterwards, most dogs need both kinds of exercise because they fire up different parts of the brain and body for maximum wellbeing.

Playtime can involve playing fetch, tug, playing catch or tag, or any games in which you involve a toy and lots of physical contact. This mimics the way dogs play with each other and cement their place in the pack – or in this case, the family. Playtime makes your dog feel loved, accepted, and valued, which is fantastic in building trust and self-esteem.

Obedience training with positive reinforcement

An essential part of your daily routine with your dog should be positive reinforcement training. Consistently re-train the desirable behaviours you expect from your dog, such as leash manners (slack leash walking), staying in place when you answer the door, not jumping up, not barking, and other basic obedience like sit, stay, come, and heel.

These behaviours give your dog a goal to work towards and a reward for achieving the goal. By making training, playing, walking, and bonding exercises a part of your dog’s daily routine, he will be too tired, too satisfied and too bonded to be bored.

Perhaps it’s not boredom…

If you’ve been out of the house for the day and come home to signs of destruction despite exercising your dog and leaving him with enrichment toys or space to romp in the backyard, he may be more than just bored. He may have separation anxiety, which we’ll go into in detail in our next article.

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