Many people ask me about boredom busters for dogs, as they’re worried about their pet when they can’t be there with them. So, I decided to write today’s blog post about boredom busting toys. To be specific, toys to prevent boredom when you’re not there, I have covered dealing with boredom when you are with your dog in another post about indoor games. Anyhow, this got me thinking about why do dogs get bored in the first place?
A little look at history
Dogs have, for many thousands of years, been bred to work with us humans, be it herding, guarding, working with prey, whatever, they are used to having jobs to do. Modern day dogs are, on the whole, unemployed! They don’t have a job. They often spend a lot of time alone at home and then they are fed – for free! They are used to having to work for their food, for our attention and for toys, but modern pets get all of this stuff for nothing! I mean, getting stuff for free is all good and well, but no wonder they’re bored!
Boredom = destruction
Not always, but often you will find that dogs who are ‘anxious’ or ‘aggressive’ simply don’t have enough stimulation in their lives. That means physical and mental stimulation. You could walk your pet for miles, but if they’re not getting the mental stimulation too they won’t be fully occupied.
I know that even a short bout of obedience training tires my dogs out much more than an hour of walking on the leash, it’s just providing so much more mental stimulation.
The thing is, if you don’t find a way to occupy their brains, they will, and it is likely that their choice of activity is not what you would want! Common behaviour problems such as chewing, barking, whining and digging can often be resolved quickly and easily by providing positive alternatives. Take a look at our post about the best indestructible dog toys.
Make them work for their food!
How many of us simply chuck our dog’s daily food allowance in a bowl (once or twice per day) and just hand it to them, leaving them to eat it at their own pace. What a waste of such a precious reward!
My dogs each get two mugs of kibble per day. Instead of just giving them it for nothing I make them work for it throughout the day. It’s the same nutritious food, just they have to earn it. By earning it they are getting tons more physical and mental stimulation throughout the day, interspersed with plenty of downtime opportunities, where they can rest before the next job comes in!
There are loads of way to use this high value reward – there are dozens of stuffable dog toys on the market, or you can make your own. Why not find a way where your dog has to solve a bit of a puzzle to work out how to get the food, thus providing the much-needed mental stimulation as well as making the meal last far longer?
Scatter feeding is another amazing way to provide stimulation and lengthen the mealtime – you can scatter their food on the lawn, or a snuffle mat, or hide it in leftover boxes, tubes, etc. I’ve included a picture of my dogs hunting for food in a random bunch of recyclable rubbish, its great nosework and I can vary the difficulty as they get cleverer at working out how to get the food.
Food doesn’t have to boring!
The food you give them can also be mixed up a bit, it doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, just add leftovers, fruit and vegetables, yogurt, meat scraps, whatever, your pet will love you for it, that’s for sure. Take a look at our list of harmful foods here, before you start, just to be safe!
If you are stuffing Kongs, sterilised bones, tracheas, hooves, whatever, you can make them trickier and longer lasting by freezing them. Adding things like natural yogurt, peanut butter, broth, tinned dog food, can make them nice and sticky and keep kibble in for a lot longer, thus making it more of a challenge and longer lasting. Just make sure that you compensate for the extra calories in those extras by reducing the daily food allowance accordingly, we don’t want any chubby pooches as a result of alleviating boredom.
You can buy so many dog toys nowadays, some of my favourites are large plastic balls, such as Jolly Balls and Boomer balls, they can occupy your pet for ages and they are as near to indestructible as you can get.
A room with a view
Provided you don’t have a dog who likes to bark, providing an area where they can look out can provide good stimulation too.
Another suggestion I have had is providing a water fountain – it provides fresh water all day long, but many dogs are highly interested in it and will sit and watch the flowing water for ages.
Mix it up
The key is variety, use different toys and different treats and food on different days. For example my dogs had their food out of a Kong Wobbler yesterday, today they had it scattered on the lawn. Later they’ll be having some healthy treats in a frozen Kong, before having their afternoon meal, which will either be on a snuffle mat, or hidden in boxes and tubes. It really doesn’t have to take a load of your time up once you get yourself organised with the necessary food, treats and accessories.
I’d love to hear your ideas for interactive toys and activities to keep your pets content while you can’t be with them, also any other ideas for healthy stuff to include in the fillable toys, drop me a note in the comments box below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.