Your dog spends most of every day lazing around the apartment, waiting for you to come home. Aside from a few walks or visits to the yard per day, his life is probably pretty boring.
While sleeping all day probably sounds nice to you, most dogs really benefit from having more to do during the day. Remember, they can’t binge on Netflix (well, there is DogTV, but even dogs will get sick of that eventually)!
Working for Food: A Great Way to Keep Your Dog from Getting Bored
Giving your dog things to do while you’re at work is a great way to wear him out a bit. Dogs (and cats) that work for their food actually see a decrease in stress. Lots of dogs, cats, and lab animals will choose to work for their food even if there’s free food available.
This concept is known as contra-freeloading. To get a bit nerdy, basically working for food activates a seeking part of the brain, which releases extra dopamine. I also suspect that alleviating boredom via working for food increases the reward of working for food.
To summarize, working for food is a great way to alleviate your dog’s boredom. It’s actually the kinder thing to do for most modern dogs to spice up their days by having them work for their food.
Five Ways to Keep Your Dog from Getting Bored
As a dog trainer who owns a hyperactive border collie, I’ve got a lot of different ways that I keep my dog from getting bored. Without further ado, here are my favorite ways to keep your dog from getting bored.
1. Puzzle Toys
We love puzzle toys here at K9 of Mine. You can check out our product roundup of the best puzzle toys here. Puzzle toys are just food-dispensing toys that make dinnertime into a game for your dog. Some of my personal favorites include:
- DIY: I’ll close Barley’s food into a shoebox or pour it into an empty milk jug. His job is to get it out! I do this with lots of my safe recyclable materials.
- Kong Wobblers. Kong Wobblers are easy to find and easy for your dog to use. They’re not too difficult and are a great way to introduce your dog to puzzle toys (check out Kong Wobblers online here).
- CleverPets. CleverPets are the epitome of puzzle toys. This fancy contraption is sort of like that old Simon Says game, but for your dog. Unlike the other puzzle toys on this list, CleverPet will keep your dog entertained all day long with intermittent bursts of games. They’re always the top of my Cyber Monday shopping list (check out CleverPets online here)!
- Hidden Food: this is a really easy option. Start simple, with just a few piles of kibble in easy-to-find places. As your dog progresses, you can start to hide his food in various rooms and even under different objects. For advanced dogs, you can even hide puzzle toys around the house so that once they find the jackpot, they still have to pick the lock to win!
Pro Tip: Don’t hide food above ground level. Otherwise, you can accidentally teach your dog that it’s beneficial to look higher up for food! This encourages counter-surfing and other poor canine table manners. However, if you just hide food nice and low, this is one of the best cures out there for dogs that like to steal food from counters and tables! With this treatment method, dogs learn that food is only on the ground and it’s not worth scoping out tables and countertops for food.
2. Hard Chewies
There are tons of edible products out there designed to keep your dog’s jaws (and mind) busy while you’re at work! I love hiding hard chewies around the house to keep my dog extra-busy.
Note that some of these do require supervision (especially during the initial trial period), so they may not be appropriate for days when you’re at the office. Some of my favorites include:
- Stuffed Kongs: These hollow rubber toys are a classic. While not technically a “hard chewy,” frozen Kongs and similar freezable chews can keep a dog’s jaws and mind busy for as long as anything else on this list!
- Bully Sticks: There are lots of safe alternatives to rawhides out there. Bully sticks are one of the most common, but pig’s ears or dried beef esophaguses are also great. These are a bit less messy than stuffed Kongs, but can pose a choking hazard. Be sure to supervise your dog, especially at first!
- Antlers: These are great long-term chewing options for dogs. They’re not as tasty as a bully stick or as edible as a Kong, but many dogs still enjoy gnawing on a good antler. Supervise at first to ensure that your dog won’t splinter the antler and swallow sharp pieces!
Dogwalkers won’t help keep your dog busy for the entirety of your absence, but they will alleviate the boredom halfway through the day.
If you don’t have a neighbor or nearby high school student to walk your dog, check out Rover or Wag to get an insured and experienced walker for relatively cheap!
4. Doggie Daycare
This is the most expensive option on the list. That said, it’s certainly hard for your dog to be bored while at daycare!
Shop around to find a reputable doggy daycare that works well for your dog and her personality and energy level. I liken daycare (and dog parks) to taking a homeschooled kid to an EDM rave. Some will think it’s the best experience ever! Others might get pretty freaked out. It takes a special match of personalities and location to make the situation actually fun!
For example, my border collie is an ultra-high-energy powerhouse. He views other dogs as mere mortals that he can’t be bothered to interact with. He loathes the dog park. He’d probably get himself into a dogfight at a doggie daycare.
There are plenty of other reasons that your dog might not be a great fit for doggie daycare. I have clients whose dogs are mellow and find daycare overstimulating, guard food and can’t be trusted in a large group, or are just plain rude with other dogs.
5. Doggie Daycare Alternatives
Instead of daycare, you may want to consider alternative activity dog programs.
Where I live in Colorado, I use a program called Hike Doggie that Barley adores. Many dogs, Barley included, do better with other dogs when they’ve got a task to focus on (like hiking). Those same dogs might get a bit snarky with each other in a rough-and-tumble doggie daycare environment.
Since it’s usually smaller groups of two to five dogs, there’s also better handler-to-dog ratio. Barley would love it if I could send him on a Hike Doggie expedition every day – but it’s pricey!
You also can look into a sitter on Rover or Wag who can come by to hang with your pup during the day.
Small doggie daycares with just a few regulars are a good intermediate option for dogs that aren’t suited for the free-for-all that is a doggie daycare.
Create a Game Plan to Keep Your Dog from Getting Bored
Now that you’ve got a list of five ways to keep your dog from getting bored, it’s time to create a plan. You can either do a different option each day of the work week, or do some combination of the above ideas.
Keep in mind that reading this article likely won’t have any real effect on your dog’s life if you don’t create a written plan. Writing down your plan for keeping your dog from getting bored is key to success. Writing it down makes it real and actionable, so whip out that pen and pad of paper (do people even own pads of paper anymore? I hope so)!
Me personally? Four days a week, I do a combination of puzzle toys, hidden treats, and midday walks with Wag. Since writing my article on Rover vs. Wag, Barley has been getting 2 walks per week with Wag. He loves it.
Every morning before I leave for work (but after our walk and after I’m ready to leave – timing is everything), I take about 5 minutes to prep Barley’s food for the day. I hide several baby carrots, a few really good treats (like steak or boiled chicken), a stuffed Kong, a bully stick, and his morning meal. I only hide his treats below eye level. This routine alone has almost completely eliminated his once apparently insurmountable food theft habit.
The other three days per week are my “weekend.” Barley spends those days with me. We go hiking, he works as a “neutral” dog when I work with reactive canine clients, and we take nosework and sheepherding classes.
What’s your plan for keeping your dog from getting bored? Share your ideas in the comments!