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Boredom Busters

 

Fighting Boredom in Dogs

NEW WAYS TO EAT, NEW SCENTS TO EXPLORE, NEW PUZZLES TO TACKLE


Increasing your dog's mental stimulation is simple and has countless benefits for both you and your dog. Environmental enrichment will help prevent boredom behaviors like excessive barking and inappropriate chewing, help manage problem behaviors as part of a comprehensive retraining program, and improve the quality of your dog's life! The suggestions in this pamphlet can also be helpful for feeding dogs who wolf down their food and for providing chew toys to dogs with allergies or restrictive diets.

SIGNS OF BOREDOM

  • Dog is destructive - destroys things indoors and/or outdoors.
  • Self-mutilation - dog excessively licks or chews its paws, legs or other body parts. They will often lick so much they create large open wounds.
  • Dog excessively mouths, barks, jumps, run the fence, paces or eats stools.
  • Dog has alone anxiety - exhibits destructive and/or excessive behaviors when left alone.
  • Dog is depressed - shows little or no interest in activities or interaction.

    STEP ONE: STOP FEEDING YOUR DOG FROM A BOWL!

    Your dog has a magic bowl. Food appears in it every day. No hunting. No foraging. No tracking. He just goes to his bowl and 'Poof!, there's the food. So, what does he do with all that extra time on his hands? Well, he has probably decided to eat your book or your shoes and start his own "barking" choir that isn't making a huge impression with the neighbors. So put the hunt back in the food for him! Well, sort of. Here are five ways to feed your dog, starting today!

    1) Scatter food in your yard or home or hide small piles for your dog to find. Help him out in the beginning by showing him where it is.

    2) Teach your dog to play catch for his food. Toss a piece of kibble or a treat right in front of your dog's nose. He'll probably watch it fall to the ground and then eat it. Keep working at it and he'll eventually catch it. I use this one at night when I want to watch TV and entertain my dogs at the same time.

    3) Stuff a Kong - take your dog's regular kibble and mix in just enough peanut or almond butter, whipped cream cheese, or canned dog food to coat the kibble so it sticks together. Then, stuff it into one or two Kongs and serve! The peanut or almond butter ones can even be frozen first for an extra long lasting treat!

    4) Use some of your dog's meal kibble for rewards during the day. Ask your dog for a behavior or trick and reward. Keep some at the front door to give to friends that come over. Your dog will soon learn to love the sight of new people. Not only is your dog working for his dinner, but there are no extra treats to make your dog gain weight!

    5) Feed your dog a squirrel! Well, not a real squirrel. Premier Pets makes a toy called a Squirrel Dude that is similar to a Kong with small nubs that hold kibble and treats inside. This is easy to fill because you don't have to mix the kibble with anything first. Just load it with some kibble and a few yummy treats and serve. You may need to cut the nubs down a little and I like to make sure there are some small pieces of treats that will fall out more easily than others so your dog will be rewarded frequently for his efforts!

    6) Last but not least, make knotted toys out of rags. Take old margarine or yogurt containers and put yummy, smelly treats in them. Tie an old rag loosely around the container and encourage your dog to untie the knots and find the treats. This one must be supervised so your dog doesn’t eat the rags or plastic containers. You should supervise your dog with Kongs and Squirrel Dudes until you are sure he can use them safely on his own. And, supervise or separate multiple dogs so you don' have any battles!

    STEP TWO: CHANGE IT UP!
    Your dog doesn't need a million toys to entertain him. In fact, three toys at a time is plenty. Choose three to leave out and then rotate them so he has something fresh every few days. Do the same with the new feeding methods listed to the left. Don't just pick one and repeat that day in and day out. Choose three or four that work for you and mix them around. Use new Kong stuffings every once in awhile. Sometimes you can freeze his Kongs and sometimes leave them thawed. Layer Kong stuffings so he has a new flavor in each layer.

    You can do the same thing by adding new scents to your dog's environment. Add new smells to the backyard by sprinkling spices or extracts from your kitchen cabinet in the grass. Or, place a few drops of synthetic animal scents (sold at sporting goods stores) on a stuffed toy and then rubbing the toy across the lawn to create a trail and see if your pup can track it. You might have a real tracker on your hands!

STEP THREE: GIVE YOUR DOG A BONE . . . AND A TOY . . . AND AN OBSTACLE COURSE.
Make sure your dog has both squeaky or interactive toys and something to chew on since these toys satisfy different needs for your dogs. We are particularly fond of bones called N-Bones for the chewing part. They're long lasting and one of the flavors (Peanut Butter) is wheat-free.

In addition to bones and toys, you can also create play areas or obstacles in your yard for your dog. Build a sand pit in one corner that can be a "lega"” digging area. Bury milk bones in there. Or, fill a baby pool with water or sand and then change the filling every once in awhile. You can leave treats in the pool for your dog to find.

Place treats in old containers like milk or water jugs (remove the plastic rings around the neck of these first so your dog can't get them off and choke on them) and let your dog tear them up to try to get to the treats. You can hang these from a tree so your dog can bat at them and try to pull them down. You can poke holes in the container so your dog can smell the treats.

OTHER IDEAS

  • Take different routes when walking your dog so he can experience novel smells, sights and sounds.
  • Get a child's wading pool and fill it with water so your dog can splash around.
  • Satisfy your dog's need to hunt and forage by letting him play "Find It" games. Hide his kibble or treats around the house or yard and send him out to find them.
  • Play games like fetch, Frisbee, tug or hide-n-seek with your dog.
  • Give your dog a massage.
  • Get your dog together with other dogs and let them play. You can make individual play dates, host parties or take your dog to a location where other dogs get to play off-leash.
  • Leave classical or new age music on when you leave the home. This is very relaxing for most dogs.
  • Consider hiring a dog walker or taking your dog to a daycare facility a couple days a week if you are regularly gone more than 6 consecutive hours/day.
  • Hang rope or inner tubes from a branch or other item in the yard for the dog to play tug with.
  • Some dogs will play with old tires either loose on the ground or hanging from ropes.
  • When possible, take your dog along when visiting friends or running errands.
  • Jog, rollerblade, skateboard or bike with high energy dogs that never seem to tire.

    STEP FOUR: TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN!
    A half hour training session (using a positive training method such as clicker training) generally tires a dog out longer than an hour-long walk. While both are important, I advise adding a short training session to your dog's day. Add a five to ten minute session after your walk each day. Teach your dog fun things like tricks or agility in addition to the dry stuff like down and stay. Be sure to use a positive training method that will engage him in the training rather than just stress him out or hurt the bond you share. Try The Only Dog Tricks Book You'll Ever Need: Impress Friends, Family - and Other Dogs by Gerilyn J. Bielakiewicz for training ideas!

    And remember, exercise is an important part of your dog's mental and physical well-being. If you are unable to walk your dog due to constant pulling on the leash, arrange a fitting for an Easy Walk Harness or Gentle Leader Headcollar for your dog. We have found these to be an effective and humane way to help get your dog the exercise he needs.
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