It’s a well-established fact that dogs and humans have lived together for a very long time. With the industrial revolution however, as our lifestyle has dramatically changed, so has the life of our dearest companions. Instead of working with us, running along side of the carriage, herding sheep and cattle, walking to school to pickup the kids, exploring the fields around the house, etc… our dogs now spend most of their time alone, in the confounds of our homes and backyards. The lucky ones may get an hour walk during the day or a play-session at the dog-park or doggie daycare, but for the most part, they have lost the ability to explore freely, run as much as they need to and generally play an active part of our daily activities.
Dogs sleep 12 to 18 hours, divided into several short naps throughout the day, which leaves them 6 to 12 hours to look for ways to entertain themselves. When we come home after 8-10 hours of work, we typically find ourselves too busy with household chores and family needs to notice that our dog, now very rested from a full day of idling, is in serious need of something to do.
Dogs are built for chasing, running, foraging, playing, shredding and digging. Many breeds have accentuated stamina and drives for certain tasks and the dogs will naturally prefer certain activities over others, but all dogs are energetic and intelligent animals that will chose to stay busy over laying on the couch, any time.
It doesn’t take much then to understand why so many pooches exhibit what we consider undesirable behaviors such as destroying shoes and furniture, barking incessantly, chasing their tails, digging, escaping from the backyard, etc… For the most part, they’re desperately looking for something to do. Without better answers, some owners turn to crating the dog in order to avoid having to deal with these problems. The furniture is safe, but the now confined dog may experience even more stress from an evident lack of activity and may start vocalizing or licking himself excessively.
So what can we do? Most of us don’t have the luxury of spending more time at home. Getting another dog to entertain the first one often backfires as studies have shown that this could lead to even more stress and high chances of having to relinquish one of them (Salman & al., 2000).
As often said, a tired dog is a good dog. There are ways to keep our dogs busy and entertained and sometimes all it takes is a little creativity. Walking of course is one of the easiest and best activities for both owner and dog, but you can also look for fun and creative ways to feed him, like stuffing a Kong, hiding it in different areas around the house, throwing his kibble in the back yard, etc… The more variety you can provide, the better. Just because we eat in a dish, doesn’t mean the dog should eat in a bowl! In fact, eating two to four times a day and slowing down the rate at which the dog eats with the use of puzzles for instance, not only provides more activity to the dog, but may also diminish the risk of bloating (Ward, 2013)
I’d love to hear about your dog. How can you tell your dog is bored? How does he entertain himself? What ways have you found to keep your dog busy? Do you have pictures of your dog when he’s bored that you can share with us?
Jennifer Cattet, Ph.D.