Do Dogs Get Bored? 7 Signs and How to Help

Do Dogs Get Bored? 7 Signs and How to Help

If your dog has been acting restless, sleeping more, or barking excessively, it may be due to boredom. When dogs get bored, their quality of life (not to mention the bond they share with their humans) can be deeply affected.

We asked dog experts to weigh in on some signs your dog is bored, what causes boredom in dogs, and how to keep a dog from being bored. Since signs of boredom can mimic other behavioral and physical conditions, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian if your canine companion is out of sorts.

Do Dogs Actually Get Bored?

The short answer is yes, though there’s also more to it. “It’s not clear whether animals feel ‘bored’ in the same way that people do,” says Dr. Valli Parthasarathy, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist with Synergy Behavior Solutions in Portland, Oregon. Given that dogs have unique cognitive needs and don’t perceive time the same way we do, boredom is not something that can easily be measured in human terms.

Dogs do, however, benefit from enrichment, Dr. Parthasarathy says. “Enrichment can take several forms, including mental stimulation, exercise, environmental enrichment, or social enrichment.” 

Bored dogs who don’t receive adequate enrichment may start to sleep more or engage in repetitive behaviors like chewing, pacing, or barking. Although these behaviors can be indicative of other problems like separation anxiety, fear, or a health issue, they’re also linked to boredom (1). An estimated 16 percent of dogs are known to engage in repetitive behaviors, and it’s often triggered by frustration, stress, or boredom.

Breed type can indeed play a role in boredom, though any dog can become bored. 

“Understanding typical breed traits will likely give people a sense of what their dog’s needs might be, but there will always be exceptions and pet owners should observe and learn about the dog in front of them rather than relying on breed stereotypes,” says Anna Wong, a Karen Pryor Academy-certified dog trainer who owns Mutts Have Fun: Training You and Your Dog in Oakland, California.

In general terms, some breeds are more prone to boredom. One study, for example, found that breeds most closely related to wolves (like the Akita, Samoyed, and Siberian Husky) who were left alone at home and didn’t have backyard access, exhibited destructive and repetitive behaviors consistent with what we understand as boredom (2). High-energy breeds and active individuals may need more enrichment and stimulation to stave off behaviors associated with boredom.

How to Tell if a Dog Is Bored: 7 Signs

While any of the following can be signs your dog is bored, they can also signal a health or behavior problem. If these are new behaviors, have increased in frequency or severity, or you’re in doubt, it’s best to consult your veterinarian.

Pacing and Restlessness

When pacing becomes frequent or compulsive, boredom may be a factor. “It’s often said that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog,” says Bradley Phifer, executive director of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. “When our dogs don’t receive enough mental and physical exercise tailored to their specific needs, they resort to behaviors we’d rather they didn’t.” Pacing may be a way for your dog to release all that excess energy and anxiety.

Chewing on Furniture and Other Objects

Chewing is a natural behavior in dogs, especially in puppies, who teethe to help ease their sore gums, similar to human babies. Compulsive chewing that isn’t typical of certain breeds may be one of the signs your dog is bored. “In general, if a dog doesn’t have a direction to put their energy, they will do it in whatever way(s) they have available to them,” Dr. Parthasarathy says.

Excessive Barking and Vocalization

Barking is an innate behavior in dogs that facilitates communication. Some breeds, like Beagles and Icelandic Sheepdogs, are typically more vocal. Persistent barking for no apparent reason, however, can indicate a lack of stimulation, Phifer says. “Dogs are highly receptive to learning through their interactions with people, often adapting their behaviors to gain attention or access to desired outcomes.”

Excessively Licking the Floor

When you accidentally drop a tasty piece of food on the floor, your dog will likely lick it up on cue. Licking the floor becomes a potential problem when it lasts longer than a few minutes, is habitual, or is happening more frequently. It’s a repetitive behavior that signals something may be amiss.

Excessive Digging

Digging is inherent to certain breeds, Phifer says. “For instance, Terriers have a natural inclination to dig, rooted in their historical role.” Digging habitually, however, can indicate a lack of stimulation,” Phifer adds. A bored dog who is left alone will find an available way to keep occupied. If left outdoors, that can translate to excessive digging. 

Stealing and Rummaging

Changes in a dog’s environment can result in boredom. Say, for example, a favorite human is working longer hours and doesn’t demonstrate the typical level of attention to the dog. In these cases, the dog may find a way to seek attention in other ways. This can take the form of stealing items and running away with them to get attention or to start a fun game, Wong says.

Sleep Disturbances

A healthy dog typically sleeps between 8 and 14 hours a day, not including lounging time. Bored dogs, however, might be inclined to sleep the entire day away. A study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior provides evidence for this hypothesis (3). It found that dogs kept in a sterile facility slept about 20 percent more than dogs kept in an environment with enrichment. 

Reasons a Dog Might Be Bored

Most bored dogs typically aren’t receiving adequate mental, physical, environmental, or social enrichment, our experts say. 

“Lack of opportunity to engage in proper exercise, sniffing, mental stimulation, foraging, hunting, digging, play, and other social interactions may lead to what we’d label as boredom,” Wong says.

Changes in a dog’s routine or a reduction in the amount of attention you show your dog can lead to boredom. For example, maybe you’ve recently introduced a new pet or baby to the home or are working away from home more often.  

Even enrichment that’s not suited to the dog’s temperament can cause boredom, Dr. Parthasarathy says. “For example, food interactive toys may not be mentally stimulating for a dog who has a gastrointestinal disorder.”

How to Stop Boredom in Dogs

If your dog seems sad and bored, first rule out any health or other behavior problems. “It’s crucial to distinguish between normal breed behaviors and signs of boredom, while also being vigilant for any sudden or unusual behavior that could signal underlying health issues, such as gastrointestinal distress,” Phifer says. 

Once you’re certain there are no other significant health issues at play, there are certain techniques you can try to alleviate the boredom. Our experts offer tips on how to keep a dog from being bored. 

Customize Your Dog’s Activities

Tailoring activities to your dog’s preferences and instincts is key, Phifer says. “For example, Sighthounds thrive on chasing, so engaging them with a flirt pole can be enriching. Beagle owners might consider hiking on nature trails, while herding dog enthusiasts could explore activities like Treibball.”

Make Training Fun

Training tires the brain and builds skills that often enhance the dog-human bond, Wong says. “If you make training fun for you and your dog, it can be a way to meet several goals: stave off boredom for your dog, build your relationship, engage the brain, and build skills that help you both live more enriched lives in the long run.”

Review Your Dog’s Exercise Plan

A good exercise regimen incorporates quantity and quality, Wong says. For example, going on nature hikes, or “allowing your dog to stop and sniff, roll in the grass, dig, or simply lay down and enjoy the sun may help meet your dog’s needs more than adding time or distance.” 

More exercise is not always necessarily better, however. “It’s not always the case that a tired dog is a good dog,” Dr. Parthasarathy says. “Many of my patients are not taken on walks, for example, because it creates other issues because of overarousal or exposure to fear-provoking stimuli.”

Make sure to get your exercise plan approved by your veterinarian, especially for young dogs that are still developing, dogs with flat snouts (brachycephalic dogs like Pugs), and dogs with chronic health conditions like heart disease or arthritis.

Try Puzzles and Games

Wong likes games like Find it, where you set up treat searches in the house, yard, or safe public spaces. “You can also toss a handful of kibble or treats into the grass for your dog to sniff out.” Interactive dog puzzle toys are another great boredom buster to consider.

Incorporate Play Sessions

Playdates with other dogs can be a good way to alleviate boredom. It’s essential, however, to provide choice for your dog, Wong says. “They (and all playmates) should be able to ‘opt in and opt out’ of the interactions.” It’s also essential to “identify suitable playmates, and teach your dog safe, appropriate play skills,” Wong adds. Also be mindful of diseases like canine influenza and distemper that can be spread in social settings. Make sure your dog is up to date on their vaccines before participating in social events.

Provide Acceptable Chew Toys

Really hard chew toys can cause tooth fractures. Acceptable chew toys should have some flexibility or you should be able to indent the surface with a fingernail. Keep in mind that dogs who are left unattended are at risk of swallowing a part of a chew toy.

Let Your Dog Watch Television

This could be a good strategy for alleviating boredom, though Wong recommends observing the impact TV has on your dog’s behavior. “Some dogs react to dogs or animals on TV by lunging or barking. If this is the case, watching those animals on TV may cause frustration, fear or overarousal, and this may not be appropriate. Other dogs may not even notice the TV is on.”

For other ideas, check out our guide on how to keep pets busy at home.

References:

  1. Sulkama, Sini et al. “Aggressiveness, ADHD-like behaviour, and environment influence repetitive behaviour in dogs.” Scientific reports vol. 12,1 3520. 24 Mar. 2022, doi:10.1038/s41598-022-07443-6
  2. Wójcik, Anna, and Kinga Powierża. “The Influence of Breed, Sex, Origin and Housing Conditions on Undesirable Behaviors in Ancient Dog Breeds.” Animals : an open access journal from MDPI vol. 11,5 1435. 17 May. 2021, doi:10.3390/ani11051435
  3. Zanghi, Brian & Kerr, Wendell & de Rivera, Christina & Araujo, Joseph & Milgram, Norton. (2012). Effect of age and feeding schedule on diurnal rest/activity rhythms in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 7. 339–347. 10.1016/j.jveb.2012.01.004.

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