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A Bored Dog Is A Troubled Dog

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“A bored dog is a troubled dog.” It’s true. This says a lot about the dog that has to keep himself busy with things to do while his owners are at work 8 to 10+ hours a day. He will find things to do like getting into things that don’t belong to him.

Most of you would probably even admit to me, “My dog is bored and I really feel so guilty leaving him alone all day and going off to work.”
Then, when you get home, you try to ease your guilt by lots and lots of loving on your dog. Now, you have an already bored dog adding a very much missed owner to his list of worries.

Jim Burwell: Controlling the Hyper Dog

There are behavioral effects of excessive doting when owners are home as opposed to no doting when they are not home. What this does is create a sharp contrast in the dog’s “alone time,” Say “Hi!” to separation anxiety.

What you may not realize is that satisfying your dog’s needs, actually means good exercise on a long walk not just being loved on.
I know, we all work hard and it seems to get harder each day. Many of us are just too tired to walk our dogs, except maybe for the quick 5-10 minute potty walk. But take, heed, this can complicate your dog problems down the road.

If you give your dog good quality, aerobic exercise at predictable times before you leave for work and after you return, it helps in the following ways:

1. You can eliminate stress and reduce behavior problems in your dog with good quality exercise.
2. His emotions are better kept in check with a regular exercise program allowing you maintain a calm and stress-free environment for you and your dog.
3. Walking, exploring and game playing outside, with you, are activities that have high value for your dog. Knowing that he has control of these activities (meaning he can make them happen on schedule by performing a sit and/or down command) will build confidence in your dog – a confidence that will help him mange his alone time better.

All of the above gives much weight to the phrase, “A tired dog is a good dog!” To that you could also add that it gives you a “stress-free dog” and a “more confident dog.”

This is what you want for your dog isn’t it?

If you understand that most dog problems can be directly related to the relationship your dog has with you, his owner, it only makes sense to understand how “improving your relationship with your dog” can then reduce your dog’s troubled behavior.

Mind games are cool!

If you take the necessary steps to improve your relationship with your dog you are now on the path to a trouble-free dog.
You’re looking to partner with your dog as opposed to “just owning your dog”.

This allows him to better cope with his alone time when you are gone. You exercise his body and he will exercise his mind – with a little help from you.
There are other things that will also help him cope with his alone-time.

In addition to physical exercise there is mental exercise, mind games or anything that will stimulate your dog’s mind and interest that will help to create “mental fatigue.” Physical and mental fatigue work hand-in-hand to keep your dog worry-free and trouble-free. Mind games for dogs are not complicated and can keep your dog busy for hours and before he knows it, you’re home!

Let’s take a look at mind games you can do for your dog, which he might enjoy, plus they will keep him busy in your absence.

We’ll first take a look at in-the-house mind games:

1. Put your dog’s food or treats in a Buster Cube or Roll-A-Treat ball so that your dog has to work for food or treats. Feed him half of his breakfast in his bowl – the rest he has to work for it throughout the day.
2. Place dog food or treats inside a cardboard box, old towel/rag, or plastic water bottles that requires your dog to work to get to the food inside.
3. Stuff Kong toys full of various food items (your dog’s kibble in the Kong topped off with canned food) and freeze them overnight before giving them to your dog.
4. Divide portions of your dog’s meal into small Tupperware containers and hide them around the house for your dog to find. Feed the rest to him at his regular meal time before leaving.

If your dog has access to the back yard, here are a few ideas:

1. Dogs get bored with the same old back yard. The same old smells never change…unless you place novel scents in the environment using small amounts of synthetic animal scents (e.g. dove, quail, squirrel, etc. available from a sporting goods store). I’ve had clients do this and their dogs love it and have a blast sniffing out all those good scents. Lay a trail around the perimeter of your back yard so that the next time he goes out, he is intrigued with this new scent trail.
2. Build your dog a sand box either by sectioning off a 4-5 foot square area in your yard or buying a child’s plastic wading pool at WalMart and filling it with sand and dirt. Then bury bones for him to dig up.
3. You can also put vegetables or fruits (e.g. melons, apples (seeds removed), lettuce, squash, watermelon, carrots, celery, etc.) out in the yard or you can bury them in the sand box or float them in the wading pool. (Do not give your dog grapes or raisins!)

Imagine the fun your dog will have keeping busy doing what he loves to do – forage for food and track scent! Many of these activities even encourage good behavior and provide your dog with positive outlets to release stress and excess energy.

Did you know that the average pet dog spends less than 15 minutes each day eating their meals because they do not have to forage for food? It’s just in the bowl. Most don’t even do a sit for food. Does yours? In contrast to the dogs that used to forage for food, your dog lives a very monotonous lifestyle, in a very inactive environment, while you are at work 8 – 10 hours a day. Most dog breeds were developed for a purpose like guarding, herding, hunting, etc.

Few dogs these days actually participate in these activities, leaving them with no outlet for often high levels of energy. I haven’t even touched on cheap carbohydrates in bad dog food “revving up your dog.” There’s no substitute for physical exercise for your dog but spicing up your dog’s day as recommended above can encourage a more normal range of behavior and occupy his time more, thereby creating mental fatigue and reducing “boredom.”

He’ll look forward to it each and every day if you plan it right! When you are home with your dog, your routine should include his normal ground rules, obedience training and exercise with you – with the emphasis on together! Have fun!


Jim Burwell is a respected and acknowledged expert in dog behavior, dog training and puppy training. His career spans close to 30 years in Houston and he has had the privilege to serve over 8500 clients and help more than 20,000 dogs. Jim's website: Jim Burwell's Petiquette has a vast amount of information for dog and puppy owners to read and put into action. He is also a mentor to dog trainers who are looking to become better trainers and grow their business. Jim is a member of IACP and APDT.

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