You humans may think that only your species gets “bored”. This is far from true and we dogs and many other animal species do exhibit boredom by our behaviors since we don’t verbally communicate like you do. We were created to live active lives rather than sleeping all day and night. We may communicate that we are bored by getting into mischief with behaviors such as chewing on furniture, barking, pacing, or digging up the yard.
There are many simple and inexpensive ways to avoid boredom and increase a dog’s psychological and physical well being. We dogs can have fun and at the same time develop an even deeper bond with our favorite humans. The meaningful and challenging activities introduced below are called “enrichment or stimulation”.
Social enrichment activities are done by introducing us to people we do not know. This can be done by inviting visitors to our home so we can get acquainted in a comfortable environment. We also may enjoy meeting new people in dog friendly community settings such as parks, big box stores which allow dogs, and sidewalk or patio cafes which welcome well behaved dogs as visitors.
Enrichment activities can also be centered on cognitive/thinking skills. A simple game called “which hand?” is done by the human putting a treat in one hand and extending both closed hands and having the dog indicate the correct one by touching that hand. A correct response results in a treat. Hiding treats under a blanket or large towel and then sending your dog to find the treats requires the dog to use sense of smell and thinking skills. Or, you can hide treats around the house and then direct your dog “To find it”. Another simple game is to use a muffin pan, put a treat in a few of the holes and cover all of the holes with tennis balls. See how quickly your dog can figure out how to remove the balls and get the treats! Puzzle feeders can be purchased and they have various levels of difficulty which challenge a dog’s thinking and problem solving skills.
A fun activity for dogs that enjoy activity and working is a simple obstacle course. This can be made with the use of cones in which you can challenge the dog to walk with you in a variety of patterns. Another challenge would be simple jumps which can be made by putting a broomstick or a pool noodle on a small stack of books or bricks. Start with a very low jump that the dog can walk over, provide rewards, and then gradually increase the height of the jump. Teaching a dog to jump through a hula hoop is another fun activity. Be sure and use lots of praise and high value treats when teaching anything new.
We dogs can be very entertaining when we get involved in these types of enrichment activities. Some dog trainers have stated that 15 minutes of mental exercise is equivalent to 30 minutes of physical exercise. For a happy, well adjusted dog, make sure there is the right balance of mental and physical exercise every day. Most of all have FUN!