Do you have a dog with a busy mind? If your dog is home alone for extended periods of time, chances are you are always looking for a way to keep his mind off of your $3k couch. Boredom is dogs worst enemy, especially when they are alone. This is something that I know firsthand. Being an owner of working herding dogs and living in an apartment has had its many stories of coming home to a series of destruction. Once, my border collie Banzai decided it would be great fun to eat the carpet and padding three feet past the door entrance of my room! Why? Because she was bored and I took too long to come home! Fortunately, these incidents are long past her as she is beyond the age of adolescence and consistent training has taught her what is acceptable to chew and what is not. It doesn’t change the fact that I have had to face some costly repairs in my rented homes in her lifetime.
Fortunately for our canine companions (and our wallets), there are many options for preventing boredom and keeping them mentally satisfied! Here, I will give you three quick ways that you can keep your dog busy when home alone.
But first, what makes our dogs so prone to boredom? And why do they seem to love to chew things up when they are bored? To understand this, we need to know a little bit more about dogs and how their minds work.
By nature, dogs are a social pack animal. While they would rather scavenge than hunt, they work together to bring down prey when they need to. They are extremely opportunistic animals and will scrounge through just about every trashcan they can find their way into. Other dogs are integral to the species survival, and as such dogs are designed to be social animals. Humans, by nature, are a social species that rely on the community. This predisposition to being social is one of our only shared traits with our canine companions. So, I guess we could relate a little to how anxiety-ridden being alone can be, right? We too tend to have behaviors that we present when being alone for extended periods of time. Some people overeat, some undereat, some people even become destructive. Does it sound a little more reasonable at this point?
In spite of this small similarity, we are not the same species, and there are definite differences. Unlike dogs, we are capable of abstract thought. Abstract thinking is the ability to think about objects, principles, and ideas that are not physically present. It is related to symbolic thinking, which uses the substitution of a symbol for an object or idea. Dogs are only capable of very concrete thought and making strong associations with their minds. As such, they have no concept of how important your Heisman trophy is to you. To dogs, the world is just a plethora of chewing options. And seeing as they are opportunistic, they would just love to take the chance on chewing that usually so coveted item by their human packmates.
Dogs also remember differently than we do, and are not capable of remorse. They are not able to readily travel back in time and know that you are upset about the accident they had 3 hours ago. It’s already out of their mind, as such, yelling at your dog for a mess you find is kind of a moot point. Catching a dog in the act is the only way to make a direct connection with what they are doing wrong, and at that point, they make a strong association with the action being related to punishment. As a result, when you come home and they have chewed shoes they have been previously punished for chewing on, they may display what seems like remorse. However, they are responding to your body language and if anything, a strong prior association with you and the shoes together means trouble. It isn’t remorseful, it is simply strong associations and a form of conditioning.
Now that we understand our canine companions and why they do these things, it should be much easier to accept that a destructive dog isn’t out to get you, they are just lonely, bored, and anxious! It is up to us to provide for them so that they do not instead find their own inventive ways to entertain themselves. Life with Rover will be much easier!
Leave the TV on or play music for your dog. Some dogs really don’t enjoy the quiet that comes with being left alone in the house. This is particularly true if your home is usually active. What’s more, outside noises can further upset a dog that already feels anxious and a little on the territorial side. Drowning out outside sounds with music and tv can be very helpful in preventing complaints from your neighbors about a dog that is constantly sounding the alarms. A study in Scotland1 showed that dogs prefer reggae and soft rock to other genres, so you can crank that Bob Marley and Air Supply knowing that Rover will be content. DirectTV teamed up with DogTV, a channel that provides 24/7 programming aimed at stimulating, entertaining, relaxing and habituating dogs with shows that are filled with different sounds, objects, and movements, all seen from a dog's point of view.
Snuffle Mat! Dogs love sniffing! The canine olfactory system is far superior to that of a human. A dog has roughly 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to a humans 6 million. The part of their brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than ours. With this being said, dogs spend a lot of time and energy sniffing! We can satisfy this basic need while we aren’t around, and prevent Rover from finding something less than desirable to sniff around in. Snuffle mats are commercially available, but they can also be made! They are designed to stimulate the natural foraging behaviors in dogs and are very simple to use. Simply hide your treats within the various nooks and crannies of the mat and let your pup have at it! Dogs can spend hours “snuffling!”
Hide and Seek chews. As said earlier in this article, dogs are opportunistic scavengers. They have a natural inclination to hunt for whatever goodies they can find. We can use this to our advantage when we need to leave our dogs alone! Before you leave, set up some food/chews hidden in various locations for your dog to find and enjoy. You can use his dog food, or you can get crafty with it. Making a frozen stuffed treat from Real Dog Box’s beef tracheas or aortas is a great option! The sky's the limit when it comes to hiding chews and toys. You could even use treat dispensing toys to hide! A word of caution, if your dog has learned to chew inappropriate furniture items, keep your hidden treats away from the tempting furniture piece!