Sometimes the things that make a dog particularly desirable for us—intelligence, attentiveness, playfulness, youth—are the very things that can work against the dog owner when a dog is left to its own devices. None of us really want to leave our dogs alone, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.
As hidden doggie cams have shown, dogs get bored when left along with nothing to keep them occupied, and they will often get into “trouble” precisely because they are trying to find things to keep their little doggie brains occupied. A plush toy will only go so far to keep your dog busy, and then he or she will seek out other occupations such as chewing, swallowing small objects, barking incessantly, digging, howling, pacing, etc.
Many breeds have been created to look like stuff animals, and sometimes people forget that dogs are living, breathing beings that need stimulation just like we do. Clearly they don’t require the level of activity that humans require, but enduring hours of nothingness into perpetuity could make even the most steadfast companion go a little nuts.
Unfortunately we all can’t stay at home to play with our pets on a daily basis, but there are many ways you can make small inroads into keeping your best friend in a healthy state of mind, and not all of them cost money.
One of my personal favorites is to save all my extra paper goods (that would have ultimately gone into the trash or recycle bin, and re-use them one last time as a doggie puzzle or treat container. I save cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes, toilet paper tubes and paper bags, and any paper based packing materials.
When my dogs look bored, I get out one of my saved “containers” and put a few treats inside, and then close it up again and place it by the dog and encourage him to “find the treat” inside. It doesn’t take much prompting for him to fall to the task with gusto.
My female dog finds boxes a bit too much effort, but she LOVES paper bags and cardboard tubes, so I save those for her. It’s super easy to just pinch closed the ends of the tubes. Granted it takes her less time, but it’s still fun for her.
Another way I make my “leaving the house” time more acceptable for my dogs is to set up a “treasure hunt” with tiny bits of treats that I “hide” all over the house. Most of them are in plain sight but they still have to sniff them out and it takes them much longer to finish this game, and even after they have found most all of the treats they will continue to search for awhile.
I love staying and watching them playing this game, as well, because it’s so rewarding to see them keenly attuned to discovery…ears pricked forward, neck stretched out, eagerly scenting the air…isn’t this the type of activity they are really built for, after all?
Of course, these methods aren’t a substitute for walks (which stimulate their brain when they sniff along the route) and exercise (which keeps their brain chemistry optimal), but they help.
For those of you willing to shell out some cash to keep your dog busy, doggie puzzle toys are becoming more popular, and will keep your pooch occupied for a longer period. If you have friends with dogs you could set up an exchange to trade puzzle toys when your dogs get them figured out. Typically these puzzles will have varying degrees of difficulty, and some will let you work up to the hardest level so your dog doesn’t get so discouraged that he gives up before finding the treats.
Another way to keep your dog’s mind busy is to purchase a few DVDs (or shoot your own video at the dog park) and play it in your TV or computer monitor. You could also find a doggie webcam and leave your computer one while you are gone.
If you have any tried and true methods to keep your own pooch occupied, please share in the comments!