We’ve all been it. It’s not good. It makes you pace, it makes you fiddle with things, it makes you eat rubbish, it makes you frustrated and unhappy with yourself and others. If you’re a young person, though, or a beloved dog – well, it’s the “T’” word – trouble!
If we’re bored as an adult, it’s our fault. We govern our lives and we can do something about it. If it’s your child or your dog that’s bored well wouldn’t you know it, that’s our fault too. We have the say over their lives, we control what their day is like so if we don’t consider their day then yes, we can only blame ourselves when we come home to a lounge that’s been eaten or a collection of your neighbours’ letterboxes in your garage. And the twist is that the more you ignore the problem that you’re boring your kids and your dogs, the more the problem grows from pranks to deeply ingrained nuttiness. And this latter gets harder to root out the longer it’s left. First your dog chews your shoes, then steals fruit off the bench, then bites the postman, then self-mutilates. Am I exaggerating? No, no I am not.
A snakey twist to this boredom theme, one that is easy to overlook, is what happens to our older dogs when, say, the kids leave home. Up to this point you have had a happy, well-adjusted, charm-meister doing what’s it’s told, good with people and dogs, perfect weight, never misbehaves or chews itself – hey sometimes, it does the dishes. Then the kids leave home, maybe the parents take on an extra job, change their job or (heav’n forfend!) take up an absorbing activity that they have always wanted to find the time and money to do. Suddenly, our lovely friend is without the company and the entertainment. They were a happy, well-behaved dog because their day was fulfilling and fun. Now it is lacking in all of that; they are bored – of course they are.
Our lives are busy and crammed – it’s easy to overlook your dog’s life, especially to overlook the fact that your life has changed and that this affects your dog. The fact that your dog doesn’t wreck the joint or whine, doesn’t meant that all is ok. It just means that they are unhappy and kindly not imposing their boredom on you (though trust me, they’ll eventually start chewing their feet, putting on weight, smelling and they’ll definitely stop helping with the dishes).
So what to do? You have to work, you have to leave the house now and then, the kids are going to leave and the environment is going to change.
First important thing is what you’re doing now – recognising that dogs are thinking, feeling beings and they suffer boredom like us; they need enrichment in their day, like we do; the lack of interest in their day is not good for them (not because they’ll go bad but because you don’t want your friend to be so unhappy).
The next thing to consider is that every dog is different. They don’t respond well to the same things. Depending on the type of dog they are (their character, their age, their past, any number of things) means that what seems to work for your friend and their perfect dog may not work for your chum.
So here is a list of things to consider. It is not an exhaustive list – it is a teaser and if you have other ideas that work, please, please post them to the HUHA facebook. A lot rides on this for people and dogs. Your dog won’t be interested in all of these ideas but don’t underestimate them. The word “boredom” makes this state sound temporary and not that serious. It is serious – it’s physically and mentally damaging. Considering your dog is the first and a giant step towards happiness for both of you.
Things to do with you:
- Walks – walks, walks and more walks. And not the same walk! Round the block, to the beach, in the bush, to your friends or your Mum’s and back, to a café, everywhere. See if you can go everywhere. You must do this every day – especially the days when you are leaving them at home for a long while. You have to burn off that excess energy.
- Plan some jumps and tunnels and things you can create in the backyard to make a safe agility course – something your dog can delight you with by learning how to run about over the jumps – something you can do together.
- Join or organise a group of people with their dogs – go on walks, do picnics, encourage interacting with the dogs. Socialising is great for your dog, it is educative and entertaining for them; reminds them about being a dog.
- Play games – get the kids to hide with food and play hide and seek with your dog. Hide treats about the house and play Airport Security with them. Don’t make it too hard though – it’s meant to be fun. You can get bored and discouraged with hard, unachievable enrichment as readily as with no enrichment at all (well, perhaps not that readily). I know of someone who takes long carpet runners out onto their grass and their dog stands on the runner while the person drags them around across the grass. The dog thinks it’s hilarious – not good for your back though.
- Teach your dog some tricks or obedience. Dogs are clever – they love learning, achieving and having their fabulousness rewarded. Who does that remind you of? You of course! They will love doing it and they will bond strongly with you because you were the person who cared enough to teach them, love them and entertain them.
- Get other family members off the couch and with a small treat each do recalls – calling your dog “Come!”, asking them to sit, give them a treat. Then the next person does it. Go on, you can do this while the ads are on in Coronation Street. Spice it up and get some of the people to go down the corridor or in a room.
Things to do without you:
Having walked your dog to a stand-still or thrown a ball about in the back yard ‘til you’re both on your backs puffing like a turbine, try these:
- Doggy Day Care – there are some wonderful places where you can leave your dog for a couple of hours, a half day or a whole day where people who understand dogs will make sure your dog is safe, walked, gets to interact with other dogs and basically has a great day out (they will sleep like a top when they get back – all that net-working is just exhausting). You could book them in once or twice a week perhaps.
- A friend, a working-from-home Mum, someone’s responsible teenager could pop over while you’re at work and take your dog out for an extra walk or visit to the beach.
- Make a friend of another person’s dog – you can share entertaining them while the other is out.
- Toys – not all dogs like toys or they don’t like all toys. Sometimes dogs have never known toys and don’t understand their delights. Some only like chewy toys and some only like soft, stuffed ones. Provide them, bounce them, do retrieve with them and smear them with marmite. Make them available.
- Provide toys that let you put biscuits in them (food puzzle toys) – smear them inside with marmite or peanut butter and put treats in there. Put in frozen broth cubes or veggies they might like (carrot often goes down well).
And when you come back, you welcome that dog – dance with them, pat them, cuddle them, kiss them – because they are your best friend in the whole world and they are, without any doubt, completely awesome.