Preventing Boredom & Frustration

21st May, 2024

Written by Scotty Valadao – Canine Behaviourist: Founder 

As a behaviourist, I find that a large majority of behaviour problems arise out of sheer boredom and frustration, and just supplying your dog with some appropriate entertainment while you’re out can go a long way to reducing behaviour concerns and keep your dog happily stimulated.

I cannot fail to mention that, in addition to leaving appropriate toys, walks and social interaction are crucial. If your dog has separation anxiety, rather get professional assistance – just leaving some chew toys is unlikely to solve the issue.

Toy know-how

Our dogs often spend a good deal of time alone, especially if their person has a full-time job. So, let’s look at leaving some entertainment for them, rather than leaving them to their own devices.

What’s crucial is to ensure that the activities you supply are safe, and that in the case of any chew toys, they’re of high quality and are checked daily for wear and tear to prevent accidental chewing off of pieces and swallowing same.

Toys such as ropes, balls, stuffed toys, etc. can only really provide entertainment when somebody is throwing the ball, pulling the rope, and so forth – apart from these times, toys such as these really don’t give a dog the stimulation it needs.

Dogs chew naturally. Not only does this give them something rewarding to do, it keeps them busy. As the mouth is connected to the limbic section of the brain, which governs emotions and is the seat of all learning, chewing helps a dog to de-stress; think of a dog with separation anxiety – it will chew and destroy, as the chewing action makes it feel better. A point to bear in mind is that, if there’s more than one dog, neither dog should be prone to resource guarding, and it’s better to always provide about three or more chew toys so that there’s a choice, which makes it less likely for one dog to want to take the other dog’s toy!

It’s important that you take the chew toy away when you come home. If the chew toy is only provided when you’re going out, it will assume a much higher value to the dog.

Types of toys

There are lots of great options to keep your canine companion entertained. These include:

Stuffed toys

High on our list are toys such as the Busy Buddies, Kongs and Peanut Stuffer. The reason for this is that they can be stuffed daily with different things (see link to recipes below) and are the safest for dogs to chew on. It’s recommended that these are checked daily for wear and tear.

Many dogs, when first given a stuffed chew toy, don’t really know what to do with it, so start off by putting only a few kibbles and treats inside. By doing this the dog will associate that good things happen when a chew toy is provided. Gradually add in more and more, and don’t stuff too solidly initially. Once the dog understands, then you can pack the goodies tighter inside. When the dog is used to them, they can be frozen – instant “Kongsicles” – and the coolness helps the dog to keep cool, and it’s brilliant for pups that are teething.

Another toy I love is the Foobler Pop Shot Time Delay Puzzle Toy. This is brilliant as you can stuff a quarter cup of kibble or treats, and it has a timer you can set to between 30 seconds and three minutes. As the timer goes off, it makes a noise to get the dog’s attention. The dog can also easily move the Foobler around with its paws. It’s a really great interactive toy, plus very sturdy.

If you have an area that’s tiled, take a really hard plastic or metal container that’s circular in design and place it on the tiles with some kibble underneath. Your dog will have great fun pushing this along the tiles to get to the treats below – you can do more than one of these. Some dogs may first have to be shown how this great game works before you leave them at home with it.

Bottle crunchers

Many owners have used empty water bottles that dogs can chew on, even making holes in the side and putting in treats for extra stimulation – dogs love the crunchy/popping sound these make. However, we really don’t recommend these, as, should the bottle break, there are often sharp edges that can create a real hazard, as can the plastic top of the bottle – this could cause a life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction.

A much better option is to purchase a top-quality Bottle Crunching toy. This is a water bottle covered with a protective sleeve that fits snuggly around it. The majority of them have a Velcro strap to close securely. Even though the bottle now has a covering, all the great crunchy noises that dogs love can still be heard. We’ve come across a few brands where the protective cover is of a fabric that also makes a crunchy noise, doubling the experience.

Treat dispensers

Treat-dispensing ball-type toys are also great and come in a round shape, while some of them have small hexagons. An added bonus is that the dog gets to move the ball around, or, with the round type, they’ll roll as the dog pushes it.

Scent work

It’s very easy to teach your dog to follow a simple scent trail saying something like “findies”, whilst at the same time tossing a treat just in front of the dog and gradually building up the distance and the difficulty as the dog cottons on. As the dog becomes proficient in this (and on average it doesn’t take long), start to make the trail harder and you’ll eventually be able to hide treats all over the garden, which will keep your dog happily doing what it does in nature – scenting and scavenging for food.

Pull toys

By hanging a rope and small tyre from a tree or making a bracket against the wall of your house, you can keep your dog happily playing at “pullies” while alone in the garden when you eventually leave them there. This should hang at about the same level as the dog’s mouth or slightly higher – see what’s best for your dog. And just because your dog is a small breed doesn’t mean they won’t like it – you’ll just use appropriate toys, such as a soft toy or rope. You’ll have to get involved initially to show your dog what to do, after which you can leave them alone to play. Buy the tyres that are sold in pet and vet shops as, apart from Hot Rod/Drag tyres, most of them contain metal. You should also check this on a daily basis for wear and tear.

Digging pits

A digging pit can provide hours of entertainment, especially for dogs that love to dig, but do remember they need to be restocked daily. Here’s a link to find out how to go about it:

Puzzle toys

Puzzle toys are often recommended for dogs left during the day and are brilliant for mental stimulation. These aren’t cheap, however, and many have small covers to hide the treat, which can be chewed upon, swallowed, lost, or even ingested. If you are going to consider leaving a puzzle toy, then ensure that the above can’t happen.

Consider the services of people who’ll walk your dog for you if you can’t. Just remember to do your homework and make sure that the person has the knowledge and experience required to do this and that they’re recommended.

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