Just like us, dogs are complicated emotional beings, and they can easily become bored and depressed. Some dogs are more emotionally sensitive than others, but, in general, dogs are very tuned in to their people. Their overall mood can be impacted by changes in the home, and they can even react to our emotions. Dr. Tory Waxman, a small-animal veterinarian and co-founder of human-grade dog food brand Sundays, notes that “Both mental and physical enrichment are essential for a dog’s well-being. Dogs are social and active creatures. And although different breeds and individuals have different needs, all dogs thrive when their needs are met physically and mentally.”
When dogs aren’t getting enough physical or mental stimulation, they can easily become bored. Not sure if your dog is bored? Dr. Waxman explains that “like people, dogs can express their boredom in very different ways.” She notes that when bored, “Some dogs will become anxious and start pacing, chew, whine, bark or become fixated on certain things (such as cars, shadows, etc.).” On the other hand, “Other dogs may show somewhat opposite behavior and become quiet, not come out of their crate, lose their appetite or seem uninterested in activities that used to make them excited and happy.” Dogs can feel down for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their overall physical health (although always rule that out first with your veterinarian). These include:
Changes in the Home — This could include the addition of a new family member: adult, child or pet. Similarly, the ending of a relationship and someone moving out of the house or a death in the family of a person or animal can impact your dog’s moods. Something that many dogs have had to adjust to this past year are changes in work routines or daily schedules. And they will have to adjust again as many family members post-COVID will be returning to work or school.
Your Stress — While dogs can be amazing emotional supports for people when they are having a hard time, sometimes our moods can also impact our dogs. If you are struggling or particularly stressed because of work or family, your anxiety can rub off on your dog, causing her mood to plummet.
Lack of Mental Stimulation/Enrichment — Dogs are intelligent beings that need opportunities to use their minds. While different dogs will have different needs or enrichment, all dogs need to have mental stimulation. A lack of engagement or mental stimulation can quickly lead to dogs becoming depressed or upset.
Lack of Physical Exercise/Activity — Just like with us, sitting around might be fun for a day or a weekend, but not getting enough physical exercise or activity over time can cause depression. The same is true for dogs. All dogs, regardless of age or breed, need to have exercise; not getting enough exercise can lead to dogs being bored and impact their overall emotional well-being.
Change in Routine — When we went into pandemic lockdown, many dogs lost access to activities that previously had been a routine part of their sched-ule. For my dog, this meant no longer being able to go on outings to the river or beach; for other dogs, this might have looked like no longer being able to go to doggie daycare or other fun outings.
Don’t get sad, there are 10 easy things that you can do to lift your dog’s spirits (and yours, too!). Know your dog when choosing which ones and how much to do. Whereas some dogs may be happy with a quick walk around the block, others may require miles of walking or running to keep them happy. Even dogs who don’t require hours of exercise benefit from mental stimulation, including trick training and fun games to stimulate their brain.
You know how when you get a haircut, take a shower or a long bubble bath, you feel a lot better? The same can be true for your dog! Making grooming a regular part of your daily or weekly routine is a great way to spend quality time with your dog which, in turn, can improve your dog’s mood. In addition, keeping your dog’s coat clean and free of mats and her nails trimmed will help your dog’s overall mood.
Incorporate massage into your grooming to make your dog feel extra special. Take 10 minutes a day to groom and massage. Good places to massage: the ears, neck, chest, stomach and legs.
One of the best ways to add mental enrichment into your dog’s day is to teach your dog some new tricks. Trick training is great mental (and sometimes physical) exercise for dogs. Great tricks to try are crawl, weave, put toys away or spin, high five and make a wish. (See how on dogster.com). Reward your dog for a job well done with treats or playing with a toy!
Refresh Basic Skills
Basic skills like loose-leash walking, Sit, Down, Come and Leave it become rusty if you don’t practice them regularly with your dog. For added fun, put your dog’s leash on and grab some of your pup’s favorite treats and practice or take a refresher basic training class. Getting a refresher in the basics provides your dog mental stimulation but also makes it easier for you to bring your dog out more places, which equals confidence and a mood boost for both of you.
A great way to break boredom in the house is to provide your dog with canine food puzzles to solve. These puzzles are designed for dogs to use their nose, mouth and paws to manipulate the pieces to reveal treats! Find dog-food puzzles in all pet retail stores and websites. Note: If you have multiple dogs, use the puzzle for one dog at a time, in a room where the other dogs can’t get to it. If you have a resource-guarding dog, only use the puzzle when the dogs are separated. Pick up the puzzle, clean it and put it away after use so as not to cause a resource-guarding situation.
Dance With Your Dog!
Dancing with dogs (also called musical freestyle or heelwork to music) is a real sport where people put together routines combining tricks and heeling set to music. This is a wonder-fully enriching activity to get involved with, and it’s also lots of fun to casually play around the house. Turn on your favorite tunes, get some treats to reward your dog and get silly! As you dance around, ask your dog to do some of her favorite tricks or see if she gets excited and starts to improvise and offer tricks with you. This is especially good for dogs that don’t really take to agility. Check out the World Canine Freestyle Organization (worldcaninefree-style.org) for more information.
Parkour (sometimes called urban agility) is both a competitive canine sport and also a fun activity you and your dog can casually participate in. With parkour, the world around you becomes an obstacle course for you and your dog. While out on walks look for natural obstacles such as rocks, logs, empty playground equipment, picnic benches, etc., with which you and your dog can engage. Examples of parkour skills could be jumping or climbing, putting two or four paws up on different obstacles, as well as going under or around obstacles. Parkour is physically and mentally stimulating for dogs, which is a definite mood booster. For more information, go to the International Dog Parkour Association (dogparkour.org).
Your Daily BOOST
It’s easy to boost your dog’s (and your own) mood every day in 10-minute increments. Here’s a suggested schedule:
Morning Walk: Spend at least 20 minutes getting you and your dog moving. Let him do some sniffing for mental stimulation, too.
Mid-Morning Cue Review: Take five to 10 minutes for a quick skill refresher of the basics: Sit, Stay, Lay/down, Come, Drop it/leave it. (If you work away from home, just add this to your morning walk routine.)
Afternoon Fun: Time for some mental stimulation with either some trick training or a food puzzle. Again, this will only take about 10 to 15 minutes. (If you work away from home, add this to your after-work routine.)
Before Dinner: Time to spend about 10 minutes greeting or playing with your dog. This is a nice time to touch base and get you both relaxed and in a good mood.
Dinnertime: Instead of feeding your dog with a conventional bowl, use a food puzzle for mental stimulation.
Evening Wind-Down: This is a good time for a nice walk with your dog. You can also incorporate cue review or trick training into this time. Or, if your dog is older or the weather is bad, try a game like Hide-and-Seek or What’s Under the Cup.
Bedtime Relax: Take 10 minutes for a grooming session. Do a quick brushing, plus check the paws and elsewhere for any concerns. Then finish up with a nice doggie massage.
Weekly Sports: Sign you and your dog up for a class! Agility, nosework, parkour, coursing and dog dancing are all fun sports to do with your dog that will strengthen your bond and uplift both of your moods. If you don’t want to go out, set up an agility course in your own backyard.
Beat boredom and improve Fido’s overall mood with great enrichment products like these:
JW Pet Hol-ee Roller Dog Toy
Hide N’ Slide Puzzle Game
Massaging Groomer De-Shedding Brush