This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM.
Is Your Dog Bored?
Whether the kids have gone back to school, the adults are away all day at work, or the daily routine of walks and play-time have just lost their appeal, finding new ways to occupy your dog is essential. Dogs need both physical and mental stimulation to help keep them healthy and happy. And it’s no secret that bored dogs tend to get themselves into trouble.
“My philosophy is a tired dog is a good dog,” says Caren Malgesini, a vet assistant at PAWS, an animal rescue organization in Lynnwood, Wash., and the owner of Caren’s Canine Counseling dog training business in Everett, Wash.
But entertaining your dog doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money on doggie day care, a dog walker, or pricey toys. With a little creativity and insight into your dog’s personality, you can find, or even make, the right toys to make playtime more fun for both of you, or to keep your dog entertained and busy on his or her own.
Malgesini says it’s also important to take your dog’s breed or breed mix and age into consideration as well. Breeds like the Doberman Pinscher, Golden Retriever, and Australian Cattle Dog, all bred to be working dogs, need more exercise and mental stimulation than more easy-going breeds like the Basset Hound or Bull Dog, which prefer less challenging playtimes, she notes.
PAWS recommends two types of entertaining dog toys:
Interactive toys that require your participation, like balls and Frisbees to fetch, and rope toys for playing tug-of-war
Distraction toys that keep your dog busy when you don’t have time or aren’t around to play, such as toys that hide food treats, chew toys, and puzzle toys filled with treats
Interactive Toys for Dogs
Dogs, even non-working dogs, were bred to interact with humans. So spend any time with your dog that you can, because playing together strengthens your bond, advises Malgesini. Lack of interaction with people can result in needy, mopey dogs, she notes.
“We don’t give them enough to do, so they get into trouble,” adds Jen Gabbard, a Detroit-based blogger who offers a wealth of low-cost or free ways to keep your dog entertained on her blog Puppy Leaks. Gabbard’s easy interactive dog toys include:
Tug-of-war is a great way to tire your dog (and yourself) out. And you don’t have to buy a tug toy, you can easily make your own from old t-shirts, towels, or other soft materials.
Many dogs love chasing balls, Frisbees, or soft toys. Some rubber toys are oddly shaped so that they bounce erratically and make the game more fun, notes Gabbard. Tennis balls are always a hit with dogs.
Distraction Toys for Dogs
“There are so many dogs that are left alone all day,” says Malgesini. “But anything can be a game to your dog if you make it fun.”
However, it’s important to initially supervise your dog with a new toy before leaving him or her alone with it. Younger dogs tend to be more destructive and may ingest part of the toy, which can lead to intestinal blockages. “Watch them to see what they do with it,” Malgesini advises.
Gabbard has a few ideas to help keep your dog occupied if he or she is home alone for hours at a time:
Give your dog a Kong toy filled with treats, frozen peanut butter, or other food. Gabbard is such a fan of Kongs that she feeds her own dog all of her meals in a Kong. “It’s partly because she scarfs down her food quickly, but mostly to keep her mind engaged,” says Gabbard.
A free equivalent to a Kong, these treats are made by freezing dog treats in ice or by making ice cubes out of a meat- or vegetable-based broth. It’s amazing how long ice treats can keep your dog occupied, says Gabbard.
If your dog loves to dig, channel that love by building a digging box, similar to a small sandbox, in your yard and burying toys in it for your dog to find.
Change It Up to Keep Your Dog Engaged
Playtime is best when it incorporates both mental and physical exercise, which can be equally tiring, says Gabbard. “Don’t underestimate the importance of play.”
Other ways of mentally and physically challenging your dog don’t require toys at all. Gabbard suggests that dog owners:
Change your walk routine
Dogs like to do new things, so take a different route or visit a new park.
Teach your dog new tricks
You can train your dog to help around the house. Gabbard has trained her dog to help pick up her toys and to carry sticks and small logs to the woodpile. It’s fun and helpful at the same time and can be especially welcome for working breeds.
Arrange a play date with a friend’s dog
Just be sure the two dogs get along well before leaving them to play unsupervised.