Bored Pooch? Consider Doggy Daycare
If you occasionally come home after work and find your dog has chewed on some clothing or Dave Reynolds, PhD, is a military psychologist. He has adopted two cats with medical needs from KSC, Tutu, who suffered from panleukopenia, and Ms. Sissy, who is diabetic.
furniture, has pulled up some carpeting, or pulled the drapes down, your dog-child might just be bored. For dogs, as with humans, boredom can sometimes breed destructive tendencies.
But dogs don’t really mean to cause any level of destruction. They aren’t retaliating for your having left them alone. They’re just seeking stimulation. To a dog stuck indoors with little to do, rooting through garbage, running around the house, or chewing anything available are attempts at self-stimulation. For those fenced or chained outside, digging, eating grass, and incessant barking also work to relieve boredom. Dogs, like humans, also combat boredom by eating. Indeed, boredom is a main culprit of obesity in both our species.
Some dogs destroy things not because they’re bored, but because they fear being separated from the rest of the pack – meaning you, their owner. A dog who begins to destroy things mere minutes after they are left alone is most likely exhibiting separation anxiety, not boredom. Boredom can take hours to develop. Whereas boredom is a state of under-stimulation, anxiety is a matter of over-stimulation. It’s as if your dog is overwhelmed with the thought you’re never coming back.
In general, spayed and neutered dogs are less prone to boredom than those that aren’t. And low energy dogs such as basset hounds and bulldogs are less easily bored than high energy huskies, collies, and terriers.
Aside from breed temperament, boredom is less likely to develop in dogs exposed to social and/or mentally engaging experiences that entail a degree of control (from the dog’s perspective) and/or regularity. For example, a dog that is walked when it barks once or twice at the front door, or who is regularly walked three times a day at around the same time, is less likely to become bored than one who isn’t.
One option growing in popularity and availability are doggy daycare centers. Similar to daycare for children, there appear to be two options. The first franchise facilities such as VCA’s CampBowWow, Dogtopia, and Central Barks. You can drop off your dog (or have them picked up), and they spend the day with other dogs. Some facilities will ensure your dog is grouped with those of a similar size and temperament to avoid the likelihood of injury or stress. At Dogtopia in Alexandria, one day’s care costs $38. But if you buy a monthly unlimited pass you can get that down to about $18 a day.
The second daycare option is to select one from among a large association of individual sitters and walkers (Rover). These sitters will either keep your dog in their home while you are at work or on vacation, or come to yours. In the Alexandria area, prices for a small, adult dog up to 15 lbs. started at: $20 for a day’s care; $15 for a walk; $14 for an in-home visit; and $30 for in-your-home overnight care; and $30 for boarding in the sitter’s home.
One apparent advantage of using an established company or franchise to care for your pooch is they are more likely to provide reimbursement for any vet bills that might come up because of an accident involving your dog while under their care. But it’s important to read the fine print in any contract you sign. Also, when booking with Rover, their sitters have had a background check (conducted by a different company) consisting of at least verifying that their name, address, and social security number match. It also includes checking the sex offender registry and terrorist watch list.
Depending on your comfort level with having a stranger care for your dog, it’s important to consider any verifiable training or certification of the individual or facility. Unlike childcare, there are few regulations governing the certification of facilities or the training of individuals. So imagine the worst case scenario: What if my dog gets bit or cut? And then work with whomever you are considering to walk you through how they would respond and note where that’s stated in your contract.
For those who may not be able to afford walkers, sitters, or all-day care, some alternatives include adopting another dog. While this communal aspect may decrease the likelihood of boredom, two dogs can also get bored together.
Whether you have one or more dogs, it’s important to enrich their environment if you cannot afford day or shorter term care. Toys are one way to enrich the home. It’s recommended to have various toys with different levels of chew-ability. Those that squeak or interact appear more enticing. It’s also important to regularly swap out the toy so your dog doesn’t get bored with it. Some toys are capable of housing the dog’s food, which they then have to work out in order to eat. This is an option in lieu of open bowl feeding. Whatever toys are purchased, it’s important to observe your dog using it to ensure it is safe; not too hard so as to cause tooth damage, and not too soft as to come apart in a few hours or days.
Brown, R. G. (1989). Dealing with canine obesity. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 30(12): 973-975.
McMillan, F. D. (2002). Development of a mental wellness program for animals. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220(7): 965-972.
Turner, D. C. (1997). Treating canine and feline behaviour problems and advising clients. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52(3-4): 199-204.
Weiss, E., Mohan-Gibbons, H., & Zawistowski (YEAR). Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff. Ames, IA: John Wiley & Sons.
Dave Reynolds, PhD, is a military psychologist. He has adopted two cats with medical needs from KSC, Tutu, who suffered from panleukopenia, and Ms. Sissy, who is diabetic