How Dog Boredom Could Be Impacting Your Dog's Reactivity
Step 11 of 25 in the Dogly Reactivity Channel
with Karen Chapdelaine of TheTimelessDog, Training Advocate

Could dog boredom lead to dog reactivity? Pet parents of reactive dogs often ask me questions about their dog's activity level and how it relates to reactivity:

"Do dogs get bored - and is my dog bored?"

"Will more exercise calm my dog's reactivity?"

"How does keeping my dog mentally stimulated affect my dog's behavior and what's the best way to keep my dog entertained?"

First, yes, there is such a thing as a bored dog.

Despite the fact that dogs do naturally sleep a lot, they also LOVE to be engaged with mental stimulation. Who doesn't?

That's why your dog goes crazy with happiness at the slightest sound of the leash or harness being touched. Actively engaged minds and bodies through physical exercise keep all of us healthy. And out of trouble!

So let's talk about mental stimulation, enrichment, and how it helps most dogs - especially reactive dogs not be bored dogs...


What is dog enrichment anyway?

There's quite a bit of talk about dog enrichment these days, but what is enrichment and what kinds of enrichment do professional dog trainers say truly benefit your dog?

Enrichment is the act of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something. We want to enrich our dog's everyday life with the mental and physical stimulation they need and make sure their needs are being met.

But each dog's needs are different, so it's important to find out what works best for your individual dog. This could include various forms of physical exercise such as walking, running, playing fetch or even agility training. But it also includes mental stimulation through games, puzzle toys, and interactive toys.

Isn't giving our dogs their best lives what we all want as dog parents? Enrichment is one big way to do that.

How do you know what kind of enrichment your dog needs?

Enrichment is more than just keeping your dog entertained. To understand how to start to incorporate enrichment into your dog's life, it's important to start with what we know from behavioral studies and the Five Freedoms that have grown from them. The behavioral research and the Five Freedoms are an important part of the established framework that helps us support dogs.

A look at these Five Freedoms is a good starting point as we think about how to provide the best enrichment possible to keep your dog entertained - with a focused eye on #4:

Brambell’s Five Freedoms*

1. Freedom from thirst, hunger, malnutrition

2. Freedom from discomfort due to the environment

3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease

4. Freedom to express normal behaviors for the species

5. Freedom from fear and distress

*Brambell’s Five Freedoms: The Basic Animal Rights | Animal Wellness Guide, first established in the UK & modified


The 7 types of dog enrichment recommended to use in dog training:

Thinking about #4 in the Five Freedoms, "expressing normal behaviors for the species," translates loosely to helping our dogs be more dog... to do the things they were meant to do that feed their senses and their souls. That tells us what we should be providing in enrichment to keep your dog engaged.

The 7 types of enrichment we want to include as we make training plans for our dogs are:

1. Olfactory stimulation

Dogs' sense of smell is their number one sense and the most stimulating, satisfying way they gather information about their world.

2. Human contact stimulation

Dogs are social beings and thrive with positive human interaction, attention, and love.

3. Auditory stimulation

Dogs are highly sensitive to sound with their acute hearing picking up nuances that translate into information in their brains as well as into emotions from feeling happy, to calm, to fearful and everything in between.

4. Interactive dog toys

Interactive toys allow our dogs to use their minds to solve problems and enjoy their natural instinct for tactile manipulation and chewing.

5. Food enrichment toys

The joy of interactive toys multiplied with food in treat dispensing toys or food puzzles - what could be better for all the senses and your dog's connection with play, problem-solving, and reward!

6. Play

Play is a joyous, stress-relieving instinct and simply essential to your dog's health and happiness. Every dog has a favorite play style. See what your dog's most loved play is and enjoy it together to keep you both well physically and emotionally.

7. Cognitive enrichment

Dogs love to use their brains. That's why dogs love training exercises as long as they're done in a safe zone, kept in a timeframe that suits your dog, and allows your dog to have "wins" and get rewarded for them.


How to put dog enrichment into practice...

First, let's focus on food-based enrichment since it's been the big topic lately in enrichment and you'll want to make it a key part of your enrichment plans with your dog.

What is food-based enrichment & why is it so important?

Contra-freeloading is a rather highfalutin-sounding term, coined by animal psychologist Glen Jensen in 1963, that simply means this:

Observational research has shown that when dogs are offered a choice between provided ("free") food or food that requires effort to obtain, most dogs prefer the food that requires effort.

How interesting is that?! Our dogs prefer to do a little work, get more stimulation from the "hunt" for their food instead of being given it for "free." It can be a bit of a transition at first for some dogs when we ditch the traditional, plain bowl, so it's important to start off simple and make it a little more challenging over time.

However, the goal of enrichment, whichever category you are working on, is NOT to also make it more difficult for your dog. The goal should always be to enrich your dog's everyday life.

When you make sure your dog’s needs have been met on a daily basis, you will be less likely to see your dog engaged in unwanted and destructive behaviors with lots of pent up energy.

Your goal: enriching and adding value to your dog's everyday life

Your bonus: likely reducing reactive behaviors at the same time

If you are struggling with problem behaviors like excessive barking or lunging on the leash, you may find providing more mental stimulation for your dog to keep your dog engaged causes these behaviors to lessen over time.

This does not mean that all aggressive or reactive behaviors will magically disappear.

The richness and added value you're bringing to your dog’s life can help decrease the frequency and possibly the severity of the reactivity your dog displays. Why? Because dog boredom and the restlessness that comes with it is no longer an issue.

Not unlike us as humans, when your dog's needs are met, stress and anxiousness are reduced, and you no longer have a dog interested in looking for ways to meet his or her needs. You now have a dog that can relax and enjoy life.

There are countless ways of adding mental as well as physical stimulation to your dog's life. Here are five simple ones to get you started:


5 simple ways to enrich your dog's life and squash your dog's boredom

1) Make your walks physically and mentally stimulating - let your dog stop & sniff as often & long as his/her heart desires.

Try this

Transforming your walks from just physical exercise (although that's great!) into both physical and mental exercise with the sniffing firing up your dog's brain is a great way to optimize your walks and deepen the bond between you and your dog at the same time.

You'll find that as you listen, watch, and follow your dog's lead more, you'll be more in sync and develop a new level of communication together. Don't be surprised to find you're enriching both your lives!

You may have heard the expression that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog, but any good professional dog trainer will tell you we don't want to overtire our dogs physically. What we really want is having our dogs in balance with with all their true needs met both mentally and physically. That's a contented, well-behaved dog.

2) Add some fun "training" post-walks for mental stimulation.

Try this

When you get home from a walk - do just a few minutes of training, working on things you and your dog already know...

  • Do a few "sits" & "stays." Reward!
  • Then do some easy-to-teach doggy push-ups

How to teach your dog push-ups:

Have some yummy treats in hand, ask your dog to sit, then down, then sit. You've successfully done doggy push-ups! Praise & reward with your high-value treats!

Congrats to both of you - you've added some mentally stimulating, super easy wins (which makes them also relaxing) to your dog's walk. And your dog scored some great treats for all that satisfying work! (Plus more bond-building for both of you.) Win-win-win.

3) Introduce interactive toys & puzzle toys.

Try this

Choosing your dog's toys to combine high-quality treats and stimulation for your dog's mind is an easy way to add enrichment and occupy your dog productively.

A couple favorites:

  • This lick mat has suction cups to hold it in place as your dog discovers how to lick every bit of peanut butter, coconut oil, or any favorite spreadable treat out of all the little angles of the maze. (Licking can also be self-soothing when a dog feels nervous or bored.)
  • Dogs love playing with this wobble ball to toss and turn it so they can figure out how to get the treats out.

4) Ditch your regular bowl for some of your dog's meals.

Try this

Instead of feeding your dog out of a regular bowl, try other ways to deliver meals that put your dog's brain to work while eating.

  • Serve your dog's food in a snuffle mat (they're soft, food-dispensing toys), where your dog will have the fun of sniffing and foraging while eating. (I love this one adorably designed as a fold-out taco.) You can also hide treats in a snuffle mat for playtime not just meals.
  • Add a maze-like insert to your dog's bowl that turns your dog's meal into an interactive experience. (A favorite insert that's made of dog-friendly material with no harmful chemicals.)

5) Give your dog some chew time.

Chewing is a naturally engaging and enriching activity for dogs. It tends to tire dogs in a soothing way. Studies have shown the act of chewing has a calming and comforting effect on the adrenal-pituitary axis in the dogs' brains - triggering the release of endorphins.

If you make a healthy chew available, it's a tool your dog has at his or her disposal to "self-medicate" for anxiety and stress. That's a great reason to add chews as boredom-busters.


Unleashing the Power of Enrichment for Your Dog

There are so many ways to enrich your dog's life and help alleviate reactive behaviors.

We've covered several here, and the more you know about what your dog loves, the easier for you to come up with even more enrichment ideas. For example, some dogs love dog sports and agility games; other dogs find their joyful de-stressing in simply sniffing like crazy in empty cardboard boxes hiding treats. As with everything, know your dog! The more you do, the more your dog will benefit from your fun ideas.

Remember: Be creative and have fun with it! You'll love how much more relaxed and content your dog is - and you...*and *you'll both be having a blast together.

With dedicated commitment to meeting both your dog's physical needs combined with mental stimulation throughout his or her life, you'll be amazed at the transformation in your dog's overall behavior.

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Next up in the Reactivity Channel on Dogly

Now that you know how to mentally and physically enrich your dog's life, check out the next guide to learn about leash reactivity and the many training activities you can do to help your dog stay comfortable and calm while on leash.

If you have any questions on reactivity and your dog, just ask us in our Community Discussion. Continue in our Reactivity Channel where you'll learn everything you need to know for your dog from our community of Dogly Training Advocates.

If you ever need more personalized guidance, get started in your dog's training plan here.

Karen Chapdelaine of TheTimelessDog

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Karen because she helps us live life with our dogs in a way that's rewarding, calm, and happy - and does it with empathy.

Karen guides you

Aggression - Basic Manners - Marker Training - Enrichment - Leash Manners - Reactivity

Karen is certified

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) - Fear Free Certified - DN-CET (DogNostic - Canine Enrichment Technician)