Boredom Behaviors: Curbing your dog’s bad habits!

Enrichment should be an important part of every pet’s life.  It helps them get out their natural urges in acceptable ways that allow us to live better together.  By providing enrichment we can decrease unwanted behaviors like excessive barking, destructive behaviors, and attention-seeking behaviors.

brindle and white american pit bull terrier puppy walking outdoor holding green ball

Here are some of the common unwanted behaviors we see in our companion dogs and ideas for enrichment to help combat them.  For any of these behaviors remember we must provide a “yes” outlet for every “no” we tell them.

  • Digging – this is a very natural behavior, especially for breeds like terriers that were bred to chase animals that burrow into the ground. Digging is also used if the dog is either too hot or too cold; by digging up the soil they can either make themselves a nice bed to curl up in and stay warm or they can find cooler ground if it is a hot day.
    • The most common thing people recommend to prevent digging is to place their poop in the hole so they are deterred. While this does work to an extent most dogs will just choose a different location to dig in.
    • For dogs that love to dig: have an area of the yard they are allowed to dig in and encouraged to dig in, or get a kid’s sandbox and fill it with sand to use as an appropriate area to dig. If you do use a sandbox, burying their toys, treats, etc. can help encourage them to use that spot instead of other ones in the yard.
  • Jumping Up – this is most often an attention-seeking behavior. We often unintentionally reinforce this when they are puppies because we think it is cute for puppies to jump up.
    • The best way to combat this behavior is to never allow it to begin with. Unless you are ok with your adult dog jumping on you then you should not allow your puppy to jump up.  Instead, only give them attention when they have “four on the floor”.
    • If this behavior is already established and no longer wanted it will be harder to fix. It is best to then ignore the dog until they have “four on the floor”.  This includes NO TALKING to the dog while jumping or even trying to push the dog back down.  Any interaction, even a negative one at this point is giving the dog attention which is what they want.
    • You can also start to teach your dog an alternative behavior when greeting people such as a hand touch or other fun game to give them a new focus instead of jumping when meeting someone.

white dog terrier jumping near grass field during daytime

  • Excessive Barking
    • This is a tough one and really to tackle it you have to get at the root cause of why the dog is barking. Are they barking because they are bored, are they alerting you to something going by the house, are they anxious, is it because they are a vocal breed are they trying to get your attention?
    • Once you know why they are barking you can start to get the barking under control. The biggest takehome with this is that we do not recommend things like bark collars, spray bottles, yelling at the dog, etc. to combat the barking.  While those options are appealing because they often cease the behavior immediately, they do nothing to get at the root of why the dog is barking. It tends to be more of a short-term solution. If there is any anxiety causing the barking the anxiety will likely worsen, even if the barking subsides.
    • If you are able to teach the dog to “speak” on cue, then subsequently, a “quiet” on cue can help you get the behavior under control while letting the dog only do one or two barks.
    • If the barking is at a specific location, then setting up practice runs and rewarding the dog for quiet can also be helpful. An example is if the dog always barks when the doorbell rings.  Do repetitions where you ring the bell and then treat the dog for remaining quiet.  Once they start to become desensitized to the bell ringing the behavior usually lessens or goes away altogether.
  • Chewing Inappropriate Objects
    • This behavior for most dogs starts as puppies and really occurs due to inadequate supervision as puppies. These dogs start to develop a preference for certain types of material and then think it’s fun to chew up those things in the household.
    • Prevention is key here! Puppy proof your house and then keep a watchful eye on the puppy so they do not have the opportunity to chew inappropriate things.
    • If you find them chewing an object you don’t want them chewing, then a firm “no” while redirecting their attention to an appropriate chew toy will work well.
    • If you have an adult dog that is chewing things, then you need to get back to basics and puppy-proof the house all over again. It is unrealistic to expect your dog who loves to steal and chew socks to not steal them when your kids leave them all over their bedroom floor.  Set your dog up for success!  And give them appropriately, fun things to chew on at home (these include nylabones, kongs stuffed with food/treats, etc.)

white and black english bulldog stands in front of crackers on bowl at daytime

  • Counter Surfing
    • This is a common problem and a hard one to break. The reason it is hard to break is, like jumping up, it is a self-rewarding behavior.
    • Again, set yourself up for success and manage your household! That means if you have a chronic counter surfer, food cannot be left out on your counter.  EVER!  If you need to run out for a quick errand, talk on the phone quick, etc. your dog needs to be crated or confined to another area, so they do not have access to the food.
    • Reward your dog when they chose to lay and watch you prepare food instead of trying to steal it.
    • Lastly, DO NOT offer your dog food from the counter. Do not offer them anything that is prepared on the counter, and feed them in a separate area.

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