Dog Boredom vs Anxiety

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Photo by Keith Cannataro |

Many people return home after a day at work to a household of destruction and mayhem, and their first assumption is that their dog suffers from acute separation anxiety. Sometimes this can be the case, but in many cases, the dog has destroyed the house as a cure for another very common problem in the canine world: acute boredom.

Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety or Is He Just Bored?
There are specific signs that tell an experienced positive dog trainer whether the dog is truly suffering from separation anxiety or is simply trying to cope with feeling really bored and unstimulated. The end result can look similar, but thankfully many cases of supposed separation anxiety are actually easy-to-rectify cases of a bored dog finding ways to fill his day.

The best way to find out whether constant barking or destruction is just boredom or true anxiety is to video your dog when he is alone. This is easily done by putting a camera on a tripod and focusing it on areas where the destruction is worst or by the door that is used most regularly to come and go. If the barking, whining and destruction is very severe particularly within the first 30 minutes of your departure, that is a good indicator that your dog is suffering some distress on separation. If however your dog goes to sleep after you leave and then wakes up and barks or chews, the behavior is more likely to be due to boredom.

Once you have determined the cause of the behavior and established that your dog is just bored, how do you keep him entertained? The world is full of unemployed dogs that engage in very little activity and spend most of their lives on the couch. Even though most domestic dogs do not work for humans as they once did, however, their lives can still be enriched with activities, games, and exercise to prevent boredom, anxiety, and behavioral issues.

10 Tips for Preventing Dog Boredom:

  1. Stimulate your dog’s senses by allowing him to experience different environments each day. Taking your dog around the neighborhood or to the local park can help mix up his everyday routine.
  2. If your dog is home alone for long hours, consider hiring a dog walker or (if appropriate) taking your dog to a reputable doggie daycare facility. Leaving your dog in the yard all day is just as bad as leaving him in your home.
  3. If your dog loves the car, take her for a ride. This is a great way to give a fearful or reactive dog mental stimulation outside the home.
  4. Play games with your dog. Hide-and-seek, fetch, Frisbee, and tug-of-war are all great games.
  5. Find a dog sport that you and your dog can enjoy together. Sports challenge your dog mentally and physically and can help fearful dogs gain confidence. There are sports that satisfy every type of dog, from agility to dock diving.
  6. Minimize destruction by managing your dog’s environment, and provide him with a safe area where he can stay when unsupervised.
  7. If your dog likes to be touched, give him a massage. This is a great way to relax your dog.
  8. Learn about your dog’s breed or mix of breeds and find activities that suit his abilities. Border collies enjoy herding, Bloodhounds love to track, and greyhounds are great at lure coursing. Find what suits you and your dog.
  9. Organize a regular dog walking group or set up canine playdates. Keep your dog social and active by giving him plenty of interaction with others.
  10. Therapy work is great for confident, social dogs. Find a therapy group near you and make a real difference with your dog.
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10 thoughts on “Dog Boredom vs Anxiety

  1. Lauren

    Unfortunately our pup has separation anxiety. If it were acting out from boredom I'd feel like we'd have a fighting chance. But the hyper focus on the front door and trying to rip through said door, (or cage to get to said door); is just... Sad. We love him to death but it breaks our heart that he is so afraid of being left behind again,( he is a new rescue), he doesn't care what happens as long as he can be with us.
    We've tried so many things...

  2. Eva-Kristine Loy Dalsgaard

    Hi Lauren, It is not an unsolvable problem if he's suffering from separation-anxiety. There are plenty of things you can do to ease it and resolve the issue.
    First of all - training "leave", with music on - where you leave for two min - stand outside the door, go back in - greet and praise him for it, do it again, - same amount of minutes, and then slowly slowly slowly increase the aount of time - spent outside - while he is waiting.

    Another thing is to make sure he does not feel like he's forced to insure the hole house. Make one room "his", and make sure he has everything he needs there, and close the door. same patterne - two min - two min - two min - thre min thre min - five min and so forth - eventually he'll know that you WILL come back for him, and just rest!

    My dog is also a rescue, and this is how we solved the issue, when he - after having connected with us - started having fear of beeing left again. Now there is NO problem.

  3. Jo

    Our rescue was the same - luckily we got these tips from the rescue centre we got him from. It does work I too can vouch for it but it took a year for our dog to settle. We now he's ok now as we filmed him when we left and he just went to sleep. I would also add it's good to give your dog a kong or similar when you do these exercises so he is not entirely focused on what you are doing.

  4. SC1980

    What a good article, as a dog trainer I get a lot of questions around anxiety and I find 9 out of 10 are just bored dogs. I'm now using this as a project and case study for my KCAI course. Kind regards Sue

  5. Shannon

    My dog has had a problem with separation since she was a puppy. As a puppy (she's seven now) she had all those signs of true separation anxiety, with the added bonus of chewing on her legs and paws until they were bloody disasters every time she was left alone. It eventually reached a point the vet recommended we just stop leaving her. To make it worse, for me at least, is, she's taken her anxiety to the point of not wanting to be away from me personally, ever. It took five years for her to be willing to stay alone with my mom, who lives with us. She won't stay in a room by herself while I'm in another room, she is like a giant shadow. If I try to force it the pacing, destruction, vomiting, etc all starts again. Our one saving grace is that we did, for my sanity, start daycare for her when it was apparent she couldn't be home alone, so she does accept being there giving me at least a day or two of peace a week.

  6. Liverpool Lou

    We did all off these things with our Charlie (a rescue who'd been badly cage-trained ...well, actually NOT cage trained - just incarcerated) and NONE of it has worked. He's interested in NOTHING at all, not music, not food, not water not toys not my piece of clothing - nothing, if we're not there. He vomits, defecates howls barks and eats the door and furniture from the minute we leave almost until the minute we come back. He stops being pro-active after about an hour but never properly settles and kicks off again at periods over the time we're out. If it was boredom, he'd do it when we were in and not being interactive instead of him sitting on my feet! He's improved slightly over time (five years) he doesn't go quite so hysterical now and we can reasonably leave him and our other dog Lola (whom he has TAUGHT to be anxious!) for about two hours but still have to restrict them to the kitchen/morning-room because of the destruction. On occasion, he now doesn't defecate. We ALWAYS exercise them before we leave them and they have at least one off-lead run in the park and one road walk every day as well as play. So no, it isn't ALWAYS eradicable.
    I would just add - he's not interested in Kongs at any time and is very happy to be left in the car for as long as we like - he just goes to sleep in the car! Weird dog!

  7. Rachael

    Iv had my dog since she was 5 weeks old the woman who I got her off told me to pick her up at 8 weeks then rang me up and told be I had to get her she couldn't cope with all the puppies since iv had my dog she barks none stop when I leave I even got two other dogs she still barks even with them I can leave chews dog bones music on the telly but she still barks she can do it for hours and hours when I come back from work I'll come back to her she's out of breath tired and poo and wee all over the place when I leave for work my partner is home an hour later do she's only left for a short time she's 5 now iv left her with family and friends she just try's to get out there house she cry's none stop with them it's defiantly not Bordem with her

  8. Becca

    My boyfriends dog goes nuts when we leave her, which I think is separation anxiety. When she was a puppy she belonged to his brother and she would be left alone all day in the bedroom on her own, Then she would be taken out in the car and left in the car on her own. This means that whenever we leave her she goes absolutely nuts. This starts as soon as you do anything that means you might be leaving, putting on shoes, a coat, picking up your handbag, picking up keys. She will follow you around constantly barking and jumping at you. My boyfriend has a baby gate on the door of his room, and she will try and squeeze through it as you're trying to go, so she can follow you. In the old house she used to follow you to the front door, jumping up, barking and getting aggressive. She even would nip at your legs, and once nipped me really hard on the back of my thigh that it brought a bruise. In the old house her fixation was my bf's Mum, who she would wait for to come back. No amount of trying to distract her would work. If we brought her in the bedroom with us, she would be constantly going to the door to listen for her return. Now my bf lives on his own and she seems fine being left on her own a little bit sometimes. It's just the craziness before you leave that is really intense and can be really annoying with the constant barking, jumping up etc She does seem to settle once you're gone and stops barking after a few minutes. She does tend to shadow my bf quite a bit, although is learning that when he goes in other rooms of the apartment he will come back, so she is more relaxed. Just wondering what we can do in regards to her behaviour when we try and leave.

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