One of the greatest joys in owning a dog is witnessing how excited he or she gets when you return home from being away for a period of time (even when it's only 10 minutes!). There's nothing better than seeing a whiskered face at the window jumping up and down in anticipation of your arrival—which may make you wonder: Is my dog bored while I'm away from the house? Does he sleep all day, or has he been waiting for me at that window for hours?
Although it's hard to know how your pets really feel when you're gone, there's a chance your dog might be bored and unhappy while you're away from home. Sometimes boredom manifests itself in problem behavior, such as chewing, having accidents in the house or destroying furniture. (These naughty habits may also be a sign of separation anxiety, rather than boredom.) So while it's nice to feel appreciated when you walk back in the door after being gone, if you're worried—or you see evidence that your pets are getting into mischief—here are a few tips to keep their minds and bodies active when you're not there.
Plastic or rubber toys that have holes can be great for food-motivated pets. Put veggies or a portion of your pet's meal into these toys so he or she needs to move around to get the treats out (just be mindful of high-calorie foods for overweight pets). Puzzle toys are similar, but make pets press buttons to reveal treats, which stimulates their minds too.
Try hiding pieces of kibble or veggies (or favorite squeak toys) throughout the house for your pet to seek and find. This encourages your buddy to move around while you're gone. If you have a particularly smart pooch, put him in another room while you hide treats around other areas of your house.
There are now songs and TV channels designed to calm your pet. How well they work is yet to be determined, but they can't hurt. If you're willing to try, tune your TV or radio/laptop in and give it a shot—just be sure not to turn the volume up too high in case your pet would prefer to snooze.
Craving a little face time with your furry friend? There are apps out there that let you video call with your pet to check in on them. You can even give them treats using a remote-controlled dispenser—but, again: be mindful of calorie counts and aim to dispense healthy, low-cal treats.
If you're still worried about your dog's boredom levels, the best thing you can do is to hire a dog walker or employ a responsible local teen to come over and give your pet a midday walk. (Summer vacation is a great time to take advantage of having local kids in the neighborhood who might also be bored!). You may find that it's worth the peace of mind to arrange for someone to come by and spend a little time with your pup while you're gone.
Finally, if you're experiencing serious behavior issues or your dog seems unhappy when you get home, talk with your vet or a board-certified animal behaviorist. They might have a few additional ideas to make sure your dog continues to feel loved and cared for while you're away from home.