Being a dog owner is one of the best parts of life. But part of that responsibility is making sure your dog stays busy regardless of your schedule.
Whether you're trying to keep your dog entertained indoors or outdoors, creating ways to spark mental stimulation when you're not home can help improve their overall well-being.
Signs Your Dog is Under-Stimulated
Here are signs that show your dog might be under-stimulated:
Tail chasing – If your dog is chasing its tail, they might be trying to expel energy.
Vocal – If your dog is whining, they might want your attention and if there's excessive barking then they might be bored.
Following you – If your dog follows you everywhere then they might be eager to play.
Tearing up household items – If your dog is tearing up everything in sight and has become destructive then they might be unstimulated or bored.
Whether you have small dogs, puppies, larger dogs or older dogs, we've gathered some tips for dog owners on how to keep your dog entertained for hours at home while you're away.
Toys to Keep Your Dog Busy
As pet parents, the happiness and well-being of our animals is always a top priority. But keeping your dog busy while you're away can be a difficult task.
Thankfully, there's a wide array of dog toys on the market from puzzle toys to treat dispensing toys that can help spark mental stimulation and keep your dog busy all day - even without you there.
Interactive toys can be a fun activity for most dogs to entertain themselves while you're away.
Compared to a bone or having them play tug of war, an interactive enrichment toy uses treat dispensing toys with a chewy texture and bouncy feel to entertain pets for hours.
For dog owners who want to avoid a potential food mess when they get home, you can use a chew toy without any food that's a bit cleaner but can still keep your dog entertained indoors.
Not only do these toys help settle and keep your dog busy but they can also teach your dog to reduce their anxiety if they're in a new place and keep them out of trouble if they're bored.
Plus, if you teach your dog to enjoy playing on their own, they'll gain important independence skills that can help with reducing separation anxiety.
Foraging toys can be great for making a dog work for their food rather than just having it handed to them. With strong, chewable rubber on the outside, you can put a treat that your dog likes on the inside and let them attack it until they tire themselves out.
One of the great food toys is the Kong. It can be stuffed lightly or more tightly with dog treats and sealed with peanut butter so that all the delicious ingredients don't fall out.
For food-driven pets, foraging dog toys can be a great way to keep your dog's mind focused on a specific activity by playing hide-the-treat with them. They also help to keep your dog entertained for hours rather than just having them scoff their food down in one bite.
Puzzle toys let your dog experience different textures, practice problem-solving, and keep busy, meaning they have less time to get up to mischief.
Food-dispensing puzzle games like a Snuffle Mat, where you hide treats or kibble under layers of fabric, can help to keep your dog occupied for hours.
Interactive puzzles can be a great way to keep your dog entertained and out of trouble through an engaging and fun activity.
The cost of owning a pet can become quite expensive. That’s why creating puzzles from everyday items around the house is a great option for dog owners looking for a cheap and easy way to entertain their pets.
For instance, you can scatter treats, kibble or anything else your dog likes all over an old blanket or towel. Then you can pinch the blanket and twist it, swirl it or tie it up to make sure the treats are hidden in the fabric.
Scent work games like these help keep your dog happy and entertained for up to half an hour in some cases. You can also go as far as to freeze the towel with the treats inside to teach your dog problem-solving skills that will have them licking and gnawing at the towel to keep them stimulated.
Once your dog understands how to get the treats out, you can make the game progressively harder by adding more layers of towels and tying them up tighter.
Regardless of whether they're food-driven or not, there are few things dogs love as much as treats. Keeping a stash of treats on hand at all times can help keep your dog busy and focused no matter the situation.
Frozen treats can be a great way to keep your dog busy and cool them down during summer. Because they take longer to break down, frozen treats can keep your dog occupied for longer. Always make sure that the frozen treats are large, preferably in an ice cream tub, to avoid creating a choking hazard.
On hot summer days, you can use a frozen or cold Lickimat to keep your dog busy and cool at the same time. Spread your dog's favourite food or treat onto the Lickimat and leave it for them to lick it off. Repetitive licking can have a calming effect on dogs that suffer from everyday anxiety as well as separation anxiety.
Frozen treats can also help numb gums, alleviate discomfort in the mouth, particularly if your pup is teething, and alleviate your dog's need to chew other things, like your shoes.
Like everything, homemade treats should be served in moderation. They should only make up about 10% of your dog's daily calorie intake. That way your dog can still get all the nutritional value from regular dog food as well as some treats to keep their diet balanced overall.
Here are some examples:
Dehydrated chicken breast is a popular one that dogs love. This treat can be made in a specific dehydrator or even in an oven.
Dog-safe peanut butter biscuits can also be a favourite but should be fed sparingly as they're quite high in calories.
Sometimes even just a simple treat like a carrot can keep your dog happy and chewing for a while.
Just make sure the treats are made carefully to avoid creating a choking hazard when you're away.
What To Do With Your Dog After Work
When you come home, it's likely your dog is going to be pretty excited to see you. But spending time with your dog after work is also key to improving their overall behaviour and health.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but keeping your dog busy by taking them on a long walk can offer a variety of benefits including:
Improving mental health – many dogs get stimulation outdoors with new smells, experiences, and nature exploration. They can get this by making sure you give them enough sniffing time on a walk.
Quality time – you are the centre of your dog's world, so spending quality time together is ideal for both you and your dog's mental and physical health.
Less destruction– walking longer routes and taking different paths can help keep your dog busy and reduce the likelihood of them chewing through household objects.
By walking your dog you're helping to improve your pet's physical fitness, all while getting much-needed time outside. This is especially important if you are going to be feeding your dog treats and other food throughout the day.
Hiring a Dog Walker
Sometimes life can get in the way, which is understandable for those with a busy schedule each week. This is when hiring a dog walker could be a potential option.
Dog walkers can be a cheap and easy way to make sure your pets are getting the attention and exercise they need even if you don't have the time to handle it yourself.
Plus, a dog walker can give your dog more human interaction throughout the day which can help if they suffer from separation anxiety.
Use Food to Keep Your Dog Entertained
Whether it's food dispensing toys, chew toys or foraging dog toys, most dogs might get more excited over interactive games that involve their favourite treats rather than an everyday game like playing tug with a rope.
The good part about using food toys like a stuffed Kong or puzzle toys is that it can make your dog work for their food rather than scoffing it all down at once, while also providing mental stimulation.
A puzzle toy such as a treat dispensing toy can be a fantastic way to keep a dog interested and busy, and as we all know, a busy dog is a happy dog.
You can also use dog toys or chew toys without any food to give your dog something to play with that doesn't require much of a clean-up afterwards.
Take Your Dog for a Walk
Other than getting your dog's toys sorted, exercise is key for many dogs, particularly for more energetic breeds. Whether you throw some tennis balls at the park or go for a quick walk around the block, some outdoor movement at the end of the day can help get rid of pent-up energy for most dogs.
But for dog owners who just simply don't have the time or energy to do it themselves, hiring a dog walker could be the best option.
Dog walkers can take your furry friends on walks when you're out of the house to make sure they get their daily exercise. A dog walker can also help to keep your dog entertained by giving them some human interaction throughout the day and maybe even interaction with other dogs along the way.
This is particularly helpful if your dog suffers from separation anxiety or if they need to keep up with daily training exercises or even obedience training.
Use Doggy Daycare
If you've exhausted the low-cost options and need more ideas to stimulate your dog when you're away, you can always pay a bit extra to give them a full day of fun activity and socialisation with other dogs.
Taking your dog to a doggy daycare facility might mean they spend all day doing scheduled enrichment activities, playing with their own toys, going for pack walks and spending time around other dogs. It's generally a high-energy, full day of fun that can leave you with one very tired dog at the end of the day.
It's also a good option for dogs with separation anxiety as it gives them a social outlet where they don't have to be alone all day.
However, it's important to make sure you're using a proper doggy daycare that regulates activities and doesn't allow too many dogs in at one time to ensure your pet is getting the care and attention they need.