Your dog is bored.
I got to thinking about this the other day. My fiancé and I have been watching Canine Rescue on Netflix, a dog training show featuring the owner of Cali K9.
And then I saw a TikTok video on productivity hacks for your brain. This guy explained the concept of a second office chair, a timeout chair. When you don’t want to do a task, you sit in the chair and do absolutely nothing.
No phone, no smartwatch, nothing. Just sit and think. Let your mind wander.
Just do nothing for a bit.
Eventually your brain’s going to want to do something, if that thing still isn’t the task at hand, remain sitting there. Eventually your brain’s going to get desperate for something to do. Our brains crave tasks and structure, just from the lowest possible point of energy expansion. It’s why it’s so easy to sit and scroll on your phone. Passive stimulation.
He went on to say by waiting until your brain wanted to do the task at hand, you could eventually trick it or pavilion train it into enjoying the tasks at hand, because in this instance, getting to do the task is a reward.
So how does this relate?
His concept of producing serotonin for doing a task is similar to the concept of dog training, and reinforcing good behavior. Do a thing, get a reward. Or in his case, produce the reward for doing the thing.
When we get bored, we crave something to do. Dogs are the same way. And a bored dog is a destructive dog.
If your dog is high energy and has destructive tendencies, you’ve probably got a bored dog (that is assuming your dog is getting an adequate amount of exercise for the breed, size, and age). Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they need physical stimulation (not unlike children and adults).
Our dog Diamond is a rescue, and she’s turning 7 this year. She’s a pit mix so she’s about 40 pounds and as long as we’ve had her, she’s been a very lazy dog.
Now I don’t begrudge her this. The story that the shelter told us was that she came from South Carolina where she was used for two litters and then dumped on the street. (she was still lactating when we got her. Ruined a shirt or two.) She was only 2 when she came to us; all that dog wanted to do was sleep in a comfy place. Can you blame her?
It made for a good temperament in her; she wasn’t destructive or untrustworthy alone and she was quickly able to stop being gated in her crate when we left. She never showed much interest or understanding in toys. If you could catch her attention with tug or playing with it, she would quickly lose interest when you stopped. None of that is to say she doesn’t get enough physical exercise though; she gets walked daily and in the summer she loves to hike with us. We’ll find a secluded hill where we can split up at the top and bottom and she’ll run laps to us up and down the hill.
But of course she’s much more sedentary in the winter and a few months ago she developed a limp from laying one on side too long. We knew it was time to invest in new toys, so we got two around the same time; a squeaky toy and a rubber ball that held food. She’s always shown more proclivity to a food drive than a prey drive, but we wanted to try both.
It took a few weeks and more than one “high value treat” to gain and hold her interest. But after two months of dedicated reinforcement when she plays with the toys, she now asks for them daily.
(In fact, the other day she played with her toy for over an hour- including the entirety of my meditation. That was a good exercise in patience.)
But all of this is to say, your dogs might be getting enough workouts and still be bored at home with nothing to think about. Whatever motivates your dog (food, prey drive, praise), there’s a toy for that.