Dog Boredom: Why It Can Hurt
Let’s start with a plausible scenario. You live alone and have no one else except for your dog that you got from a pet store a few years ago. Frankly speaking, you’d prefer this arrangement over anything else. Sure, your dog has had a few problems here and there, but so far you’ve always found time to get it sorted out.
Recently, however, you’ve been so busy that you haven’t had the time to bring him out for walks, so he stays at home all day while you go to work. But you do find some time in the weekends to get the house cleaned up a bit. But those assignments have been killing you lately, so it’s been a while since you’ve been out of the house and doing things that you like. But now there’s another kind of trouble in your hands.
You’ve noticed that he’s starting to lick and bite himself obsessively. He’d just sit in a corner and just run his tongue over his paws, again and again and again. He could do this all day if you let him, but you don’t. It’s just not natural. He keeps biting at his tail too, and scratches his ears constantly. There was also an occasion where you saw him run towards you for a hug after getting back from work, but he was so itchy that he couldn’t help but attempt to scratch himself at the same time. Your dog eventually settled with a half-hearted scratch, while limping towards you with three legs.
Upon further inspection, you confirm the dreadful fact that he’s suffering from some sort of skin problem and you start to feel a sinking feeling inside. But wait, wasn’t he cooped up at home all this time? How on earth did he get what he’s got now? Does that mean your house has fleas or something?
Well, not necessarily. It’s possible your house is completely free of such things. You’ve also been feeding him well – after reading up on dog guidebooks, you devised a pretty good diet for him and he’s been eating healthily ever since. It can’t be a lack of baths either, because you hate being around things that stink and therefore made it a point to give him at least two a week. What could be the problem then?
You might want to sit down; it’s a pretty weird answer.
That’s right; he got so bored from being all alone that he somehow developed rashes in his (abundantly) spare time. But that’s generalizing the problem quite a lot. Instead, let’s take a look at why I came into this conclusion.
We both know that dogs are social creatures. We also know that dogs just don’t like to be left alone. I live in a two storey apartment and my dog is only allowed to roam around in the first floor. Whenever the last person goes up the stairs, he’d just sit at the bottom and whine. “Come back,” he seemed to say, “I don’t want to be left alone!”
So in the example described above, your dog would most likely be pining for you to come back home every time you step out of the door. He’d be staring at it, using all his mental strength to summon you back as soon as possible. He gets more depressed the later you return, sometimes even waiting ‘till midnight before he hears the familiar jingling of the keys approaching the door.
He also has nothing to do in the day. Maybe he’ll occupy himself with his favourite chew toy for a while, then try to amuse himself by pulling out the carpet and gnawing on any shoe that’s within his reach. There’s an added bonus of having you interact with him as a consequence too, even though it’s not the kind he prefers.
Eventually he gets bored of that too, and starts examining himself and licking his paws. It’s fun to clean up, he would think, and carries on with it, afterwards progressing to his tail. Then he starts biting at mildly itchy spots, and scratching his ear.
That’s how it starts. Because of extreme boredom.
Now, of course it’s not your fault you can’t spend time with him. You’ve been bogged down with work recently. The thing is, though, that it’s obviously affecting him now, so you’ll need to figure out how to fix it.
This will need to be solved in two phases, the first being the healing of the wounds. Take him to the vet to have a check up, just in case there isn’t anything else hurting your dog. The vet will then give you some medicine to either ingest or apply to the wound. If you want to do this without seeing a vet, though, what I would suggest is to get an antibacterial soap specially designed for dogs and wash the wound with it. After that, use a healing gel or cream and apply it to the wound. Finally, cover up the wound with a sock or a discarded shirtsleeve and tape it up. He wouldn’t be able to get to the wound and start licking again.
Once the healing has started to progress, focus on the next stage: Stopping the behavioural causes. You now know that he gets like this because he’s lonely, so try not to get him lonely! A really basic thing to do is to give him attention when you get back home, no matter the hour. I’m sure he’ll be really pleased to see you and play a little fetch after a long day of non-interaction. If he’s not up for that, at least give him a little pat and have a little chat with him. It would definitely make a major difference.
Buying toys for your dog may also be a good idea, especially those of the interactive kind. A dog treat ball is a great way for your dog to pass the time, which will come in very handy during the long hours alone at home. Basically, you place a small treat inside the ball, then you leave it to your dog to figure out how to get at the treat. He’ll have tons of fun puzzling about with the treat ball and would be too occupied to lick himself obsessively as a result.
Another similar toy is the Kong toy. These things can bounce when they’re thrown and can be chewed on as they’re made of rubber, and they also have a conical shape that can be used to stuff tasty treats like peanut butter in it for your dog to enjoy. I can definitely see this cheering up a really bored dog and keeping him busy for hours on end. What’s more, if you get back and find that the treat is all cleaned out, give it a wash and voila, you’ve got yourself something for your dog to play fetch with!
Toys can give him some satisfaction and keep his mind off the licking and gnawing for a while, but he still needs a bit of interaction with you at the end of every day to fulfil his social needs. Any less, and he’ll go back to his destructive routine again. If you foresee yourself not being able to interact with him regularly for a few days, consider placing him a daycare centre especially for dogs. Granted, the prices are nothing to sniff at, and your dog’s potential roommate may not be as friendly as you’d like. Still, you’ll know he’s in (relatively) safe hands and will be well taken care of. In the end, you will have to compare the pros and cons and decide for yourself.
The last thing I can suggest is just to hire a dog walker. Essentially, you’ll pay a person that will bring your dogs out for a walk every day. This will give him the exercise he needs and will tire him out enough to help him relax, thus decreasing the likelihood of him licking his paws just to have something to do. This is obviously a less expensive alternative to putting him in daycare, but again, you will need to determine which choice will be the right fit for you and your dog.
Whatever the solution, just remember that the root causes of your dog’s licking is boredom, anxiety and stress. If you can eliminate these things in your dog’s life, he’ll soon stop trying to ‘overgroom’ himself, and will be a happier dog as a result!
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