7 Ways To Improve Your Dog’s Mental Health

Dogs don't ask a lot of us - all they really want is food, shelter and companionship, for which they'll repay you in bucket loads. Their demands don't stretch to "being understood" or "feeling valued" but they do have certain basic requirements that ensure their mental health is in tact. Lana Rose explores the reasons behind them.

Trauma and mistreatment can really imbalance a dog's capacity to function usefully and properly. Anxiety, edginess and general hyperactivity are strongly associated with dogs that have been mistreated. But thankfully this is relatively rare.

The most common blight on a dog's mental health is boredom.

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How can you tell if your dog is bored?

A healthy dog isn’t just physically fit, but is mentally happy too.

Most dog owners strive towards making their dog happy and healthy. Many assume that physical health is the key to a happy dog, and it’s only when problems arise that an owner will question their dog’s mental wellbeing.

When dogs do not receive enough interaction it can cause mental health issues such as destructive behaviour, hyperactivity, obsessive compulsive behaviour, separation anxiety, fear, aggression and lack of interest in activities. Most of these behavioural problems will surface when no one is at home, however in severe cases, dogs will still display behavioural issues in the presence of the owner.

If your dog chews furniture and objects, barks excessively, runs at speed without being provoked, whines or shows no interest in anything, the chances are your dog is bored.

What causes dogs to become bored?

Dogs are pack animals; they thrive on companionship and interaction, but when this is taken away and they are not provided with other means of entertainment, boredom sets in. Because of the lack of mental and physical activity, the dog will start to find new ways to entertain himself, which often leads to destructive behaviour and excessive barking. Dogs do not misbehave on purpose or destroy your favourite sofa out of spite. They are simply looking for their own way to burn off energy and beat the boredom.

Some breeds of dog are naturally more energetic than others and needs lots of mental stimulation, like the Border Collie, Siberian Husky, German Shepherd Dog and Dalmatian. Most high energy breeds were originally designed to work for long periods of time without tiring and are generally very intelligent with a natural desire to carry out their original tasks. Because of this they can get bored quite easily if they do not receive adequate amount of physical and mental activity.

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How to help your dog beat boredom

Incorporating different activities each day can help to beat your dog’s boredom and make life more interesting.

Find toys which will get your dog thinking – Provide your dog with interesting toys to play with. Keep a variety that appeal to your dog and switch them each day. Your dog will get bored of the same old toy, but alternating them will keep them exciting and new. Food dispensing toys like Kongs, activity balls and puzzle games can be stuffed with favourite treats, providing your dog with great mental stimulation as he tries to work out how to get the food. Bones can be used as entertainment, but some types will need supervision as they may splinter, get stuck in the dog’s throat or give stomach irritation. There are a variety of Nylabones that are safer for your dog. Speak to your vet to find out which types of bones are best for your dog to be left alone with.

Research new, interactive games to play – Games not only beat the boredom, but build a strong bond between owner and dog. Spend a few minutes every day playing games with your dog; keep them varied so they stay exciting. Try experimenting with different games that bring out your dog’s natural abilities. Have a go at hiding toys and treats around your garden or house and encourage your dog to use his senses to find them. Dogs are natural foragers and will enjoy searching for things.

Make dog training fun - Training your dog gives the brain a good work out. Try to spend a few minutes on training every day and look at teaching new commands. Learning new commands will keep things fresh and fun.

Look into local dog classes and sports - Dog classes combine physical and mental activity. If you want something fast paced and energetic try Cani-X, agility, working trials or flyball. If you are interested in slower paced activities, you might like to try obedience classes, the Good Citizen Dog Scheme, Pets As Therapy, clicker training or heelwork to music. Check directories to find out what activities are going on in your local area.

Scout out local doggie daycare services –Your dog will be looked after in a safe environment where he will get lots of attention and playtime, as well as the chance to socialise with other dogs. It can be costly if you take your dog every day, but once a week is a nice alternative and provides variety in your dog’s life.

Find a reliable local dog walker – If you're unable to get home in the middle of the day, that needn't stop your dog getting some stimulating fresh air to smell the things only dogs can while out and about. Dog walkers come to collect your dog and take it out on a walk for you. It’s a cheaper option to the doggie daycare, ensures someone can let your dog out and gives your dog the attention and interaction he needs.

Time for 'walkies' – If you're lucky enough to spend most of your day in the company of your dog, this might be the perfect way for both of you to get some vital vitamin D and shake off those cobwebs. Walking your dog is a great way to beat the boredom and get some exercise and fresh air. Try to take your dog out on walks in different areas to keep them fun and exciting. If you go jogging or cycling, why not take your dog along too.

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