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Is My Dog Bored or Tired?

Is My Dog Bored or Tired - A small white bulldog with brown ears rests on a green sofa that's been covered with a pink blanket.
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Boredom and fatigue look eerily similar in dogs. If your canine doesn’t speak human language (or hasn’t learned how to communicate using buttons), it’s up to you to read the signs and help your pup. Like people, dogs can become destructive and generally unhappy if they are constantly bored or tired. It’s not fun! You can usually distinguish between the two by taking into account the context around the behavior, whether or not your dog exhibits aggression and what works to soothe the odd behavior.

What Does a Bored Dog Look Like?

Boredom in dogs can look like a lot of things. Obviously, it won’t always look like human boredom (laying on the couch, sighing loudly, staring into the abyss). It could! But more often than not, boredom is more, dare we say, kinetic, in dogs? The American Kennel Club identifies the following behaviors as signs of boredom:

  • Digging: Digging holes in the yard, digging into the couch, digging stuff out from under the bed
  • Chewing: Gnawing on shoes, furniture—anything and everything
  • Excessive barking: Barking at you or at people out the window, constantly using barking to get attention
  • Constant nudging: Whether you’re sitting down to dinner or folding laundry, your dog keeps sticking her nose in your business or placing a toy in your lap
  • Restlessness: Pacing, zoomies, chasing their tail, dissatisfaction with activities after a short period of time
  • Escapes: Sneaking out of the yard, running away, rushing through the door as soon as it opens
  • Overly excited greetings: Jumping on you or your guests when they arrive at your house, licking ferociously to say hello, running in circles when you come home

Before jumping to the conclusion that your dog is bored, consider whether she could suffer from separation anxiety. A lot of bored behaviors look similar to destruction from dogs who hate being apart from their owners. Does your pup only chew, destroy or bark when you are not home? Does her behavior get more intense when you leave without her? Try treating separation anxiety before focusing on a boredom solution.

If your dog exhibits one (or all!) of the above behaviors and is subsequently soothed by interactive games, adventures to a new dog park or anywhere she can focus her attention, she’s probably bored. If, on the other hand, you try to engage her mind and body in activities like agility training, learning new commands, meeting up with other dogs to play or installing a designated digging box in the backyard and she still seems totally restless, she could be exhausted.

What Does a Tired Dog Look Like?

Dr. Shahad Mohammed, a Veterinary Physiotherapist with Wit’s End Dog Training and Behavior School, says it’s normal for dogs to sleep half their day away. This is not a cause for concern, unless they don’t return to their normal selves post-nap. To identify a tired dog, Dr. Mohammed recommends looking for:

  • Irritability or uncharacteristic aggression: Probably the biggest difference between fatigue and boredom, watch for signs that your dog’s patience is running thin, like snipping, growling or an inability to play well with others (when normally they play very well)
  • Loss of interest: Preferring to snooze when you offer to go out, ignoring your invite to play tug of war with a favorite toy and not getting up to greet friends or family members is an example
  • Excessive yawning: Self-explanatory and very similar to human behavior
  • Overly excited: Running to greet you with jumps and barks, licking ferociously when saying hello, overreacting to just about everything
  • Forgetting commands: You’ve said “roll over” a thousand times but today, Luna just doesn’t get it
  • Restlessness: Pacing, zoomies, chasing their tail, dissatisfaction with activities after a short period of time

You’ll note some of these look identical to our list of signs of boredom. You’ll also note a lot of these behaviors could mean your dog is sick! If pup refuses to eat her food—even treats she usually loves—that’s troubling and requires a vet check-up. If any of the above behaviors are not followed by a return to normal after a solid snooze, it’s worth reaching out to your vet. Being tired isn’t a chronic issue, so if your dog is always lethargic, get her checked out.

While popping sleeping pills every night isn’t good for humans, relying on supplements like CBD oil or calm chews to coax your dog to sleep is a good way to reestablish a healthy sleep routine, but may not be the best bet for constant use. Some dogs benefit from prescription medications that can ease anxieties keeping them up at night (talk about an abyss!). Discuss this option and your dog’s behavior with your vet. A good night’s sleep means a well-balanced pup.

How to Tell the Difference Between Bored Dogs and Tired Dogs

To recognize when your dog is bored rather than tired, and vice versa, you’ve got to look at the context. This is the same advice experts give to pet parents deciphering dog body language. One thing can’t tell you everything about your pup! After you take notes on exactly what behavior your dog exhibits (digging, chewing, etc.), think about what’s going on in your dog’s life. For instance, you can ask yourself:

  • Has my dog been outside at all today?
  • Has my dog been outside all day today?
  • Have I played with my dog today?
  • Did we have company living with us for a week?
  • When was the last time my dog got to play with other dogs?
  • What has changed about my dog’s routine recently, if anything?

These are starter questions, but the point is: What’s going on in your dog’s life? Next, we highly encourage you to consider your dog’s breed. Dog breeds can tell you so much about what your dog needs to thrive. Working dog breeds, like Alaskan Malamutes and Boxers, enjoy having jobs to do. Herding dog breeds, like Australian Shepherds and Border Collies, have abundant energy and require lots of outdoor running time. Some toy breeds, like Chihuahuas and Japanese Chins, prefer quiet alone time with their favorite humans, because they were bred to love it. Asking any of these breeds to ignore their nature is a recipe for a bored or tired (and thus unhappy) dog.