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Environmental enrichment for the bored, frustrated dog

Original Publication Date: August 17, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Dogs that chews a table leg, destroys a couch pillow, or digs holes in the backyard seems incorrigible. There is a good chance that they're is just bored or frustrated. Without a constructive outlet for their brimming energy, they do something to amuse or pacify himself.

Environmental enrichment is a relatively new trend in the companion animal community, but zoos and aquariums have enhanced the quality of life for animals in their care for more than 30 years. Follow their lead, and use interactive toys and encourage exercise to reduce stress and frustration in your pet's life.

Stuffed toys with squeakers are a favorite of many pups and are a definite must. A puzzle toy that releases food morsels as your dog rolls the toy provides more stimulation, and you don't have to throw it repeatedly. Kong type toys challenge your pet as they lick to get peanut butter or cream cheese out of a cavity. Freezing the food-stuffed toy makes it even more challenging for your pet to get the goody.

It is tempting to put all your pet's toys in a large basket or box so they can pick and choose as they like. It is better to leave out three or four toys for a few days. Put those away, and replace them with another few toys. Trading toys off every few days gives your pup "new" toys over and over.

A walk in the backyard by himself is not adequate exercise to encourage optimal physical health and emotional balance in your pup. Endorphins, natural opiods released upon exercise, were thought to create feelings of euphoria often referred to as a "runner's high."

It is now clear that endorphin molecules are too large to pass the blood-brain barrier and act on pleasure centers in the brain. Studies in dogs and humans now indicate that moderate to intense exercise releases endocannabinoids, organic derivatives of or marijuana, that are small enough to enter the brain and activate receptors that reduce pain and anxiety and encourage feelings of well-being.

It is important to get your pet moving. Walk, jog, hike or swim with your dog. Compete in a hearty game of tug-of-war or play fetch using a ball launcher so your dog must run a distance to retrieve and return the ball. Engage in activities that release endocannabinoids, and your pups are less likely to entertain themselves by chewing your shoe or digging in your garden.

Keep your dogs busy and well exercised, and their natural feel-good neurotransmitters will keep him happy and out of trouble. Boredom and stress-induced frustration lead to mischief. They encourage dogs to find their own activities that may not be owner approved. Fun options for play will make your dog happy and will promote the loving bond between you.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at