Is my dog bored or tired?
Pet Care Advice

How to Keep Your Dog Occupied When You’re Not Home

Whether you go to work, out for a night, or you’re just running errands, it’s inevitable that your dog will have to spend some time alone at home. Keeping them busy during that time will make your dog happy and prevent them from becoming destructive.

Consider where you keep your dog when you’re not home. If they can roam around your house freely, you’ll have more options for keeping them entertained. If they are confined to a crate or a specific area of the house, you’ll need to get more creative with your solutions.

Some pet owners leave their dogs outside in a fenced-in area or on a leash if they’re only going to be gone a short time. Dogs need to be stimulated when they’re outdoors! Keeping your dog mentally and physically occupied is necessary for their general health.

Table of Contents:

How to Entertain a Dog Home Alone

Leaving your dog at home while you’re out for the day isn’t a big deal for most pet owners. For others, it can be stressful and worrying. Some dogs genuinely struggle with separation anxiety that can cause destructive behavior, like chewing the furniture or urinating on beds. Other dogs get bored quickly and need far more mental stimulation.

Can you leave a dog alone all day?

Even if your dog doesn’t seem to get bored and doesn’t destroy things while you’re away, you should never assume that they don’t need to be kept occupied. A busy dog is a happier and more contented dog.

Is My Dog Bored or Tired?

There are several ways that dogs display their boredom. Some dogs will wreck your home if they’re bored. Others dogs will appear tired and lethargic.

Other signs of boredom in a dog include:

  • Excessive barking
  • Escaping an enclosed space
  • Running through the house
  • Jumping and running to greet you when you return home

You know your dog’s personality better than anyone. If they are tired, it’s likely they’ll sleep while you’re gone. Frequent boredom, though, can lead to more than just sleeping the hours away.

Boredom in a dog can lead to some of the destructive and irritating behaviors listed here. With that in mind, you can see how vital it is to keep your dog occupied while you’re away.

Try channeling your dog’s energy into more positive outlets while you’re gone. Thankfully, there are many ways to do that – most of which are easy to start right away!

What Are the Best Toys to Keep a Dog Busy?

There are countless types of dog toys you can choose for your pet. The chances are that your dog will play with most of them, at least for a while. But, not all toys are built to last. If you’re going to be gone for hours, you’ll need something your dog can play with that will mentally stimulate them.

The best toys to stimulate your dog and keep them busy are the ones that are interactive for your pet. Most often, these toys involve pieces of your dog’s food for them to retrieve. Toys that are durable and allow your dog to ‘work’ to get their treats can keep them busy for hours. You can also look into puzzle toys that make your dog complete certain tasks before they’re rewarded with a piece of food.

how to mentally stimulate your dog

Toys like stuffed animals, ropes, and even rawhide bones can be beneficial for a while. But, your dog will likely get bored of them quickly, because they don’t require any stimulation. Giving your pet a toy that requires them to think will keep them mentally-stimulated and tire them out after a while. You can even make your own ‘toys’ that will keep your dog busy while you’re away.

Create a ‘busy bucket’ for your dog by following these simple steps:

  1. Find a durable plastic pail.
  2. Place a few of your dog’s favorite small treats in the bottom of the pail.
  3. Top the treats with one of your dog’s favorite toys.
  4. Pack the leftover space with a hand towel.
  5. Repeat these layers, packing everything tightly, until the bucket is full.
  6. Put a durable chew toy on top of the bucket.

The idea of a ‘busy bucket’ is that your dog will continue to paw through each layer to discover their next treasure. It helps to encourage problem-solving skills and lets them play on their own.

Rotate Your Dog’s Toys

No matter how old your dog is, try to think of them like you would a child concerning their belongings. There’s a good chance they have one or two toys that they seem attached to. It’s a good idea to keep those toys around because they can provide comfort and security.

But, kids (and adults) can also get bored with the same old things after a while. Dogs are no different. If you leave the house every day and give your dog the same toys to play with every time, they will quickly become bored.

how to keep dog entertained indoors

This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy new toys all the time. Instead, try rotating your dog’s toys every few days. Even if they only have a small selection of toys, you should switch them out periodically. This will help to keep the toys from getting old to your pet, and they’ll be more excited to play with them each time.

Not only can you rotate the toys themselves but try switching up where you put them before you leave. When your dog can hunt for their toys within a safe area, that helps to stimulate them mentally.

How to Keep a Dog Entertained Outside

Many pet owners leave their dog outside when they’re away because they think they’ll be continuously occupied. Just because your dog likes to run around outdoors for a few minutes while you’re home doesn’t mean they’ll be content on their own outside for several hours. And it’s crucial to understand that dogs can become afraid to go outdoors if they have a negative experience.

So, it’s vital to know how to keep a dog entertained in your yard. One of the best ways to keep them busy and allow them to stay active is to play ‘hide and seek’ with some of their favorite toys and treats.

If you have a fenced-in backyard, finding some strategic hiding spots for your dog’s favorite things can be a fun game for them. Not only will it keep them stimulated mentally, but then they can have fun playing with the toys and enjoying some food!

If you’re leaving your dog outside on a hot day, you can even freeze smaller toys and treats in a block of ice or diluted chicken broth. This will keep them entertained for hours, much like the ‘busy bucket.’ Plus, it will keep them cool and hydrated.

Another great option is to install ‘peek holes’ or windows in your fence. That way, your dog can safely look out and see what’s going on around them. They’ll love being able to run back to these windows and check out their surroundings periodically.

Finally, you can create a ‘digging station’ for your dog. Bored dogs can do damage outdoors, too! Redirecting that energy is a great way to make sure your dog behaves while you’re gone.

Bury some toys and treats in a sandbox and encourage your dog to dig through it. This will keep them out of other areas where you don’t want them to dig. Again, they’ll stay busy digging and have the reward of finding their toys and treats.

Some pet owners even put ‘kiddie pools’ in their backyard on hot days. This will help to keep your dog cool, and they’ll love splashing around. It will also help them to burn off extra energy while you’re gone.

leaving dog home alone while at work

Not only is it essential to keep your dog busy outside, but it’s critical to keep them safe.

If you’re leaving your pooch outside for a long period of time while you’re away, make sure of the following:

  • They have food and plenty of cool water to drink
  • Some kind of shelter (dog house, etc.) is available to them in case of bad weather
  • They are on a long chain that allows them to roam the yard but they won’t break out
  • If you don’t have a chain for them, make sure your yard is fenced-in, and they can’t break out
  • Make sure other animals/dogs can’t get into your yard and bother your dog

How to Keep a Dog Entertained in a Crate

Keeping your dog in a crate or kennel isn’t uncommon. Dogs are den animals, and many prefer spending time in a crate because they feel safe and secure. But, that doesn’t mean they won’t get bored after a while.

They won’t tear up your house, but it doesn’t mean they can’t do damage if they get bored or restless. They might start to harm the crate itself. Or, they could accidentally hurt themselves by chewing on pieces of hard plastic or metal.

The first step in making sure your dog is content is to choose the right crate for your dog. It should be the right size and have any extra features you think might benefit your dog and you!

Once your dog has been crate trained, you can work on some ideas that will keep them busy during the day while you’re at work.

Because your dog can’t be physically stimulated in a crate, you have to focus on how to mentally-stimulate them to keep them busy. One great way to do this is with puzzle-like toys that we touched on earlier in this guide.

You can use these ‘reward’ toys to make mealtime last longer for your dog. Instead of just giving them a bowl of food in their crate, add extra food or treats to a reward/puzzle toy. With enough food in the toy, it can keep them busy for hours. Plus, they’ll be content because they know they’re getting a reward each time. By the time all the food is gone, your dog should not only be full and satisfied, but tired and calm from the stimulation.

Some pet owners might think it’s a good idea to give their dog a rawhide bone or another type of chew stick in their crate. This is a good option for keeping your dog occupied. But, it should never be done while you’re away.

Any time you give your dog a bone or chew stick that is supposed to be ingested, you should keep a careful eye on them. These treats are, unfortunately, potential choking hazards.

how to entertain a dog home alone

Is It a Good Idea to Leave the TV on for Your Dog?

One quick and easy tip you can use if you’re leaving your dog home alone is to leave the TV or radio on while you’re away. The background noise can be comforting for your dog, especially if they’re anxious when you leave. It can make them feel like people are still around, which can help to keep them calm.

The noises and voices coming from the TV will also help to stimulate your dog’s brain. They’ll have to think about the sounds and the words, and it will keep their mind from wandering. This can help to prevent destructive behavior.

Be sure to leave the TV on an appropriate channel. Some dogs are sensitive to seeing other animals on TV. Others may respond negatively to things like gunshots or loud noises. Understanding your dog’s personality and the things they respond positively to will help you decide which type of TV shows will keep them calm and comforted.

Hire a Dog Walker

If you have a new puppy or an energetic dog, you might be worried about leaving them alone all day.

One option to break up the day and get them some physical stimulation is to hire a dog walker. There are many different services available that allow you to find responsible dog walkers with good reputations.

Dog walkers usually will not only walk your dog, but they can play with them and show them affection. By giving your dog some exercise and allowing them to go to the bathroom in the middle of the day, it can help to keep them calm and tired out the entire time you’re gone.

By the time you get home, they’ll be ready for another walk, but you can take comfort knowing they had other human interaction and some exercise during the day.

How to Tire Out a Dog Before Work

One excellent way to make sure your dog is calm and content while you’re away is to tire them out before you leave.

The best thing you can do is take your dog for a walk in the morning, or about 30 minutes before you’re supposed to leave. This gives them both physical and mental stimulation and will help to tire them out for a while.

But, some people don’t have the time to include a walk with their dog into their daily routine before they go to work, run errands, etc. Thankfully, there are things you can do to tire your dog out while you’re getting ready to leave. You can do them all indoors!

dog separation anxiety at night

Try some of these tips to stimulate your pet:

  • Have them run up and down the stairs: You can stand at the top of the stairs and toss your dog’s favorite toy down. If you have a dog that loves to fetch, they will run up and down as many times as you throw the toy! It’s a great way to get them some exercise and tire them out quickly. Unfortunately, some dogs become scared of going up and downstairs, perhaps because they had a fall.
  • Hide their treats: Want to keep your dog busy and tire them out while you’re getting ready? Hide a few treats around the house. Behind doors, under chairs, and even under rugs are great places to hide them. Your dog will exhaust himself just by hunting around!
  • Play tug-of-war: Most dogs love a game of tug-of-war! You can use one of their favorite toys or a rope toy to play this game, and it will quickly make your dog feel nice and tired. Be aware of your dog’s personality when playing this game, though. You shouldn’t play games like this with a dog who can easily be aggressive.
  • Fetch: A simple game of fetch can keep your dog busy while you’re getting ready to leave, and you don’t have to stay in one place. If your pooch brings you his toy, you can toss it away and continue your routine. They’ll likely keep bringing it back to you to throw again until they’re tired.

How Can You Tell if a Dog is Happy?

If your dog seems bored and tired, you might mistake them for being unhappy. A lot of pet owners can feel guilty when it comes to leaving their fur baby alone all day. But, keeping them occupied and tiring them out as much as possible is the best thing you can do.

It’s probably unlikely that your dog isn’t happy when they’re alone all day as long as they can stay busy. But, there are some tell-tale signs you can check for to know if your dog is happy.

Some visible signs of a happy dog include:

  • Relaxed eyes
  • Ears are at-ease (not pinned down)
  • Body and posture is comfortable, not tense
  • Relaxed, raised tail
  • Eager to play
  • Eating and drinking normally

Happy dogs are also less likely to be destructive. But, don’t assume that just because your dog started chewing on a piece of furniture while you were gone that they’re unhappy. They could be bored and need more stimulation or activity.

There are dozens of signs that could be added to this list indicating a happy dog. As a pet owner, it’s likely you’ll be able to pick up on whether your dog is happy or not better than anyone else. Unless your dog suffers from a severe form of separation anxiety while you’re away from your house or apartment, it’s unlikely they will be unhappy for the few hours you are gone each day.

It’s never easy to leave your dog while you’re away for several hours at a time. Unfortunately, it’s just a part of life for most pet owners. While you can’t be with your pet 24/7, you can make sure they stay content and busy while you’re away.