How Can I Turn a Bored Dog Into a Happy Dog for Pennies?

*Update: March 17, 2023

How can I turn my bored dog into a happy dog? That can sound impossible to keep a bored dog entertained especially if you need to bring home the kibble and work within a tight budget. I’ve heard it a lot. Heck, my dog, Henry has even been bored while I’ve been working. But his boredom does remind me I need a break, which I often forget to take.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you work from home, work in a brick-and-mortar building, have a new dog, a puppy, or a senior dog, bored dogs happen to the best of us. But what can you do when you need to be focused for hours or away from home, especially if you’re watching your pennies? Let’s dig into this one today and find some amazing treasures.

Budget Tip:

The great thing about entertaining a bored dog is that it refocuses them off of being destructive. That’s a budget saver! Also, it prevents other unwanted behaviors such as separation anxiety or reactive barking from becoming almost personality traits. The amazing thing about dogs, much like cats, is they don’t care about the price of a toy. They like what they like it. My cats always liked the boxes better than the toys. Heck, as a kid I was the same way with the box. But that is great for the budget and great for a happy dog, which is truly priceless!

How do I know if I have a bored dog?

The signs of a bored dog, much like a human kid will be fairly obvious. They will include:

  • Destructive behavior
  • More sleeping
  • Chewing
  • Excessive barking
  • Clinginess when you’re home
  • Separation anxiety
  • Digging

How long can I leave my dog alone? 

This will depend on your dog. Some breeds are more high-energy. For example, if you are a pet parent to a German Shepherd, Border Collie, or Dalmation, you have a high-energy dog. But I’m sure that’s not news to you. Although, puppies need more interactions and breaks than adult dogs. The American Kennel Club recommends a puppy under 10 weeks not be left alone for more than one hour.

An adult dog or puppy over six months can be left alone for up to eight hours.

However, senior dogs may need more breaks. You will know your dog’s needs best.

NOTE: Never expect a dog to automatically adjust to being left alone without a few bumps. Always build up to longer alone times. This means don’t get a new dog and then leave him or her alone, go to work for eight hours, and expect everything to be fine when you return. You’re asking for a disaster. And more importantly, you’re sitting your dog, and you up for failure. Instead, set both of you up for success. Ease into alone time.

Where do I leave my bored dog while I work? 

Above all make sure where you leave your dog, even if you’re home working, is dog-proof. Some breeds and puppies will need more prevention efforts than perhaps a senior dog. But you certainly won’t want to be on a zoom call with your boss when your puppy gets tangled in the cord of your Tiffany lamp. Or from the corner of your eye you see pieces of fabric from your couch being shredded as your dog tries to dig a hole and you try to close a big deal for your company.

Dog-proof a room

What do I mean? Find a space where your dog will be safe and you’ll feel comfortable with him or her in the space for a period of time. You may want to even get on all fours to see the space from your dog’s perspective.

Also, remember within this space to always leave water for your dog and a peaceful place for him or her to rest. Some dogs won’t drink or eat when left alone. If this is the case with your dog, try a fun pet water fountain. Henry loves his. Plus, it makes a soothing sound. But again, be careful with the cord.

When you’re dog-proofing your room items to look for will include:

  • Chewing materials such as cords, fabric, paper, plants, knick-knacks
  • Baby-proof outlets I know this is crazy, but I have heard of more than one puppy licking an outlet. Heck, Henry sniffs the outlets several times a day. I’m still not sure what that’s about.
  • Baby lock drawers and cabinets
  • Put away chemicals, cleaning supplies, and medications
  • Block access to the fireplace
  • Close and lock outside doors
  • Put a lock on windows so the screen can’t be destroyed or jumped out
  • Remove any breakable items, such as awards, trophies, or photo frames
  • Sharp objects should also be removed this includes letter openers, staple removers, pens, pins, stylus, knives, and utensils
  • Put away any hangers, belts, and purses.
  • Chewable items If you have a dog or puppy who likes to chew look for anything that can be chewed into smaller pieces and remove it from the room. This could include tumblers, ornaments, pillows, books, and tissue.
  • Remove or move leverage items that can be jumped on to explore higher areas such as a small side table to get to a fireplace mantle.
  • Put away clothes, tools, and jewelry

Basically, try to get inside your puppy or dog’s mind and remove anything that could spell a disaster.

Can I simply leave my dog in a crate while I go to work?

It will depend on how long you are at work. Both vets and the Humane Society recommend to not leave your dog alone in a crate for more than four or five hours. If your dog is crated at night to sleep and during the day while you’re at work, the crate can quickly become a dreaded thing for your dog rather than a safe place.

Although, if you only have a short one-hour zoom meeting or have to be at work for two hours, then you could crate your dog. Of course, you’d want to make sure that your dog is fully crate-trained before expecting your pup to be alone in a crate for any period of time.

What can I do to keep my bored dog entertained for hours? 

One of the best tricks for bored dogs is to tire out your dog first. That means a long walk, a high-energy game of fetch, an interactive game of chase, or another energy-draining game of your dog’s choice. While Henry doesn’t play with toys, he does love a game of chase and will sleep after playing it for a good bit. Maybe your dog is the same?

At the very least, give your dog a potty break before leaving him or her home alone.

Then you can pull out the tool kit of entertainment in your dog-proof room. You may only need one of these tricks if you’re not gone long or your dog isn’t high-energy. However, if you have a puppy or a high-energy dog, I’d recommend using several of these tricks. Remember a bored dog will often create his or her own entertainment, which can quickly lead to destructive behavior.

1. Window access

Make sure your dog has access to a window or door with a window view and can see out. Although, if your dog is a reactive barker, you may not want to use this remedy. Henry loves to look out the door window at the visiting wildlife. He’ll lie down on the doormat and watch the critters for at least 40 minutes before he takes a nap. Although, if the sun is coming through the door, he’ll often nap at the door. I suppose he doesn’t want to miss a thing. The window certainly is a sort of enrichment for him.

2. TV or music

Leaving the TV on can provide a sense of calm or at least drown out other noises if you live in a noisy area. I will often leave the TV on for Henry to a soothing-sounding show. Or I will leave classical music on for him. Each seems to help him. Also, if the coyotes are out howling at night, I will turn on the TV for him to let the coyotes become more white noise. That seems to help as well.

3. Your voice

I haven’t specifically tried this one. However, I have seen a few people say they have tried it with great success. The idea is you record your voice saying something common, maybe even as you talking on the phone or in a zoom meeting. Then you put that recording outside the door of your dog-proof room on a loop. It seems to let your dog know that you’re still nearby and there’s no need to get stressed. Although, bored is another issue, which I’ll continue to address.

4. Treat towel

This is super easy and a big hit for the bored dog. It’s a bit of mental stimulation and even enrichment on a low-key level. Since your dog will need to figure out how to get to the treats.

What you need:

Gus and his towel provided by Lucas Strong

5. DIY snuffle mat

This will take a bit of time, but a lot of it can be zoning out time like when you’re watching TV. You don’t even need to know how to sew to create this boredom-busting dog toy. A snuffle mat is an interactive toy and helps with their sniffing abilities. Even dogs with vision impairments love snuffle mats. Check out Layla, who is vision impaired, with her snuffle ball.

What you need:

  • a marker
  • ruler
  • fabric
  • scissors
  • canvas
  • treats
A simple interactive DIY dog toy to turn a bored dog into a happy dog
Provided by: Scritch -DIY: How to make a snuffle mat for dogs or cats

6. DIY PVC treat feeder

This one is also fairly easy to achieve and will entertain your bored dog by mentally stimulating him or her to get the treats.

*If you have a high-chewing dog, this one works well.*

What you need:

  • 1′ PVC pipe 2″
  • 2 FIPT fittings
  • 2 ABS DWV MIPT Cleanout plugs
  • a saw
  • 5/8″ drill bit
  • drill
  • sanding paper
  • treats
Easy and cheap ways to turn your bored dog to a happy dog with DIY toys
Provided by Dog Toy Project: How to Make Dog Enrichment Toys From PVC Pipe

7. DIY bottle spinning treat dispenser

This is another great mental stimulation toy and interactive toy for the bored dog or puppy. Your dog will have to figure out how to flip the bottles to get the treats.

What you need:

  • PVC pipe
  • fittings
  • threaded rod
  • hex and nuts
  • plastic recycled bottles (water bottles work nicely)
  • saw
  • drill
  • craft knife
  • measuring tape
  • marker
  • glue
  • treats
fun and easy way to turn your bored dog to a happy dog with DIY toys
Provided by: Brave New Dog – Spin the bottle DIY food puzzle for dogs homemade PVC bottle bar -enrichment toy

8. DIY dog puzzle toy

Grab your toilet roll holders for this easy dog toy.

If your dog is a chewer, you will want to avoid this toy as there will most likely be shredded cardboard throughout your room.

What you need: 

  • a few paper roll holders,
  • a box large enough to hold the paper rolls
  • treats
Cheap interactive DIY dog toys to turn bored dog into a happy dog
Provided by City Dog Expert – Easy DIY Puzzle Toy for Dogs

9. Ball pit

This one will depend on the size of your dog-proof room. It is a fun interactive toy and is a great boredom buster. While you will need some balls, you can get them cheaply at the Dollar Store, thrift store, or even yard sale. Although you can fill a plastic kiddie pool, there are other options such as a large box, a sectioned-off area between furniture pieces, or even a dog gated-off area. However, make sure to have a way for your dog to escape the pit and rest. Another fun idea is to place at the bottom of the pit (under the balls) either favorite toys or treats. It will definitely entertain a bored dog for while.

The type of balls will determine if you can use it with an intense chewing dog. Some balls are more indestructible. But lower-end ones generally don’t last but a few minutes with a high-end chewer.

What you will need:

  • balls of your choice, but safe for your dog
  • sectioned-off area for balls
  • treats or favorite toys (optional) 
Cheap tricks to turn your bored dog into a happy dog
Provided by Maymo – Best Dog Birthday Surprise: DIY Ball Pit for Maymo

10. Frozen chew toy

Does your dog have a favorite chew toy? The idea here is to make that toy even more “chew-a-licious” by freezing it. Of course, this will only work if your dog likes toys and likes to chew. If so, this could be a winner.

*This is also another great one for dogs who love to chew.*

What you will need:

  • favorite chew toy
  • freezer

11. Sniffing game 

Make the entire room a sniffing or scent game. Hide treats (or even scented chewy toys) in different locations throughout the room. This one does work best if your dog has been exposed to this game first. It is great for mental stimulation.

In theory, you should be able to use this with a heavy-chewing dog. You’re simply hiding treats or chewy toys.

What you will need:

  • treats (anything to hide the treats in is optional, especially if your dog is a heavy chewer)

12.  Bucket of frozen fun

Can you imagine a large popsicle or maybe I should say a pupsicle? Although, this one is better in warmer weather or if your dog-proof room is equipped to handle a gallon or more of melting water. However, this could work in a basement, laundry room, bathroom, or even kitchen if you have a spot for the water to melt. Perhaps you can even place the frozen treat in a kiddie pool or larger bucket for melting purposes.

*This is a perfect one to try for a dog who is a heavy chewier.*

What you need:

  • large bucket
  • treats
  • favorite toys
  • water
  • freezer

How to make a frozen buck treat:

For this one, simply gather a few treats, even a few favorite chewy toys, and a large bucket. Begin by placing a few goodies on the bottom of the bucket. Then cover them with water, and freeze it for a few hours. Next repeat. The reason for doing this in layers is that you want the toys and treats spread throughout the bucket water. Otherwise, the goodies will all sink or float to the top.

When it’s time to use the bucket, simply set it out for 30 minutes or so to loosen it from the bucket and turn it upside down where you want it to sit in your dog-proof room. However, remember that the water will melt and be messy. But your bored dog will have a great time trying to get to the treats and toys.

NOTE: A word of caution about DIY dog toys. When you are making your dog toys make sure the holes and surfaces are smooth. Additionally, make sure that the holes are not only large enough for treats to fall out, but also are all large enough that your dog’s tongue can’t become stuck in a hole trying to cheat a treat out. You don’t want a fun activity to end in a vet visit. 

What about the backyard for my bored dog? 

I wouldn’t recommend leaving your dog alone in a backyard for hours without supervision. In my experience, there’s always something for a bored dog to get into or explore that will end in disaster.

NOTE: I have mentioned treats throughout a lot of these options. Personally, I like to use Henry’s regular food as treats. Then I decrease his meals by the amount of “treats” he’s had during the day. Although, if you do use regular treats, or even blueberries, carrots, or some other natural treat, make sure you count that as part of your dog’s food amount for the day. Otherwise, your dog may end up with a weight issue as well.

What if I have to leave my dog alone all day? What can I do?

This will happen. It might even be your “normal” workday. Either way is fine. There still are ways you can provide activity for your dog while you’re gone and be on a budget.

Also, just like you can’t go all day without a potty break, don’t expect your dog to either – even if all legs are crossed. It just won’t happen. Potty breaks are essential and they are also great mental breaks. You certainly don’t want a lack of proper potty breaks to lead to a vet trip.

With this in mind, you will want to think about who can give your dog a break if you can’t. A few ideas are:

  • Neighbor
  • Friend or family member
  • Dog community member
  • Dog walker
  • Doggie daycare

NOTE: Remember that you can always ask to barter dog services.

Related posts:

Summary of turning a bored dog into a happy dog for pennies

If you’ve been struggling with how to juggle your work requirements with your dog’s needs and all you see is a bored dog or worse a torn-up house, there are simple solutions. Thankfully, you don’t have to spend much to entertain most dogs. They are easy to entertain, once you realize they are bored. The key is to play to their strengths.

As you probably wouldn’t be entertained watching a bunny watch you for half an hour your dog won’t be entertained by a mere bed, simple toy, or bowl of water. While a nap may sound good to you, it probably doesn’t to your dog unless he or she has exhausted all other ways to be entertained. For example, Henry loves seeing critters. I play to his strength. Then I make sure he’s well exercised when he reminds me it’s break time.

Additionally, we also like to have dog training sessions during break times. He loves training. I like to introduce a new trick to him every so often as a boredom buster. In case you’re curious, dog treats for training sessions are Henry’s regular food as well.

As a result, on most days Henry’s dog boredom level isn’t too high and he’s pretty much a happy dog. As I mentioned before, he doesn’t like dog toys. So, I have to be creative. But I try my best to make sure Henry is a tired dog, especially if I have a long day ahead of me.

Your dog may be more of the high-energy ball pit type. Actually, I think I need to try that one for Henry as well.

How do you like to entertain your pup when you’ve got a bored dog and a tight budget? 


Categories Other Savings and Tips

About Terri Rodefer

Terri Rodefer is the founder of Tail Wag Wisdom, a blog focused on affordable pet care. She likes to say helping pet parents afford and love their animals even more, makes her tail wag. As a lifelong lover of all animals with a background in economics, biology, and marketing, allows Terri to bring a unique spin to pet care. 

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