Today’s guest writer is Maggie Marton, writer and dog wrangler at Oh My Dog! She is writing about how to alleviate boredom for shelter dogs. 

Shelter dogs get bored; they also experience stress, and some struggle to find forever families because of it. In fact, the week of September 17 happens to be Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week, and the unfortunate reality is that dogs who are stressed in a kennel environment often behave poorly and appear to be less adoptable.

The shelter environment isn’t set up for calm: tons of noise with barking dogs, clanging gates, and strangers chattering away; lots of weird smells as people and dogs come in and out; and the discomfort of people passing by, watching for a little while, then passing on. Even the most steady, relaxed pup can feel tense or uncomfortable.

To help their pups stave off boredom, feel more relaxed, and get adopted, many shelters across the country integrate enrichment activities.

This can be as basic as pumping in calming music designed to help dogs relax.

Shelter Dogs Get Bored

Or, it can be as complex and structured as the program at Anderson Animal Shelter, serving several Illinois cities.

They describe it like this: “We are as dedicated to the emotional health of our animals as we are to their physical health…. Anderson utilizes a variety of enrichment programs for all species of animal in our care, with emphasis placed on stress reduction, and the encouragement of natural and appropriate behaviors within the confines of our temporary housing facility.”

Within their shelters, they have a full-time positive reinforcement trainer on staff, along with volunteers dedicated to the mental and emotional well-being of the dogs in their care. They also incorporate all the senses, starting with calming music and pheromones designed to promote relaxation. Beyond clicker training, too, the animals in their care get to exercise their instincts with food puzzles and feeding toys. Same goes with housing and play solutions: Dogs get play dates and are even able to kennel with other dogs to alleviate stress and loneliness! All together, their program results in happier, less-stressed pups.

At the Arizona Humane Society, they focus on sensory enrichment, as well, and take a clever, cost-effective approach. In The IAABC Journal, the shelter’s canine enrichment specialist wrote, “It does not take a lot of resources or money to provide daily enrichment. For example, we recycle empty latex glove boxes from our medical department. We also use empty Kleenex boxes, toilet paper, egg cartons, paper towel rolls, and plastic Tupperware. We also use ice cube trays and cupcake tins. I look at household, food, and storage items so differently now—everything looks like an enrichment tool to me! And I try to encourage others to look at it that way as well.”

The key to their success is variety: mixing enrichment activities so the dogs don’t experience the same thing day in and day out. The result? Happier, less-stressed pups who are better-suited to be adopted!

Because programs like this have been shown to be effective–happier dogs are adopted out easier, and happier, trained dogs are more likely to stay in their forever homes — they’re spreading across the country. Resources like this Enrichment for Dogs in Shelters guide from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and this Enrichment piece from Tufts University’s Center for Shelter Dogs provide shelters with a starting point to implement their own programs.

Plus, these awesome lessons from dedicated shelters can be applied at home with your dogs! Stave off boredom by providing your dog with varying sensory activities that don’t have to cost a fortune. Whether it’s leaving on DOGTV, plugging in a pheromone diffuser, or alternating feeding puzzles, you can apply these same principles to keep your pup happy and enriched!

Hey Shelter and Rescue Operators, and Organizations, ask us how playing DOGTV in your facility will help to calm dogs and alleviate their stress while they’re waiting for their forever homes. Also, grab your free fourteen day trial of DOGTV to play at the shelter.