Leaving your dog at home, especially in the cold weather where going outside is not an option, can result in an increase in destructive types of behavior. This can even occur with dogs that are well trained and those that are not typically chewers, barkers and home wreckers. Often in winter there is a natural tendency to shorten walks or even skip them altogether, resulting in dogs with even more energy than normal being left alone in the home.
In the past dog owners had very few options for toys and things to leave in the home for the dog to play with during the day. Typically these toys included balls, rubber chew toys or even dog safe stuffed toys. While these toys are great to engage the dog in play, they generally aren't something that a dog will play with on their own. This is because, with the exception of the ball, these toys don't naturally move or do anything to attract the dog's attention.
Balls of different sizes are still a great option for dogs, especially those that love to fetch and chase. Of course balls can easily roll under beds or become trapped behind furniture, leaving the dog without anything to play with. Try providing a variety of balls that are large enough to avoid getting trapped under furniture to prevent this issue.
Squeaky toys are a bit of a better option, especially those that make different sounds. This keeps the dog's attention sustained on the toy for a bit longer, and if the toy is also round and rolls it can be really entertaining for a fairly large number of dogs. However, there are some concerns with squeak toys, especially for those dogs that love to chew to get at whenever is making the noise. Dogs that literally destroy these toys to get at the sound may be put at risk of swallowing inedible types of material that can cause digestive blockages. Other concerns include the possibility of choking on parts from the toy or cutting their mouth on sharp edges.
To avoid these types of concerns there are a number of very strong, heavy rubber types of dog toys. One of the most common brand names of these durable pet toys is Kong, but there are many other companies as well. These Kong styles of toys are usually hollow in the center, providing an opportunity to turn a relatively passive type of toy into a really fun and mentally stimulating activity for a dog.
To add a lot more entertainment value to these toys when you are away, try rubbing a teaspoon or more of peanut butter as far as possible inside the toy. The smell of the peanut butter will keep the dog interested in the toy much longer than they would otherwise play with the toy. There are now also several pastes available where dog toys are sold that are chicken, beef or other flavors which can be used in the same way. Since the inside is rubber, it can be easily washed out with hot water or run through a dishwasher whenever necessary.
For both large and small dogs there are really unique types of toys that include the rolling feature of a ball as well as longer protrusions like arms of different materials that cause the toy to roll and move in erratic patterns. This adds more variability to the movement of the toy and will keep the dog's attention for much longer. These toys may also make sounds as the move, with the very durable or even solid rubber ball type center holding the device that makes the noise. This provides an almost indestructible case for the squeaking mechanism without the worry.
For small to large sized dogs there are toys that hold small treats inside their hollow centers. After inserting the toys a cap is screwed into the toy, stopping the treats from falling back out. One or two small slots are placed somewhere on the toy so food treats will randomly drop out while the toy is being played with, carried or moved. This keeps the dog engaged with the toy as he or she continues to hope that small food rewards will be dropped. This toy needs to be used with caution, especially for dogs with weight problems or dietary issues. Keep in mind that these toys will cause the food to come out anywhere the toy is used, including on carpeting, furniture or on the bed.
For smaller dogs there are even more options for great boredom buster types of toys. There are really entertaining types of battery operated toys that randomly move, make sounds and even dispense treats. It is important to find the right sized toy as toys that are too small for the dog can easily be destroyed and they do contain sharp parts and batteries that will be a safety concern.
These small battery operated dog toys are generally not recommended for use without you there to supervise. A good idea is to provide these toys for 30 or more minutes before you leave, providing lots of fun and exercise just prior to the dog being left alone.
Puzzle toys, which typically include multiple small toys that fit into one larger toy, are a great option for dogs that are naturally curious. The dogs can work at trying to get the smaller toys out, but still have several toys to play with at the same time. Since the toys inside move and may make noise, this is a great option for busy dogs of any size. Often these puzzle toys are stuffed, but designed to be durable and safe for all but the most aggressive chewers.
Of course the best option is still ensuring at least 30 minutes or more of brisk exercise before you have to leave your dog alone. This can include a run, fast walk or jog, but also a good game or fetch or some agility or obedience work can also help. Matching this with a few boredom busting toys should help your dog stay engaged in positive behaviors while you are gone, leaving your shoes, pillows and furniture alone.