7 min read

Is My Dog Tired Or Just Really Bored?

Here's how to tell the difference.

Sometimes, you have to wonder: Is my dog actually sleeping? Or is he just really, really bored? Like vegetatively bored?

"A lot of dogs will sleep as a default, if they don't have something to do," Jill Sackman, a clinician in behavioral medicine for BluePearl Veterinary Partners, tells The Dodo. But, of course, they also sleep when they're actually tired.

How do you tell the difference?

Sackman offers this example. When she takes her French bulldog, George, on trips with her, the next day, "He flops in his bed and he's dead to the world, sleeping."

On other days, George may be lounging in his bed, but he'll jump up and respond to anything interesting that comes up. On these days, he's likely sleeping out of boredom, and is eager for stimulation.

But boredom isn't entirely a state of mind. There are ways to tell if your dog is actually feeling chronically unstimulated or just snoozing with her eyes half open. And. Just. Staring. At. You.

"To me, a dog that is bored versus relaxing is actually super different," Shelby Semel, a trainer and behavior expert at Shelby Semel Dog Training, tells The Dodo. "Bored would look more anxious and stressed. Bored means they will chew and get into things because they have nothing to do, so they are going to find something to do. They will chew, jump, pace and you are usually trying to figure out if the dog is stressed or bored."

A relaxed dog, on the other hand, looks a lot like a relaxed you.

"When your dog is chilling in his bed, that's a dog that is relaxing," Semel says. "It's exactly what it looks like."

But perhaps the most surefire way to know if your dog is legitimately tuckered out or just bored out of his his mind is actually in your own mind. Liz Kover, a trainer and behaviorist at Miracle Mutts, says it's not always easy to pick up on a dog's body language.

"I think the best way to know whether your dog is bored or relaxed is to know, within your own mind, how much of all the 'vital elements' of daily life they've experienced so far that day," Kover tells The Dodo.

dog running with toy
Liz Kover

Kover often gives her clients a checklist of those vital elements, which include simple things like exercise and playtime, as well as chewing on a bone or toy, along with the mental stimulation of practicing self-control. Think obeying commands like sitting and staying.

Liz Kover

"The areas are physical challenge, cognitive challenge, emotional challenge, social challenge and primal challenge," she explains. "My feeling, and experience, is that if you challenge your dog in at least one way in each of the categories daily, then you are providing a pretty balanced and well-rounded lifestyle."

Take her dog, Fred, for example.

"On a given day for Fred and me, we wake up in the morning and go for a nice long walk," Kover says. "During the walk, I throw his ball for him, he retrieves, sniffs, sometimes swims if there's a big enough puddle on our path, and then we head home."

And then Fred comes home for the happy collapse.

tired dog sleeping
Liz Kover

"If we were to skip the walk, I would definitely be looking at Fred, and thinking that he was sleeping out of boredom. He may well be relaxed in that moment, but psychologically, I would be unable to relax, feeling like I hadn't given him what he needed."

Of course, you don't have to stress the not knowing too much. At some point, a bored dog will make his feelings disastrously clear - and will likely take it out on your home.

"A dog who is bored isn't going to sit there and wonder how bored they are," Semel says. "They'll get up and do something about it. And what they do isn't fun for the owner."

So next time you're wondering if your pup is actually sleeping, or just bored, you may want to start by asking yourself if you've given him what he needs that day.