While some dogs are perfectly happy being couch potatoes, many were bred to work. Without proper exercise, this energy can lead to destructive behavior. So, what can you do besides play plenty of games of fetch? As it turns out, dog owners can wear out their high-energy dogs by stimulating their intelligence and working with their natural instincts.
Christine Caplan, a dog writer and certified veterinary tech, uses nosework to help focus her two active dogs. Nosework teaches dogs to scent out the smells of birch, anise, and clove.
They start with finding food hidden in boxes, and work their way up to vehicles, rooms, and outdoor environments. Caplan’s dogs go to nosework class on a weekly basis. They also practice their skills at home and during nosework trials.
Caplan highly recommends nosework for helping dogs feel they have an important job to do. Working will help control and channel their excess energy.
You can check out one of Caplan’s dogs, Walter, in action here.
Try a new sport together
Many dog sports are more accessible than you might think. Don’t worry about the competitive aspect of trials and certifications. Sure, you might get to the gold eventually. However, simply learning a new activity is great for both bonding and for giving your dog a sense of focus and purpose.
- Dock-diving: In this sport, dogs leap into a regulation pool from a dock. This is especially popular with water-loving breeds like Labradors, but many different dogs can participate. You can find classes, and practice at a beach near you.
- Herding: Great for dogs with herding instincts, such as collies or heelers, this teaches a dog to control livestock. Start with simply teaching your dog to chase things and stop on command. From there, you can find a real herding facility!
- Agility: If your dog has mastered basic obedience, agility is an exciting next step. Over time, dogs learn to negotiate obstacles, jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and more, at the direction of their owners.
- Fast cat: In this event, dogs compete in a straight race of 100 yards by chasing a lure.
- Field trials: Ideal for dogs with hunting instincts, this competition includes pointing, flushing, retrieving, and scent trailing.
- Earthdog: Busy little diggers can use their natural abilities to hunt for prey underground.
Don’t forget about basic dog training
Before you try a brand new activity with your dog, it’s a good idea to brush up on the basics.
A solid training session, working on a certain ‘cue’ or command, is highly engaging for most dogs. It engages both their body and their mind, and gives all of that energy a productive outlet.
It may have been some time since you taught your dog a new trick. Why not start now? Alternatively, revisit old standards like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” You’ll likely find that your active dog enjoys the attention (and the extra treats).
High-energy dogs often have active minds. That’s why mental stimulation can be just as important as physical exercise.
Try puzzle toys and other brain games. These can include:
- Hot and cold verbal communication: Hide a treat, then react in an excited tone if your dog gets close. Use a calm voice as they move away.
- Treat on a string: Tie a treat to a ribbon. Dogs use reasoning and investigative skills to learn how to pull it into reach.
- Nesting bowls of treats: Stack a tower of storage containers with one treat in the bottom container, to teach your dog how to figure out each level.
Give them something to carry
Some folks swear by backpacks for dogs, which give them the feeling of having a job.
This doggy gear is handy on hikes, of course, when your dog can also carry some of the load. However, they’re also great for everyday walks, or even for playing around the yard.
Get a little help from your friends
Working dog parents often struggle with making time for all these new activities with their pets. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to find a neighborhood dog walker or in-home daycare provider to help wear your dog out during the day.
Always talk to your pet care provider about your dog's needs and energy, so you can make sure he gets the activity and supervision he needs.
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