"The majority of my life has been managing my high-energy dogs," Christine Caplan says with a laugh.
Caplan, a dog writer and certified veterinary technician studying canine behavior, describes her dachshund Walter as a "monster to live with if he is not tired." Her beagle mix, Sherman, is also highly reactive on leash, making extra-long walks problematic, and absolutely needs extra activities to burn off energy.
Caplan is certainly not the only owner dealing with overly-enthusiastic dogs. While some breeds are perfectly happy being couch potatoes, many were bred to work. If they don`t get enough exercise, a cute case of puppy zoomies can progress into a lifetime of boundless energy and destructive behavior. Not fun for the owner and certainly not fun for the dog. Luckily there are lots of unique activities that wear out your dog by harnessing their instinct and tapping their brains.
Fortunately for Caplan, she discovered nosework, an activity that teaches dogs to sniff out birch, anise, and clove scents. Dogs begin by finding an odor paired with food hidden in one of a dozen or so boxes. Ultimately they work up to vehicles, rooms, and exterior environments. Caplan takes her dogs to class once a week, practices at home, and takes them to nosework trials.
"It`s kind of saved me," she says, "because it gives them a job, and they love it." You can see a video of Walter in action below.
Dr. Mary Burch, Canine Good Citizen Director for the American Kennel Club, says some high-energy dogs do need more than daily walks and ball play. But before you dive into a new activity, your dog should learn the fundamentals.
"Training is extremely important for dogs that are spirited and full of life," Burch says, "Basic training exercises give active dogs something to wrap their minds around and builds a foundation for other areas of training."
Burch recommends a variety of activities that, depending on the breed of or mix of your pet, can help meet their exercise needs. Don`t be put off by the competitive aspect of trials and certification. Yes, you can work your way up through the rankings, but simply learning a new activity for fun can be a great bonding experience for dogs and owners.
Dock-diving: This is exactly what it sounds like. Dogs leap from a dock into a regulation pool to see how high or far they can go. Facilities around the country offer classes that build up your pet`s confidence in the water long before they get into competition. There is a lot you can do outside of class, if you have a body of water to practice in. Ultimate Air Dogs explains how to gradually teach your dog to swim and retrieve toys in the water.
Herding: This teaches a dog to use its basic breed instinct to control livestock. You can start by teaching a puppy how to chase things and stop on command. Then take them to a place that has livestock and get them used to listening to you, despite the obvious distractions. From there, a training facility like Ewe-topia in Roy, Washington can take you and your dog to the next level.
Agility: Over time, dogs learn to negotiate obstacle courses made up of jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and more, at the direction of their owners.
Field trials: Dogs compete in four components based on hunting breed characteristics; pointing, flushing, retrieving and scent, trailing.
Earthdog: This type of training lets those little diggers use their natural abilities to hunt for prey underground.
"Because high energy dogs often have active minds, games and mental stimulation activities are perfect for when you and your dog are at home," Burch says.
There are plenty of puzzle toys and brain games on the market, but you can also work with items you already have on hand at home. The AKC describes three homemade cognitive games:
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. Your dog uses reasoning and investigative skills to learn how to pull that treat into reach.
Nesting bowls of treats: Stack a tower of plastic storage containers with one treat in the bottom container (and one in the top for beginners) to teach your dog how to figure out each level.
Some folks swear by backpacks for dogs, which give them the feeling of having a job. These can be great on walks, or even around the yard.
So your condo association doesn`t allow sheep, there`s no lake nearby, and you don`t have time for brain games?
Long walks and playing with other dogs are great ways to wear out the pets. But if your spare time is in inverse proportion to your dog`s energy level, consider hiring a walker or taking your dog to daycare. 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.