I believe animals are one of God's greatest gifts to us. They offer not just companionship but also unconditional love.
My High-Energy Dog
Several years ago, I made a rash decision to adopt a dog. I walked into an animal shelter, was smitten by a small pup, and took him home.
I don't recommend this impulsive approach to anyone, ever.
I did not take into account the dog's temperament or breed, nor did I consider my own energy level and lifestyle.
In retrospect, I think I was still grieving my previous pet companion of twenty years and should have waited longer before adopting another animal. (Not an excuse; just an explanation.)
Within 24 hours of arriving home from the shelter, I knew I was in trouble.
This furball was a source of constant motion. The first time I placed him on my bed, before I could say Jack Robinson, he stretched out his four paws and soared into the air like a doggy version of Superman. To this day, I don't know how he didn't break a leg as he miraculously landed on the carpet and then proceeded to run around the room in circles.
Those first weeks were absolutely draining as I struggled to control his energy and properly care for him.
Throughout those initial weeks, I considered returning my dog to the shelter but thought I should at least make an honest effort first. After all, if I had brought this mutt home with me, the least I could do was try to make it work.
I called my vet and dog trainers at my local pet stores for advice. The shelter had connected me with some other great resources which I also contacted. In addition, I surfed the internet like crazy for ideas on how to control my new pet's high energy level and tire him out.
What ended up working was a combination of good advice from professionals and trial and error. Every dog is different, but here's what has worked to keep my dog's energy level manageable and maintain my sanity in the process.
10 Ways to Tire Out Your Dog
- Take him for long walks.
- Let him sniff around outside.
- Throw treats into the grass.
- Play games.
- Teach him a new trick.
- Let him look out the window.
- Offer him things to lick and chew on.
- Give him an empty water bottle.
- Take him to a park.
- Visit new places.
1. Take Him for Walks
Start With 2 Shorter Walks
When I first brought my pup home, our walks were short because I had to teach him how to walk on a leash. Gradually, our walks became longer. My vet told me to take him for 2 short walks every day—one in the morning and one in the evening—rather than one long walk per day. This helped a lot. I would take him for a 20-minute walk after I woke up and another 20-minute walk at night. (Of course, I also took him out in between to do his business.) Sometimes I extended each walk to 30 minutes so he ended up walking for 60 minutes every day.
Since my mutt appeared to have little to no socialization skills with other dogs, my vet suspected he came from a puppy mill and had been separated from his mother too early. I signed my dog up for classes with an excellent trainer at Petco. He taught him how to walk better on a leash, and used his own dog as a model. His dog was very calm and gentle and my dog followed his lead. The four of us went on many walks together and this helped my pup become more comfortable on a leash and to feel more at ease with another dog.
This same trainer also organized some group dog walks with other dog owners. This gave my pup even more practice being on a leash and getting along with other canines, while also making the walks more interesting.
Build Up to 1 Long Walk
Once my mutt was older, I would often take him for one 40-60 minute walk per day rather than 2 shorter walks. However, because of my work schedule, I am currently back to the original schedule of 2 shorter walks per day. On the weekends, however, I often take him for the longer 40-60 min. walks.
2. Let Him Sniff Around
To Sniff or Not to Sniff?
I initially wasn't sure how much I should let my dog sniff during our walks. I felt that too much stopping to smell the roses would defeat my goal of trying to wear him out.
Then I learned that allowing him to sniff outside provided him with mental exercise—a way for him to work his brain. Smell is a dog's most powerful sense and he uses it to gather important information about his environment.
For example, by smelling a tree, a dog can learn about other dogs that live in the same neighborhood. He may be able to determine their gender, age, and even whether or not they were stressed or ill when they were at the tree! Letting your dog sniff during your walks is sort of like letting him read the daily doggy news. It keeps his mind stimulated and active and will help to tire him out.
Be sure to monitor what he smells to ensure it's not something he may ingest and get sick from.
Use a Different Harness
Some owners use a different harness on their dog depending on the occasion. For example, when they take their dog out to run with them, they use one harness. When they take the dog for his daily walk, they use a different harness. The dog learns to associate the first harness with running and no sniff time. He learns to associate the other harness with walks and allowed sniff time.
Switch Up the Walks
To keep things more engaging for my pup, I occasionally switch up our walking routes. I know his favorite paths and usually stick to those, but once in a while I take him a different way or turn a different corner. This provides him with more mental stimulation, as there are new sights and smells for him to process.
3. Throw Treats in the Grass
My dog absolutely loves to dig his nose into the grass after I've thrown a treat in it. He won't give up until he finds it and this gives him another chance to use that strong sense of smell.
Whether I have him off-leash in a park or on leash on a sidewalk along grass, I simply toss a small morsel of food 3 to 6 feet in front of him and allow him to find it. The better the flavor, the greater his motivation to get it. To make it more challenging, you can gradually extend the distance you throw the food. If you have him on leash, be sure to keep it loose so he doesn't choke if he sprints for the treat too quickly!
4. Play Games With Your Dog
Dogs are highly social creatures that love to interact with us. Playing games with them is another way to help tire them out.
Some games to teach and play with your dog:
- Hide and Seek: Command your pup to stay. Once you hide, command him to come and let him find you. Challenge your canine by hiding in new places such as in the bathtub or under a big blanket. Sometimes I deliberately leave some of my closet doors open during the day so that I can quietly sneak inside them later, when we play hide and seek.
- Fetch: Throw a ball or toy and have him bring it back to you on command
- Bring me "X" (name the toy): Ask him to bring you each toy by name.
- Treasure Hunt: Command your dog to stay as you hide treats around your home. Then allow him to find them.
Some activities your dog can engage in on his own:
- snuffle mats
- treat dispenser toys
5. Teach Him a New Command or Trick
Dogs enjoy learning new things because it keeps their minds active. If you always play the same games and practice the same tricks, they may become bored. Once your pup has learned a few commands and tricks, try teaching him some new ones.
Some commands and tricks to teach your dog:
- drop it
- leave it
- lay down
- high five (or wave)
- roll over
- "get ...." (name the toy you want him to get)
6. Let Him Look Outside
Do you have a window in your home your furball likes to look out of? Doggy steps are a great way to give him access to a window at a higher level if he's unable to jump.
If you have a balcony or deck, consider allowing your pup to hang out there on cool days (as long as he can't fit through the rails).
Letting him see what's going on outside offers him interesting visual stimulation which keeps his mind active. Provide him with a comfortable mat to lie on, especially if he is older, and make sure he has a bowl of water and shade available if it's warm out.
7. Give Him Things to Chew and Lick
Licking and chewing on treats can keep a dog occupied for a good chunk of time!
I fill hollow bones or Kong toys with food and freeze them overnight to keep my pup busy. To save time, I sometimes fill and freeze many at once so that I can quickly grab one from the freezer when I need it.
My dog can spend up to 30 minutes licking a frozen peanut butter filled toy. He will lap up every last remnant on it and appears to be in a state of utter ecstasy the entire time.
Some foods you can fill and freeze hollow bones or toys with:
- peanut butter (make sure it doesn't contain xylitol which is poisonous to dogs)
- plain unsweetened yogurt
- pumpkin (not pumpkin filling)
- mashed sweet potatoes
- unsweetened applesauce
- mashed bananas
- canned pet food
- chicken or bone broth (clog up the openings of the bone or toy with peanut butter)
Other things you can give your dog to lick or chew on:
- bully sticks
- Himalayan chews
- elk antlers
- cow hooves
- bully horns
- pig ears
Note: Talk to your vet about healthy chews he recommends for your pup.
8. Offer Him an Empty Water Bottle
My dog goes nuts when he sees me drinking from a plastic water bottle from the grocery store. He knows I will give him the bottle after I finish drinking from it and that thing will get plastered in a matter of minutes once he gets a hold of it. He loves the crackling sound it makes as he flattens it out. After he is satisfied with his work, he's usually exhausted.
Take the bottle away after he flattens it out. Teach him to "drop it" on command once he finishes tearing it up and reward him immediately when he does.
9. Take Him to a Park
If you have a large yard where your dog can roam freely, you are very fortunate. But even so, switching things up occasionally will help keep his mind stimulated.
Take your furball to a dog park or large open field where he can run around and play with you off-leash, as long as it is safe to do so. Take a frisbee and have a blast!
Dog parks often have a designated area for smaller pups so be sure to look for this if you have a small breed.
Many state and national parks allow dogs, although they often have rules such as keeping them on leash and picking up after them.
Regardless of the type of park you visit, beware of children and other canines that may be around. Also, be sure to take plenty of water with you, especially to help keep your dog cool in the summer.
10. Visit New Places
Do you like to travel to new locations? Your furbaby will love exploring them with you and they will offer him more stimulating sights and scents to take in.
- a new dog park
- state and national parks you've never been to
- a lake
- the mountains
- pet stores
- hardware stores
- a nearby town you've never been to
- a different neighborhood in your area
Be creative. Since my vet is in a neighboring town where I normally don't go, I'll often leave my house 30 min. early for vet appointments so my pup and I can walk around the area first. He loves it!
If you are thinking of adopting a dog, I strongly encourage you to research different breeds and find a pup with a temperament that is compatible with your energy level and lifestyle.
I was fortunate in that I was able to make it work with my new pet, but my story could have ended very differently. Do your research, talk to your vet and other dog professionals, and gather as much information as you can before you make this important decision.
If you are struggling with caring for a high-energy dog because of your job and family obligations, please consider finding a home for your pet where he can receive the attention he needs. Please know there is no shame in acknowledging your limitations—on the contrary, it often takes great courage to do so. Find a rescue organization in your area that will take your dog or help you find a suitable home for him.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. Our pets rely on us to care for them. Let's give them our best!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Madeleine Clays