If your dog is a ball of energy that vibrates without daily mental and physical exercise, then these tips are just right for you
Before Uma and I moved to Brooklyn, we were living in a cabin in Upstate New York and training three days a week in the dog sport of Mondioring at Tri-State Working Dog Club with the legendary trainer John Soares. Now that Uma is an “urban” German Shepherd living in Brooklyn, New York she needs a new, more structured routine that combines both physical and mental exercises to help manage her crazy energy.
After lots of trial and error practicing in Prospect Park, Uma and I were finally able to find a happy medium and some great ways to work out all of her energy. I would like to share with you some techniques and methods that I developed to help Uma “let it all go,” but first I want to make two very critical points:
The single most essential thing you can do to tame your high-energy dog is proper dog training. I cannot stress how important this is! In fact, if you have a high-energy pup and have not consulted a professional trainer, then I implore you to stop reading this article and find a trainer now (you can even use PetYen’s curated dog training network to find a great trainer in your NYC neighborhood)! But no matter how you go about finding a dog trainer, a trainer will be an invaluable resource for you and your dog.
Aside from consulting a trainer, the second most important thing you can do to cool your dog’s jets is to spend as much quality outdoor time together as possible. Uma spends approximately 2 hours outside every day. This is the minimum amount of time for her to be outside to live a healthy, fulfilling life. Our schedule is as follows:
A Morning Walk
This is the most important walk of the day and usually lasts 1 hour and 30 mins. This breaks down to a 30 min walk to Prospect Park, then 40 minutes of focused and highly engaged off-leash training and exercise. I split this 40-minute time frame into 20 minutes of focused training and then 20 min of consecutive sprint ball chases. Then we finish the session with the 30 min walk back home.
An Afternoon & Evening Walk
I split these up into two 15-20 minute walks around my neighborhood. These are super casual “bathroom breaks,” and aside from the “no pulling rule”, she gets to linger around interesting scents as long as she wants.
However, quality walks and consistent training is still not enough to slow Uma down. She also needs bonus activities that are both physically and mentally demanding. Below are a few tips and tricks that work for Uma and might be great ideas for your dog as well:
A Doggie Backpack
Putting a backpack on your dog gives your dog the job he/she has been looking for. You’ll be amazed by the attitude change that comes over your pup when they sport a pack. For many dogs, it’s like pulling a switch from being “ready” to being “focused.” Because dogs love to work and have essential tasks, wearing a backpack seems to fill a void for work that many dogs crave. Try adding a few plastic one-liter water bottles for extra weight and turn your walk into a something way more physically and mentally challenging. Some excellent doggie backpack options can be found at Ruffwear.
Tracking games are one of the most empowering ways you can play with your dog. Why? Because dogs have incredible noses and you don’t. This means that when your dog is tracking, he/she will always be in charge and feel powerful. Trust me; your dog will love showing you how good his nose is. Since there’s no input from you, as the “follower” you have only two primary jobs: 1. Hang on to the leash and 2 .Give big hugs and a great reward for when he/she finds an object.
I love tracking because it’s a great way to chill outside while your dog does all the work. To learn more about tracking, talk to your trainer or check out Leerburg, an awesome resource for dog tracking information.
The recall or the “come” command is a super important behavioral command that your dog should be really, really good at it. Having a solid recall could even save your dog’s life and will make off-leash adventures with your dog a lot more fun. The best way to assure a solid recall is to practice, practice, practice. What you will need is an open field, a hungry dog, lot’s of yummy treats, and a partner.
First, have your partner hold your dog. Then show your pup that you have a treat, walk excitedly 10 yards down the field, stop, and yell “come.” At the same time have your partner (who is holding your dog) release him. As your dog approaches you, jog backward with your arms open while praising your dog and encouraging him to come towards you. Once your dog reaches you, immediately produce the treat and give a ton of positive praise.
Next, hold your dog and have your partner repeat the same process. Gradually work this exercise until you get about 50 yards away. Next, have you and your partner stand apart and have the dog run back and forth.
Then test your progress! Let your dog sniff around his favorite spot and slowly back away and use your come command when you’ve gone 15 yards or so away. If your dog comes bounding over to you, excited to play the new game, then you’ve passed the test and celebrate with your pup (lot’s of treats). Keep drilling and testing every few days to be sure your recall command remains strong.
A Kong toy is one of the most important tools in your toolbox for keeping your dog’s indoor energy levels in check. These wondrous, hollow and unbreakable rubber toys will keep your dog occupied for hours, especially if you stuff them correctly. And luckily enough New York City has some of the best pet stores around, so finding a Kong that is right for your dog is no hard task.
There are many ways to stuff a Kong. My trick is to stuff with carrots and sliced turkey (or a similar, high-value dog treat). My #1 goal is to make it as difficult as possible for my dog to get to the turkey at the bottom. What I like to do is to cut a carrot into thick chunks (the beefy end pieces of the carrot are what you want to concentrate on using).
The idea is to create a layering effect inside the Kong, where the thickest chunks of the carrot are wedged inside the Kong in such a way as to block the dog’s access to the bits of turkey at the bottom. This matrix of wedged carrot chunks will prevent your dog from scooping the treats out with its tongue and force them to figure out how to get through the cluster.
Uma usually eats the carrot, which is great because they are a yummy, healthy treat for dogs. But even if your dog ignores the carrot and continues to work towards the treasures at the bottom, carrots are easy to clean up and rarely stain. A well-stuffed Kong will give your dog a real “jaw” workout, keep their teeth clean and give them some serious mental stimulation at home.
Now You’re Ready and Set to go
I hope these tips help get you and your pup on the right track. Remember, once you’ve got a system down, it will become routine and the two of you will grow into a fine-tuned machine. And now you have the right tools and mindset to handle your dog’s rambunctious outbursts.