Our doggy playdates have been canceled, our favorite parks are closed and we are spending more time than usual with our pups. High energy dogs make amazing adventure buddies but they can become needy housemates when they don’t get enough exercise. Kona, my smart, demanding husky, and I have compiled six fun activities you can do to help tire out your dog while developing a tighter bond. Many of these activities focus on mental exercise. 15 minutes spent doing one of these activities will be more tiring than a long walk around the neighborhood. I hope you and your dog enjoy learning and playing together!
1. Tug and Drop It
Equipment: Knot Tug Toy, Treats optional
Tug is a fantastic way to wear out your dog. It gets their natural instincts going while requiring they use their brain. To teach your dog to ‘Drop it’ start by getting her to tug for a few seconds then say ‘drop it’ and stop moving or pulling on the toy. Don’t let it go, but don’t make it exciting either. Eventually she will let it go on her own. If she does not drop it, you can hold a treat in front of her nose so she drops the toy and takes the treat. Tell her ‘good girl’ as soon as she drops the toy then reward with either a treat or starting the fun game of tug back up. Once she is good at ‘Drop it’ this cue can be applied to other objects, like your shoes…
2. Recall (aka. Coming when called)
This is the most important skill for an off-leash dog to know. It keeps your dog out of trouble and gives you peace of mind knowing she will come back. Start with a Longline so your dog has room to roam without running off. When she is not distracted say ‘Come’ or ‘Here.’ If she ignores you at first, start running the opposite direction so her chase instinct kicks in. Don't pull on the leash because that can become the cue instead of you saying 'here.' When your dog comes to you, give her her favorite treat. This treat should be reserved for recall so it is extra special. Repeat up to three times over the course of a walk with steadily increasing distance. Keys to success: Set your dog up to succeed. Don’t call when she is distracted or peeing (I am really good at making this mistake). Slowly introduce distance, distractions, or challenging locations as she progresses. Always reward her when she comes back even if it was not perfect. Do not over use the command so she does not get board with this fun game
3. Treat bombs
Equipment: Cardboard toilet paper roll or cardboard box, treats or kibble
This is a great way to give your dog an activity you do not have to participate in (though, it is entertaining to watch.) This game is fun, makes your dog think and engages his natural instincts, everything you need to tire out an energetic dog. Put a few pieces of kibble or treats in a toilet paper or paper towel roll then fold the ends over so the treats do not immediately fall out. Hand it to your dog and let him shred away! (Yes, this can be slightly messy, but it is easy to clean up the pieces.) To make it more challenging, put the kibble in a box then fold the top so it stays closed. If your dog is a master cardboard shredder and too fast at getting the treats, puzzle or kibble toys are another great challenge.
4. Loose Leash Walking
Some of us rely on going to a trail and letting our dogs run free to get a sane (on our part) walk because our dog pulls so hard. Now that we are all a little more confined it is a great time to teach your dog to walk on leash. Start off in a parking lot or drive way with your dog on leash. Walk in any direction. The moment your dog charges ahead, stop and change direction. You may need to call your dog or entice with a treat if he is being stubborn (husky owner life). The moments he is not pulling on the leash tell him ‘good boy’ and drop a treat on the ground. Keep giving him treats while he is next to you as you walk. If he pulls ahead, stop, change direction, and reward when he is not pulling. For a more detailed description and helpful tips go to: https://www.clickertraining.com/loose-leash-walking. Note: if you do not have a clicker, you can say "good" or "yes" when your dog does the right thing.
Keys to success: your dog is no longer allowed to move forward if he is pulling. By letting him move forward when he pulls, you are rewarding him for pulling. Do not pull your dog in the direction you want to go. This encourages more pulling. By following the above steps, you are teaching him that choosing to walk next to you is rewarding while pulling is not.
5. Find It
Equipment: Tasty, smelly treats
Put your dog in a separate room. Hide a tasty treat in an easy to locate spot. Start with really easy spots (it may even just be on the floor somewhere.) Open the door and tell your dog ‘Find it!’ Encourage your dog to sniff by pointing to different spots while you work your way to the treat. After a few rounds of showing your dog, he will be very excited to ‘Find it’ on his own and you can hide the treat in harder spots or hide multiple treats.
6. Hide and Go Seek
Equipment: Treats, Wanderer Treat Bag, Second human optional
I love this game! It teaches your off-leash dog to always be aware of where you are while you are out on the trail. It is also great for kids to play with the family dog. You can start in your home by having someone keep your dog in a separate room while you hide. Once hidden, say "where did she go!" in an excited, dog enticing voice. Be quiet and wait. If she is having a hard time finding you, make a few noises or repeat the phrase. When she finds you, get really excited and give her a treat.
Playing outside is even more fun and rewarding. If your dog starts to wander or stops paying attention while you are out walking, duck behind a tree, bush, rock, etc. then say “where did she go!” and wait for her to come find you. Once again, get really excited and give her lots of rewards when she finds you so she learns to love the game.
Now grab your dog's favorite treats and enjoy playing one of these games. Next time your dog keeps getting in trouble or is bothering you for attention remember: "A tired dog is a good dog."