When life gets hectic, our dogs tend to get the short end of the stick—and for a high-energy dog, this can result in the kind of bouncing off the walls that will drive you both nuts. For pups like these, two to three walks a day and indoor play with toys may not be enough to keep them happy and healthy, both physically and mentally.
But more exercise for your dog doesn’t necessarily require much more time and effort on your part, if you’ve got the right tools at your disposal. Check out our six games and ideas for keeping high-energy dogs happy and you’ll both sleep better at the end of the day.
1. Wave the flirt pole
Just like cats, high-energy dogs love to chase soft objects that flutter and flap. Does that mean that if cats go crazy for wand toys with feathers or toys at the end that dogs will, too? Absolutely. They’ve even got a name: flirt poles.
You can purchase a ready-made dog-safe flirt pole or make your own with a PVC pipe (about 4–6 feet long), some rope and a stuffed dog toy.
Like it does with a cat, the flirt pole taps into your dog’s predatory instincts, encouraging them to watch, chase, and “attack” the prey at the end of the rope as you flick the wand around. For a high-energy dog, a flirt pole can be a game changer.
Playing with a flirt pole provides physical stimulation for your dog as they run back and forth trying to catch their toy, and mental stimulation as they attempt to anticipate and outsmart the toy’s movements. It’s also a great way to work in practice on cues like “leave-it”, “stay”, and “drop”.
The best part? The flirt pole exhausts your dog without requiring much effort on your part. How hard is it to stand (or sit) still and wave a wand?
You don’t need a huge yard to use a flirt pole; you could even play with it in a driveway or on a sidewalk with your dog on a long line (an extra-long leash). If it’s raining outside, a half-sized mini-flirt pole can be used indoors.
The flirt pole can be used any time, but for high-energy dogs, playing with the flirt pole for 5–10 minutes before a walk is a great way to decrease their arousal during the walk itself. The more tired-out your dog is when you begin your walk, the less excited energy they’ll have during the walk. The flirt pole also provides an excellent supplement to your dog’s regular exercise routine. Dog driving you nuts asking for attention? Work the flirt pole for 5–10 minutes and you can both relax.
2. Practice urban agility
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Urban agility is parkour for your dog—you know, that sport where super-fit athletes run up walls, jump off buildings and flip over benches? Okay, well maybe it’s not exactly like parkour but it shares a simple principle: the world is a gym waiting to be used.
Most dogs enjoy their walks but if you’re sometimes bored with your routine, you can bet that they are, too. Sprinkling in some urban agility can provide additional physical and mental stimulation that will leave your dog more exhausted at the end of their walks.
You don’t need any special equipment for doggy urban agility, just a creative eye. As you walk, ask your dog to show off by, for example:
- Jumping up on a bench and sitting
- Putting their paws up on top of a fire hydrant or fence
- Weaving in and out of your legs as you walk
- Leaping from one surface (like a bench or raised curb) to another
3. Go for a bike ride
If walks are not doing it for your dog, you may need to pick up the pace. Jogging with your dog can be great but if you’re not a runner, let something with wheels do some of the work for you.
Riding a bike while holding a leash can be a dangerous prospect, especially if your dog crosses in front of your bike’s tires. Luckily, a number of companies have come up with safer solutions that work on the principle of connecting your dog by a short leash or pole to your bike frame, like this one from Walky Dog.
For any sustained, high-energy exercise like jogging or biking, your dog should be at least eight months of age so as not to cause damage to growing joints and bones. Check with your vet to make sure your dog is the right athlete for this kind of activity.
4. Turn your pup into a sled dog
You don’t need a Husky or Samoyed to have a sled dog—you only need a dog with a lot of excitement and energy to burn. Since not all of us have easy access to snow, even in the winter, your “sled” can be anything from a little red wagon to a dog cart—anything with wheels.
Historically, teams of dogs have been used to pull everything from milk to bread carts. Add a bit of weight or a small child to your cart and walk alongside, holding your dog’s leash.
If you’ve got the skateboard skills and your dog isn’t one of the many that hates them, you can switch out the cart for one and go shredding together. Let your dog pull while you ride, sticking, if possible, to riding in parks or other areas without cars.
5. Add some weight
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If you’ve ever gone backpacking, you know how exhausting it can be carrying 25 or 30 pounds on your back during a hike. For dogs, too, adding a safe amount of weight in a doggy backpack like this one by RuffWear is an excellent way to burn extra energy on daily walks.
How much weight to use? A good rule of thumb is to stick to around 10% of your dog’s total body weight (i.e., 5 lb. of weight for a 50 lb. dog).
6. Stuff puzzle toys or build them from the recycling bin
I’m a huge proponent of puzzle toys, both for use during mealtimes and throughout the day. If you aren’t yet a convert, allow me to be your puzzle toy preacher.
Puzzle toys are a general term for a wide variety of toys that have some sort of opening for pouring kibble, treats, or soft foods. To get the food out, your dog has to problem solve and use their scavenging instincts.
For best results, replace your food bowl with a puzzle toy and alternate different styles daily. And there’s no need to stick to the toys sold in stores or online. With this type of stimulation there’s no end to what you can make from household goods. Here are a few to get you started:
- Wrap treats in strips of paper or rags, put them into a cardboard egg carton, and close the lid
- Poke a hole in a plastic bottle filled with kibble and string it between a doorknob and the back of a chair (low enough for your dog to be able to move it around with their nose)
- Put a dozen Dixie cups on the floor, hiding treats or kibble under half of them, and send your dog on a scavenger hunt
Puzzle toys won’t exhaust your dog but they will challenge them mentally, which is half the battle with a highly energetic dog. Remember, it’s not just physical activity that wears out your pup!