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Activities for your dog

Note: Thank you to Dog Fence DIY for providing these tips for providing activities for your dog.

Have you ever noticed your dog doing something that you never taught it to do, but that it did so naturally and with such focus that it made you stop and smile? Perhaps you saw your Labrador fetching something you threw away, a border collie nudging a small child as if to herd her back into place or a husky pulling its owner down the street.

Whenever I work with “hyper” dogs (the type of dog that jumps on everyone, knocks over both tables and toddlers and has never seen an animal it didn’t want to lunge after … all before breakfast), I notice they settle down when they discover an activity in which they can be fully engaged.

dog with backpackI call these activities that create full engagement for the dog’s mind “higher calling activities.” If you find them, you will notice that your interactions with your dog change completely. And if you don’t, the dog will find some other activity that it finds engaging. Unfortunately, these activities typically involve chewing, barking, digging or some combination thereof.

I want to offer some ideas for engaging your dog’s instincts and finding your dog’s higher calling. Allow me to preface this by saying that while breed stereotypes are a pretty good first guess for finding your dog’s calling, your dog is an individual. The best way to determine what engages your dog is simple observation. Watch what they naturally take to, try a few things out, and see what works.

Herding dogs

Herding dogs such as border collies usually enjoy herding activities. Of course most owners do not have a flock of sheep handy. This minor obstacle can be surmounted by teaching them how to herd a ball. Bigger balls like soccer balls or even Swiss balls work best. Once they get the hang of it, add extra balls to the “herd.” If they get really good, consider getting some sheep!

Tracking dogs

Trackers like beagles and other hounds usually enjoy nothing more than following a scent trail. So create nose work for them. Hide something fragrant like an old sock or a treat and teach your dog to find it. You can also take them on long walks and let them follow natural scent trails through a nearby park.

Retrieving dogs

Retrievers such as Labradors and goldens are great at fetching games. Start with simply throwing a tennis ball and work your way up to more complex tasks like a blind retrieve. These dogs are often water dogs, so games that involve swimming will also keep them engaged and cool in the summer. Get them to fetch a ball in water, and they are in heaven.

Sled dogs

Sled dogs like Malamutes and huskies were originally bred to pull things. Harness them to a child’s wagon or even get them a dog backpack and watch them strut with pride. If the dog needs more exercise, add a bit of weight to the wagon or the backpack, perhaps some water and snacks for both master and dog to enjoy mid-walk. You will find that lots of larger breeds like St. Bernards enjoy sled-pulling games. Once they know they have a job, it gives them something to focus on and reduces the hyper behavior these dogs sometimes exhibit.

Finally, attempt to keep the games fresh and interesting. Try to make your dog really think in order to succeed, but avoid creating a game that is overwhelmingly difficult. Make the activities incrementally harder each week and keep throwing in new variations. For example, once the retrievers are experts at ball fetches, add a twist to the game that requires the dog to stay by your side until the ball lands. Breed-specific clubs and books are great resources for this type of training.

Post your thoughts and experiences on your dog’s “higher calling.”

Bob Holmes

Friday 28th of August 2009

With gaurd dogs, give them a routine to perform when they see something suspicious. So instead of barking endlessly teach, them to say come to you and sit.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 22nd of August 2009

Carrying a backpack is a good job for a dane. Which I know you do with your girls.


Saturday 22nd of August 2009

Mmmm, not sure about the Danes, most of their motivation comes from the desire to please..

they are also like Cheatah cats, their energy is short, hard fast and sharp... then they sleep

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 6th of August 2009

Gosh, I don't know what you can do about that guarding instinct except to keep him on a leash or distract him with food and praise him when he's quiet and paying attention to you and ignoring the "intruders." You could give him some other "job" to do like carry a dog backpack.


Thursday 6th of August 2009

I know what my dog was meant to do: GUARD! And he loves to do it when he can. But any suggestions to channel that guarding instinct? He can be quite a sight in the dog run, because he will patrol the fence and bark people away from the fence (it is ok if they stand a few feet back from the fence). People at the fence, needless to say, freak out.