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How to Motivate A Low Energy Dog (Dare We Say Lazy?)

A few weeks ago Lindsay wrote about how to tire out an energetic dog.

When we were in the process of adopting Baxter, the scenario she described was the life I envisioned (although I did hope it wouldn’t be quite so frenetic).

My husband and I committed to two walks a day. I read up on food puzzles and bought a stash of Kongs. I was excited to start running again.

And then Baxter came home.

Running was a no-go right from the start. Two walks a day were fine, but they had better be leisurely. The first time my husband walked Bax, our new dog walked into the ditch and laid down. Kongs were just too much work. And besides, food wasn’t all that interesting.

Over our five years together, we’ve come to understand each other, and I appreciate my lazy dog so, so much. But, I do have a dog, not a pet rock, and I like to be outside and active.

So here are my tips for motivating a low energy dog

How to motivate a low energy dog

1. Understand your dog’s activity needs.

We quickly learned that Baxter didn’t need a lot of stimulation in his life.

He wasn’t hyper or destructive or bored. He was happiest in his bed asleep.

In fact, too many people and too much activity is too much for him. If my dog removes himself from a situation and finds a spot to lie down, I respect that.

2. Try all the toys.

Baxter didn’t really understand toys when he first came to live with us. Balls, Frisbees, ropes… no thank you.

Eventually, he learned to play with soft stuffed toys with squeakers. My husband or I would squeeze the squeaker to get Bax’s attention and get him (a bit) excited. Then we’d toss the toy and Baxter would bound after it. Now, when we come home, he shows his joy by presenting us with a toy to throw—for about three tosses.

3. Respect your dog’s stopping point.

When Baxter is done with fetch, he’ll take his stuffie and go lie down in his bed. He may chew on his toy to hear a few squeaks a few more times, but usually he’s had enough. It’s not enjoyable to get him up to play more fetch.

There are lots of times where the stuffed animal has sailed across the living room one too many times only to be left all by himself as Baxter heads to bed.

4. Train in small doses.

As with play, we are attentive to Baxter’s boundaries and limit training to short sessions that are fun for both of us.

When we were doing classes with Baxter, there was one exercise where our trainer had us get our dogs to hop onto a concrete retaining wall, and then we guided them as they walked along the wall. The exercise was about trust, agility and confidence.

Baxter could not have been less interested in jumping onto the wall, let alone walking along it. He wasn’t scared. He just didn’t see the point. Our trainer worked with us to coax him up, but Bax hopped off after a few steps. We tried a couple more times, but she cautioned us about pushing him too far because she was worried he would shut down on the class entirely.

There’s a fine line between earning your dog’s respect and earning his dislike.

5. Have an activity routine.

Baxter knows he’s going for a walk every morning and every afternoon. And he loves his walks. As walk time approaches, he’ll get up or start to watch for a sign I’m ready to go outside.

Before I was working from home for myself, our morning walks started at 6am—way too early for Baxter. There were lots of mornings where I was sticking my hands underneath him, trying to pry him out of his bed. Or once I had him up, he’d try to sneak behind me and go back to bed.

Now that I’m not commuting, we can wait until the sun comes up to walk, and as soon as he hears the jingle of keys, he’s ready to go.

6. Play when your dog wants to play.

It’s easy to get busy or caught up in our own lives. If Baxter gets a toy, or his stick, or shows signs of wanting to go outside, I try to respond to that. He asks for very little, and walking and playing gives both of us joy, so I try to take advantage of his energetic moments.

7. Find activities that are interesting for your dog.

Baxter loves off leash hiking. It gives him a chance to sniff all the smells and usually meet other dogs. On group hikes, he greets every person with howls because he’s so excited to be there. Our hikes are an hour to two hours.

For a low energy dog, a two-hour hike is a lot of activity. On hike days, he will not be interested in a second walk, and he usually refuses to walk too far for the next few days. Baxter also loves car rides, shopping, fetching his stick and sunbathing.

8. Do things you both enjoy.

Maybe I don’t get to go running with my dog, but Baxter’s love of the outdoors and sunbeams has encouraged me to spend more time sitting in a lawn chair with a book. It’s a lovely camaraderie to just be together.

I mostly feel blessed that I have a very lazy dog. It makes our lives very relaxed. In between all of our napping, we’ve been fortunate to find the activities that work for us and that we all enjoy.

Does anyone else have a low energy dog?

What are your tips for motivating your dog? What activities do you like to do together?

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She writes regularly for That Mutt.

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Melissa

Friday 16th of April 2021

My dog sounds exactly like your Bax! He’s 5, I’ve had him for two years, and he’s spent much of those two years sleeping haha. He will hike and adventure, but then he likes a good LONG comatose sleep. I wouldn’t change a thing about him. He’s my perfect 100lb cuddle bug and his docile nature endears everybody to him.

Zara

Monday 26th of November 2018

This article was perfect for me! My Bernese Mountain Dog loves playing with other dogs, but gets tired out pretty quickly and will sleep for most of the day. This makes him pretty hard to train. My Border Collie rescue is the exact opposite, he's full of energy and picks up anything that I'm trying to train him super quickly. I need to respect both their boundaries so I can give them the most enjoyable exercise I can!

Madelyn

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

Just adopted a 2 YO Staffy who is the polar opposite of our first Staffy mix who was a whirlwind of activity. Nothing was too much for him. Our new low energy dog is easier on us but we do miss the exurberance. Good to know that she is ‘normal’ . Sitting in a lawn chair with a book with her laying by my feet is fine by me.

Verity

Thursday 16th of November 2017

After getting my girl spayed(I don't know if its the cause or not), She HATES to move. She's a VERY happy dog, but she just doesn't like to play or do anything other than sleep and eat. she won't play with toys at all, she won't run with me (or our other puppy) anymore, she won't even walk all the way down the backyard because she thinks the hill is to big for her now. She doesn't even stand up to eat anymore! Like I said she is very happy and still full of love, but she is still young and I would love to get her a little more excited about...well, moving. I always try not to get too frustrated with her, because then she gets stressed out too. Thank you for this post, I think it has helped me understand her a little better, and we will keep trying to motivate her!

Julia at Home on 129 Acres

Friday 17th of November 2017

If you truly think her lethargy might be related to her spaying, it would likely be worth checking with your vet (if you haven't already). If there's a medical reason, you want to address that.

Otherwise, I would say keep trying to find what works for you both. Understanding along with persistence can help you reach a balance.

Ana V.

Tuesday 14th of November 2017

I adore my ten year old dog, but I do admit he is low-energy and quite rebellious too. He likes squeaky toys, but he's yet to learn to fetch, (he never showed an interest in bringing back a toy for food). Mostly, when he wants to play, he'll grab a toy and run around three times and that's about it. That's the end of his interest in playing.

We do take him on walks, but again this is complicated because as soon as he sees us wearing the clothes we use to exercise, he'll run and hide. If he spots the leash, he'll never come out of his hiding spot again. It's weird, because once he's out he enjoys it, but the process of putting his leash on and getting him out of the house is so complicated that no one in the house besides me will volunteer to walk him. I guess he just hates being on a leash, but there's not much I can do for him there because there's no dog parks near. It's quite sad and exhausting.

Julia at Home on 129 Acres

Friday 17th of November 2017

That sounds like some extreme avoidance behaviour. Good for you for persisting. Sometimes that is the only option.