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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.

How to motivate a low energy dog

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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