Keeping up with an energetic pet can be daunting! Feeling tired, frustrated, or simply not up for tandem exercise sessions such as a walk can lead to dread over time. Even worse, pets that do not have appropriate outlets both cognitively and physically can develop unwanted nuisance behaviors like excessive vocalization, even destructive behavior.
The good news is, that exercising your pet is easier than ever before, and with some creative new outlets, it can be effortless for you, as well as enriching and fulfilling to your pet!
Rather than allowing your pet to scarf food from the bowl, you can use dry foods to play fun fitness games! This not only slows down and extends meal-time, but is a great way to motivate your pet without having to add too many extra calories to your pet’s daily routine. Try games like “Mouse Chase” by tossing a piece of food so that it skitters across the floor like a mouse. Most dogs will dive after it in an attempt to catch it. Once they eat it, call them back to you, and toss the next piece! Using your pet’s food, you can send your pet back and forth as many times as they can handle until you run out of food. When they start slowing down or seem to become tired, feed them the remainder from the bowl and allow them to rest. The best part is that you can sit through the whole exercise!
Need to make this game harder or more exciting? Try tossing food up or down some stairs, so that your pet has to climb a bit to reach it exerting more energy in the process!
Puzzle toys are an excellent way to provide mental stimulation and exercise for your pet with minimal effort. This category of toys are designed to have food or treats placed inside and your pet has to work to get the food out of the toy. There are a variety of difficulty levels and styles for dogs that prefer to chew, lick, or bat their toys around, there is something for everyone! As your dog gets more talented at solving the puzzles, there are more challenging types to try. If your pet is more active, try a toy that moves around to encourage your pet to move and scavenge as they go!
Try making DIY puzzle/food dispensing toys out of recyclable materials such as empty water bottles. This is a great, and budget friendly way to provide novel stimulation to your pet!
Flirt poles are like giant cat toys for dogs! There is a lightweight pole, with a string or rope leading to a fun furry toy to chase around. This allows you to play and encourage your pet to run, without having to run alongside them. My favorite commercial flirt pole is called the Tail Teaser ™ by OutWard Hound. It is lightweight, thin, and easy to store, and comes with replacement “tails” for your pet to chase!
You can make a DIY flirt pole out of materials you may have lying around the house such as a stick, some string, and a toy your pet already loves!
Dogs have approximately 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, as opposed to approximately 6 million in humans. Putting that into perspective, according to Alexandra Horowits, author of “Inside a Dog” a dog can smell the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water. With such a large portion of a dog’s biology dedicated to scent processing, it is no doubt that sniffing is a great way to exercise your pet’s brain! Canine Nosework is a fun sport where pet dogs are trained to sniff out designated scents and alert to their location. The best part about nose work is that your pet is truly doing all of the work, your only job is to reward them when they find the source!
Many trainers are now offering classes online due to Covid-19, this can be a great way to learn a new sport, and set aside some quality time for you and your pet, without ever leaving your home!
Parkour is a sport where dogs are taught to overcome obstacles in their environment. It resembles agility, with the exception that it does not require any special equipment. Instead the dogs are taught to perform specific “moves” with objects that exist around them. For example you could teach the dog to put two feet, or four feet onto a chair, jump over it, go under it, balance on top of it, and more! This is a great way to exercise your pet at home, or add a fun spin to your current routine!
There are many YouTube tutorials for these great sports, be sure to look for activities that are fun for both you and your pet, and most importantly involve rewarding your pet for a job well done!
For additional resources and links:
- Puzzle Toys: https://www.rover.com/blog/best-puzzle-toys-for-dogs-in/
- DIY Food Puzzles: https://www.k9ofmine.com/diy-dog-puzzle-toys/
- Tail Teaser ™ by Outward Hound: https://outwardhound.com/tail-teaser.html
- K9 Nosework: https://www.k9nosework.com/about-us/what-k9-nose-work
- Dog Parkour: https://www.dogparkour.org
Sara Richter, CPDT-KA is a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA) with 12+ years of experience using science-based training and behavior modification with numerous species including; dogs, horses, cats, birds, small animals (rats, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, etc.), poultry, cows, pigs, sheep, and many more. She began her career in the equestrian world, having been an accomplished rider since the age of 5. She maintains many organizational affiliations, and has lectured at educational conferences on her experience.