Having a high-energy dog can be quite the ordeal! Not just working breeds need a lot of time and effort to keep calm and happy! Both physical and mental stimulation is important for keeping all dogs happy, but this is especially true of small working, high energy dogs like the Mini Australian Shepherd.
In an attempt to help you keep your dog calm, we have hand-picked four of our favorite activities for you to do with your dog. These activities are not only useful for working breeds, but for any dog who is on restricted exercise or for young puppies who cannot go out yet!
Lick, chew, or sniff!: These three activities that are scientifically proven to be relaxing for dogs. It is especially helpful to teach a puppy licking, chewing, and sniffing. Doing these activities helps to promote feel-good hormones such as dopamine and remove stress hormones such as cortisol. It also makes your pup more likely to feel tired and ready to finally rest!
If in doubt, try to get your puppy licking, chewing, and sniffing!
Game #1: Find It!
Getting your dog sniffing is a great way to promote calmness and relaxation in your dog. Teaching a “find it” cue, where your dog knows to put their nose down and sniff, will enable your dog to sniff on cue!
To teach this, drop a treat to the floor and say your chosen word to your dog (e.g., find!). Repeat several times until you can see your dog starting to search for the treat. At this point, you can start dropping multiple treats and asking your dog to find them! Set your dog up for success by always having treats on the floor when you use your chosen cue.
If you have a dog who likes to play, you can also turn this into a game of low impact fetch. Though fetch is often considered a high adrenaline sport, you can adapt it to be much gentler. Start by throwing a soft toy a short distance and encouraging your dog to bring it back to you. As they get better and better, you can start to throw it further and further! Once your dog gets really good, you can start to hide the toy around corners or behind things to make the game a little harder.
Game #2: Puzzle Feeders
Puzzle feeders are a great way to encourage your dog to use their brain and tire them out in a different way.
You can get many puzzle feeders off the internet and from pet shops. Some are a simple as mats or cylinders where the dog has to lick out the filling. Some are more complicated, where your dog has to open various compartments or pull levers to release the food. Items are available at a range of price points and can really help keep your dog occupied.
Puzzle feeders have the added benefit of slowing your dog’s food consumption down. This is especially important for larger dogs such as Labradors, who have a tendency to eat their food very rapidly and suffer gastrointestinal issues as a result!
If you would prefer, it is just as easy to make puzzle feeders for your dog. For example, if you have an old towel you don’t mind getting some dog slobber on, you can use this as a puzzle toy. Simply sprinkle some kibble down the center of the towel, fold in half longways, and roll up. Now to get to the kibble, your pup must work out how to unroll the towel and open it out.
These toys not only mix up the way your dog receives their dinner, they tire your dog out in a way that is different from physical exercise. Mental stimulation not only makes your dog's food more exciting and gives them a rush of feel-good hormones and makes them relaxed and sleepy in a positive way!
Game #3: Bring the walk to your dog!
If you cannot take your dog out into the world due to their age, restrictions on exercise, or a busy schedule, then bring the scent of the world to your dog!
Ask friends and family to bring you items that smell either like themselves and encourage your dog to sniff it. You can also ask to borrow your friend's pet's bedding and encourage your pup to sniff this- it’s shocking how much your dog can take away on scent alone! To discourage chewing or other destructive behavior, treat every item like it’s a baby bird. Take everything out of its packaging very slowly and show it to your dog very gently, encouraging them to explore with their nose.
You can also put essential oils on old pieces of fabric and encourage them to sniff this. Make sure to check that the essential oils you are using are pet safe!
If you want to get really creative, you can take old pieces of fabric into the real world and rub them on places your dog may enjoy sniffing. Telephone poles, street lamps, and hedges are all great ideas. Then, take these home and present them to your dog, encouraging them to sniff each one and take in the information from the outside world.
Game #4: Settle on a mat
If you find your dog is hyperactive to the point when they can’t settle, then teaching your dog to settle can help.
Using a low-value treat and a comfy bed, place the bed on the floor and encourage your pup onto it. The second they show any interest in the bed, start placing low-value treats on the mat. As long as your dog is on the bed, treats appear on the mat. Try to keep your movements slow and calm, always feeding to the mat, as this is where we want your dog's focus to be.
As your dog gets better and better, we can start to as for a relaxed, down position on the mat. Once your dog is in a down position, place the treat between their paws so that they have no reason to get up.
If you are in a position where you cannot be placing a treat between your dog’s paws due to other constraints on your attention, then giving your dog a long-lasting chew on the mat can help to give them their own reinforcement while you are otherwise occupied.
As you can see, there are lots of ways to tire your dog out other than taking a long walk! Giving your dog activities to do to engage their brain or feel-good hormones can help to promote calmness in your home.
Young dogs need as much as 18 hours of sleep per day, while adult dogs need around 14 hours of sleep. Doing activities regularly that promote calm is important for all dogs, but especially those working breeds!
What kind of games do you play with your dog to tire them out? Let us know in the comments below!