Instead of going on neighborhood walks with our reactive dogs, we recommend these 10 alternative forms of physical and mental exercise!
1. Enrichment walks
Take your dog on leash to a new place, such as a field or the woods, where there are no other people or dogs around and let them explore. Allow your dog to choose which direction you go in and how long they want to sniff each patch of grass or stump. Exploring a new location with your dog is not only a great way to engage their brain and build your relationship, but uses up just as much energy as going on a long walk
2. Food puzzle toys
Interactive feeder toys engage your dog both physically and mentally! Food puzzles give your dog a job by having them work for their food and build confidence by rewarding them for engaging with challenges.
3. Food hunts and “find it!”
Food hunts allow dogs to practice the natural behaviors involved in searching for food. With your dog busy doing something else in the other room, hide a few treats around your house. Cue your dog to start the hunt by saying “find it!” then help them search all over for hidden snacks. Play outside by saying “find it!” and tossing a few treats on the ground. You can start on pavement or dirt where it’s easy, then practice on more difficult terrain such as tall grass.
4. Flirt lure
Playing with the flirt lure is one of our absolute favorite exercise games for dogs! This toy is reminiscent of a giant cat toy and allows your dog to practice natural hunting behaviors and get energy out while all you have to do is stand and swing the toy. We like to swing the pole in a way that makes the toy on the end scurry along the ground, so our dogs feel like they are chasing real prey. We let them catch the toy every 20-30 seconds so they feel successful and want to come back for more!
Tossing toys across the yard or house for your dog to bring back to you is a great way to get your dog running and burning off some energy! Having them do a few behaviors before you toss is a great way to get them thinking and working while they play.
6. Tug of war
Pulling on the end of a rope toy is a fun way to give your dog physical exercise! Keep this game enjoyable for everyone by letting go and letting your dog bring it back to you. After 10-20 seconds of tugging, let go of the rope when your dog pulls and congratulate them for winning with a hearty “good dog”! Feeling successful will make your dog want to engage with you and the game even more.
7. Positive reinforcement training session
There’s nothing more fun than a positive reinforcement training session! A 10-minute session teaching your dog a new behavior or practicing their skills provides great mental and physical exercise and leaves your dog tired and happy. For a physical workout, practice calling your dog back and forth across the house, yard, or up and down the stairs.
8. Frozen Kong
Provide mental exercise through frozen Kong toys, which provide a natural outlet for your dog’s need to lick! You can stuff Kongs with any number of treats or spreads including peanut butter, pumpkin, Braunschweiger, cream cheese or wet dog food. Freezing the Kongs make them last longer and challenges your dog to melt the food with their tongue before licking it out. Try stuffing the Kong with plain yogurt, your dog’s kibble, and a small handful of shredded cheese then pop it in the freezer for longer lasting enjoyment.
9. Homemade enrichment objects
Provide your dog with mental and physical exercise by repurposing your recycling! Fill any soft cardboard or paper material with yummy treats, and let your dog destroy the item to get the food. This type of enrichment provides an outlet for your dog’s natural need to shred things, as well as a fun mental and physical challenge. Some good items for your dog to shred are: folded toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls, paper bags, cardboard boxes, and cardboard egg cartons. Help them destroy this at first if they struggle!
*If your dog has a history of swallowing non-food items, consult your veterinarian before trying this activity!
10. Nose work games
Exercise your dog’s brain through simple nose work games. Place a treat in a Tupperware container with a hole poked in the lid or under some cones, then hide the container or cones in a obvious location somewhere in your home. Encourage your dog to find it by saying, “find it!” and helping them hunt for the smell. When your dog finds the food, say “yes!” and reward them with a few small treats while picking up the container. Hide the container in different locations making sure your dog is always successful and helping them if they struggle to find the smell!
Author: Laura Maihofer, CPDT-KA