Outside-the-Box Engagement Activities for Your Dog

It’s easy to tell when your dog is bored.

He may start to develop a habit of pacing around in the evenings. Or he may start demonstrating undesirable behaviors, like chewing on your living room plant or making a toy out of your slippers. Or–what my dog is famous for—he will stare, a deep, intense look into your eyes, willing you to get up and throw his ball.

You figure you took him on his morning walk, what else could he want? Sometimes a quick walk isn’t enough. Dogs need mental stimulation just as much as physical activity to get them tired.

Here are some fun activities you can try with your dog that will get them moving, thinking and experiencing new things, leaving you with an exhausted dog at the end of the day rather than an antsy one.

Herding Classes

Many of us don’t have the acreage to house our own sheep and have our dogs round them up for some extra exercise and mental stimulation. But there are farms and ranches all over the country that offer classes and private training for those of us that think our dog has what it takes to herd some sheep, ducks, geese or cattle. You’ll most likely have to submit your dog to an evaluation to see if he has a basic herding instinct, and if he does, he’ll get to learn how it’s really done.

©istockphoto/Bigandt_Photography

©istockphoto/Bigandt_Photography

Nose Work

Your dog’s nose is a powerful thing. And you can harness that power into a fun activity that will engage your dog’s mind and senses. Three trainers founded the National Association of Canine Scent Work and the sport of K9 Nose Work, combining canine detection skills with fun competition. You can find a class or instructor to learn the technique or you can try doing it at home. The key is to find something enticing your dog wants to find (food or toy) and using boxes or other containers to hide the target.

©istockphoto/Maximilian100

©istockphoto/Maximilian100

Pet Therapy

Slightly less physical than herding, an activity like visiting a children’s hospital or a senior citizens’ home is equally as engaging. Many dogs do have that need to perform a service (especially those working breeds), so offering emotional and therapeutic support can help satisfy that. It can also serve as a bonding experience between pet and parent. Organizations like Pet Partners will require an evaluation and training, so make sure to read up on the requirements.

©istockphoto/chapin31

©istockphoto/chapin31

Agility Classes

If your dog is particularly energetic, agile and good with other dogs and people, agility might be for him. You can take a class for fun or to compete, but either way you and your dog will be engaged in a high-energy, obstacle-based sporting activity that will have him crawling, climbing, jumping and weaving through the course.

©istockphoto/kinemero

©istockphoto/kinemero

Races

Some dogs enjoy running on part or all of their walk. If your dog is in good health and has the stamina to run, consider training for a dog-friendly race. It’s important to know your dog and make sure you are never pushing his limits, so always start slow. Avoid training in extreme temperatures (especially heat) and always have water available. Also, avoid running puppies or you risk injuring their immature skeletal system.

©istockphoto/mb-fotos

©istockphoto/mb-fotos

Urban Mushing

Also known as Dryland Mushing, Urban Mushing is an offshoot of snow sledding minus the snow. Any breed or mixed breed dog that wants to run and pull may be a perfect candidate for this activity (it’s not just for huskies). Bikes, scooters, carts, and rollerblades (among other unpowered wheels) are used along with harnesses and lines. Though the concept is fairly simple, there is training and commands involved to learn before you attempt Urban Mushing. Find a local group that can help you and your dog learn the ropes.

©istockphoto/Laures

©istockphoto/Laures

Every relationship needs to be spiced up now and again to keep things interesting—that includes activities for you and your dog. These outside-the-box activities will keep your dog stay both physically and mentally engaged, and ready for a good long nap as soon as he gets home.

Meet the Author: Jessica Peralta

Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.

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