Updated: Sep 3, 2022
Daily life can get boring for our dogs sometimes. Sadly, not all of us can dedicate all hours of the day to keeping them entertained, and ultimately, life can get in the way and prevent us from always meeting our dogs needs.
More often than not, it’s not because we don’t want to give them more of our time … don’t we all wish we had more hours to spend with our dogs?
For those days when you perhaps can’t do as much as you’d like with your dog, or even just to enrich their lives further and find ways to mix up the routine and add in some new activities, here are our tips for the best ways to stimulate your dog!
1. Scent Work
Of course this would be our number 1! Scent work is becoming increasingly popular and we’re big advocates for it at Adolescent Dogs. Not only is it tiring for our dogs, it provides an outlet for behaviours they naturally enjoy, it teaches them new skills and it can encourage calm behaviours as well as build confidence and resilience.
There are many online courses for scent work so you can easily learn at home, or join a class if you’d like the support of a group. You could learn the skills more thoroughly and work through courses for teaching good indications and searching for different scents.
If you'd like to learn from home, our Online Academy offers many different scent training options including our 28 day nosework challenge, tracking games or simply finding your lost keys or phone!
2. Sniffing Walks
We often think walks should involve lots of time for our dogs to run around, play with other dogs and explore. Or we fall into the habit of simply trying to get the walk done, we pace around our local block and assume that because our dogs have walked for an hour they’ve had the exercise they need. We forget that actually our dogs like to sniff, it’s how they observe the world, so while we might feel tired from walking and looking at the sights around us, our dogs are unlikely to feel as satisfied if we’ve spent the whole time pulling them along and interrupting their sniffing attempts.
Rather than aiming to walk a certain distance in your allocated walk time, slow it down and go at your dogs pace. Allow them to stop and sniff, even if they want a few minutes at one blade of grass … who are we to judge what they find fascinating! You might not walk very far but guaranteed your dog will have got far more out of their walk and they will come home more tired.
If you have a speedy dog who likes to rush around on walks, you can help them out by stopping and encouraging them to have a sniff around. You could scatter a few treats for them to find, or just pause at different spots on your walks and praise them for choosing to sniff. It can take time but they will learn to slow down and enjoy the smells.
Using equipment cues to signal ‘sniff time’ and ‘lead time’ can help avoid your dog pulling on the lead to find every sniff. This typically involves attaching the lead to the back of a harness to indicate ‘sniffing time’ and attaching it to the front of the harness to indicate ‘lead time’. With this in mind, you have to make use of the back attachment to give your dog plenty of sniffing opportunities!
3. Trick Training
Learning is tiring so a few minutes each day teaching new tricks or skills to your dog can be exhausting and use up lots of excess energy. In general, shorter sessions are better so while you boil the kettle, spend the time working on a new trick with your dog.
A minute or two here and there through the day will keep the training fun while also giving your dog a quick activity and build the bond between you. Did you know, tricks can also teach useful behaviours such as fetching a drink from the fridge or tidying up the house!
Tricks aren't just fun, they're great for building your dog's problem solving skills, boosting confidence and improving your relationship and communication skills together as a team.
If you need a little more focus, try out our Trick Dog Titles which can be found in our Online Academy. Learn fun tricks like Stick 'em up, leg weaving, tidy up toys, play basketball, hi five, find keys, open and close doors and more! All submissions for titles are done online via video, so it's super easy to take part!
4. Chews and Kongs
Not every activity has to involve you, sometimes we need ways to keep our dogs busy without having to be completely involved with them. Long-lasting natural chews (raw marrow bones, bulls pizzles, lamb legs, calf hooves, yak chews, bulls horns) or other enrichment toys, like Kongs, can provide a great way to tire our dogs out and add some interest to their days.
Kongs can be used to feed meals, meaning mealtimes are no longer a 10 second event where the food is inhaled from the bowl, they can now last much longer and use up some energy at the same time! If you have a dog who struggles to settle around the dinner table or while you’re cooking, using a Kong stuffed with their food or another activity like a snuffle mat, can provide your dog with a good alternative behaviour and keep them occupied while you’re eating your own dinner.
Other ways to provide meals to your dog include
Scattering meals in the grass in the garden
Puzzle feeder toys
Scattering food in an obstacle course of those pesky amazon boxes
5. Training Classes
There is so much we can do with our dogs on our own, but there’s something really beneficial about joining group classes too. Not only does it set aside a dedicated time slot every week for you to focus solely on your dog, it can also provide you with a group people who can support you with your dog or just share in a common interest with your dogs.
Group classes aren’t for everyone, nor do they suit every dog, so you have to decide whether it’s right for your dog. Classes don’t have to be formal obedience training and they don’t have to end when puppyhood finishes, there are many great classes like Agility, Scentwork, Tracking, Hoopers, Flyball, Tricks and loads more … so you could trial a few options and find one which you and your dog enjoy together.
If your dog struggles in a group environment, look for classes designed for this, perhaps with very small groups or much larger spaces. Alternatively, working with a trainer on a 1-2-1 basis can be hugely beneficial. 1-2-1 training isn’t just for behavioural issues, many trainers will offer agility or other activities too, and starting with solo lessons may enable you to progress into group classes at some point in the future. We offer one to one lessons in Guildford and Ewhurst.
6. Cardboard Boxes
We all have cardboard boxes lying around somewhere, and if not, it wont take long for a few to appear! Instead of throwing them away, you can use them to create lots of games for your dog. Hiding treats inside them, building various courses for your dog to explore, or allowing your dog to shred them up.
Just Google some ideas for dogs and cardboard boxes, you’ll have hundreds of suggestions of ways to use them. These will probably mostly need to be supervised activities with your dog, you could get fully engaged in the games and help them search for treats or shred the boxes … teamwork! Or it’s something they can enjoy while you’re getting on with work or daily chores but with some level of supervision to make sure they’re being sensible.
7. Constructive Training
Enrichment doesn’t all have to be about simply having fun, you can stimulate your dog while working on behaviours you want to change. Learning new behaviours is tiring for your dog so any time spent working through challenges will be adding enrichment to their lives. Remember though, even if the problem you’re working on is frustrating, these sessions should still remain relaxed and fun!
As a few examples, you could swap out some of your normal walking time or other routines for more constructive training sessions:
A few minutes working on lead walking outside your house. Don’t forget to put a few sniffing breaks into the training sessions though
Working on ‘bed’ training while you’re cooking or working. Boundary training is a great way to tire your dog while also teaching a good skill of staying on their bed
Practicing calm greetings and not jumping up, it’s not an easy skill for some dogs so a few sessions a day will make a huge difference
A few minutes of Impulse Control training with a toy to build your dog's ability to think when in a high arousal state
Do you need a new bed to practice boundary training with? Use the code: ADOLESCENTDOGS via this link . We can show you how to train the ultimate bed control via the Calm Canine Challenge. You'll learn how to send your dog to their bed, build impulse control, distraction proofing, settling skills, manners with visitors and more!
8. New Environments
We can often fall into habits of always walking in the same places, it’s easy and convenient and we save the more interesting places for when we have more time. How many people have ‘weekday walks’ and ‘weekend walks’?
Going to new or interesting places doesn’t have to be reserved for weekends or holidays, you can add in a few different environments without needing extra time. For example, a sniffy walk around a supermarket car park or a training session on the edge of a busy park. Look around your local area and find some places, which may not typically be ‘dog walking’ spots, but can provide an interesting and different experience for your dog.
Walking doesn’t always have to be about hours of free time racing around, it can be even more tiring for our dogs to just sniff or observe different things around them.
9. Toy Play
We all know our dogs love to play, but how many of us actively play with our dogs on a regular basis. I don’t mean launching a tennis ball across the park (and by the way, stop that now and find something more interesting for your dog to do!). I mean using a toy to engage your dog and get them using their brain.
Toys aren’t all about intense physical exercise, in fact just repeatedly fetching a toy is unlikely to do more than just physically tire your dog. But mentally tiring them is what lasts longer and has a more positive effect on their life overall. So use the toy to get them thinking and learning …
Hide the toy for them to find
Work on impulse control with the toy, test their ability to not snatch the toy or to wait while you throw it
Practice response to cues and reward with the toy
Play tugging games and teach them to drop on cue and wait patiently before tugging again
Find our Impulse Control Games in our Online Academy
Toys can be used in so many ways, a few repetitions of fetch are great but don’t make this the focus, make it more about engaging with you and using their brain to think and solve problems with the toy.
Need some new toys? Use the code ADDOGS via the Tug-e-nuff website
We can’t talk about stimulating your dog without mentioning walking. There is really no way to completely replace the fact that our dogs do need physical exercise and the freedom to enjoy walks.
Not all dogs need, or want, a walk every day and other activities can certainly add variety in place of daily walks. Other dogs will benefit from a walk every day, but remember it’s not just about your dog running around or being outside for a certain length of time, it should be about you interacting and engaging with your dog, it should involve things they enjoy and things that mentally stimulate them as well as physically tire them out.
There’s no reason to think your dog can’t be stimulated enough or to feel guilty that you can’t give them what they need. It does require a level of commitment and compromise, but then owning a dog always comes with some sacrifices, you can’t expect your dog to fit seamlessly into your busy life if you’re not prepared to give them the time they need.
But there are so many simple ways to add enrichment and stimulation into their lives without having to dedicate hours and hours of time, so stop assuming your dog needs hours of walking every day, and start adapting your routine to include more interesting and enrichment activities instead
Written by Naomi White
For more enrichment ideas
Check out the Enrichment section in our Online Academy where you can learn how to setup novelty areas for your dog, how to use cardboard boxes effectively, how to make interacting with the environment more interesting and how to teach fun tricks, scentwork and games!