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Activities & Enrichment Dogs

Flirt Your Way to a Tired Dog

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Boing! Boing! The Boxer puppy was bouncing all over the place, her wiggly butt somehow defying physics and going in different directions at once.

“We take her for three walks a day!” her owner complained. “She’s never tired!”

Taking your dog for a walk is great for mental enrichment, but to truly exercise your energetic dog, you need cardiovascular activity. If you have an elderly Pug, a walk likely qualifies as cardio. But for most active breeds and breed mixes, walks really aren’t much exercise at all.

Who Did You Bring Home?

Did you bring home a sporting breed, such as a Labrador or Golden Retriever? These dogs were bred to go get a dead waterfowl, through bramble and water, and bring it back to you … over and over.

Did you bring home a herding breed, such as a Shetland Sheepdog or German Shepherd? These dogs were bred to round up or drive sheep, ducks and cattle over miles.

Did you bring home a terrier, such as a West Highland White Terrier or Yorkshire Terrier? These dogs were bred to chase vermin, all day long.

What about a breed mix? Did you bring home a Goldendoodle? You’ve got a sporting breed mixed with a Poodle, which was an original water retriever. Double retriever, double energy!

You may not want to do any of the things your dog was originally bred to help you with, but that doesn’t change your dog’s DNA. There are couch potato breeds and athletic ones. You can’t expect your canine athlete, especially a teenage one, to sit on the sidelines and relax. You must give him a safe outlet for his energy. If you have any questions about the amount of exercise your dog needs, please consult your veterinarian.

A Flirty Option

What activities will get your dog’s heart pumping? Swimming, playing fetch, running, and wrestling and chasing another dog can do the trick. These are not always available to you, however. If your dog could care less about chasing a ball, for example, then fetch is off the table.

There is a toy that can help provide exercise and also teach your dog useful behaviors. It’s called a flirt pole.

A flirt pole is a long, sturdy pole with a long cord attached at the tip. There’s a toy attached to the end of the cord. It looks like a fishing pole, except you can’t reel it. You may have seen smaller ones for cats.

Holding the pole, drag the toy across the ground and encourage your dog to chase it. As he gains interest and starts to chase, keep the toy out of reach as best you can. One of the great bonuses of the flirt pole is that you don’t need a huge room to use one. You just need a cleared area, indoors or outdoors, big enough to accommodate your outstretched arms.

If your dog catches the toy, no worries. Stop pulling. Approach your dog, take hold of the toy, and offer him a treat to drop it. When he does, praise him and begin the game again. Do let your dog catch the toy regularly to keep his motivation going strong.

When your dog gets used to the game, you can incorporate some more impulse control exercises. Before starting the game, cue your dog to Sit. As soon as he sits, mark the behavior with a “Yes” or click and start the game as his reward. You can occasionally stop the game and cue Sit, once again marking “Yes” and resuming the game the second your dog sits. This can greatly increase the response of your Sit, as your dog will soon learn the sooner he sits, the faster he gets to play. Always be mindful where that toy is going. If you flick it high and your dog jumps to get it, he may hurt himself on landing. Also be cautious of sharp turns.

Just 10 minutes of flirt pole play can have your dog’s heart pumping, tiring him out easily. Your bouncy athlete may actually be ready to take a time out and rest!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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