Keeping Your High Drive Dog Busy Without Sports
All dogs need mental as well as physical stimulation on a regular basis. High Drive Dogs need both of these more than the average dog, and may become destructive or otherwise problematic of they are not sufficiently worked out. While training often fulfills the need for mental stimulation, many of these high drive dogs really need more mental exercise in order to be more relaxed and better adjusted. This is why they excel so much in sports. However, if you are not able to join in dog sports, following are some ideas that may help to mentally tire your high energy dog.
FIND IT: Start with teaching a simple "find it" by tossing kibble or treats to the ground where your dog can easily see them land then go to eat them. As she starts to understand, proceed to tossing a treat while she's looking in another direction, and then tell her to find it. Once she is proficient at doing this, you can then proceed to throwing the treats around and telling her to "find it", using her nose to find all the treats. As she really starts to improve you can do this outside on grass (assuming no pesticides) so she'll have to find the treats in the grass itself. I've also done it on patterned carpet, which makes it harder to see the kibble directly, so she'll be forced to use her nose. (Of course, indoors, you'll then have to sweep up afterwards to clean up the crumbs.)
SCENT GAMES: Once your dog is proficient at finding treats, you can start laying scent trails. You can do this outdoors, either crumbling or dragging a smelly treat, such as a jerky stick or a salmon treat, along the ground. Indoors, you can leave a breadcrumb trail of sorts by setting the treat down several feet apart. Tell her to stay (or otherwise confine her) and then lay a "scent trail" with the treat, finishing by setting the treat down just behind a rock or something. Go back to your dog and release her from her stay to "find it." As both your dog's stay and ability to find the treats improve, you can work up to asking her to stay behind a tree or something, then lay the scent trail and hide the treat more covertly, such as behind a tree root or something, before returning to release her to find it. Again, if doing this outdoors, it's very important to be sure there are no toxic or dangerous items such as pesticides, mushrooms or foxtails in the vicinity.
To make things even more challenging, eliminate the "trail", and simply hide the treats, then tell him or her to find them. In the beginning, let the dog see you as you excitedly pretend to set treats down in various locations, but only choose one or two of these locations for the actual "hides". As your dog improves, you can hide the treats before bringing your dog out, to make things more challenging.
The book, Smellorama, by Vivian Theby, is a great resource for additional games you can teach your dog to play with her nose.
HIDE AND SEEK: Ask your dog to stay or "wait", then go and hide in some other place in the house, such as behind a door. Call her to come to you. When she finds you, reward her with a yummy jackpot of treats, or her favorite game of tug or ball toss. At first, you can call a few times to give her hints to find you, but very quickly, you should just call her one time, and let her find you. A variation of this game is to have another family member tell her to find you by name ("find Mom!") At first, you can call her immediately after the person has told her to find you, but she'll soon learn everyone's names, and go to find each person when told to. Be sure that each person rewards her when she does find them! In addition to being a great game, this exercise will also improve your dogs recall. Double-bonus!
TEACHING NEW TRICKS: Of course, teaching tricks is a great way to mentally stimulate your dog. For highly active dogs, I recommend setting a goal of about one new trick every 2 weeks or so. Once a dog is proficient at a particular trick, move on to teach a new trick. Be sure to continue practicing the known tricks consistently, or your dog will most likely forget them over time. There are numerous books available today about teaching tricks.
OBJECT DESCRIMINATION: This is learning to distinguish between the names of different objects, usually toys. Start with a single toy, and ask your dog to take it, i.e. "take the ball". Proceed to hand her the toy. If your dog doesn't like to take things in her mouth, you can simply accept a nose touch to the item. Reward with a treat, and repeat. When she is readily taking the ball on cue, switch to another toy, i.e. "take the bone". (Be sure the words you use are sufficiently different! Note that words like Phone and Bone may not be distinguishable to some dogs.) Use only the bone for a few days. Once your dog is proficient at taking the bone, try with both items - one in each hand - and tell her to take one specifically. To begin, move the correct item toward her a little bit to give her the hint. Be sure to do this AFTER saying the cue. Very soon, you may stop moving and let her choose the toy. If she chooses correctly, she either gets the toy to play, or a treat. If she chooses incorrectly, take both toys away and just say "oops". If she is incorrect, return to giving her the hint by moving the correct item toward her after giving the cue. Be sure to always say the cue first and THEN move the item toward her, so she doesn't ignore the verbal cue and just take what you hand to her.
PUZZLE TOYS: Interactive puzzle toys are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog without quite so much work, for those days when additional training time is just not part of your schedule. These work by allowing your dog to use her brain to solve puzzles in order to find the food and/or treats hidden within. Most of these do require a bit of training at first to help the dog determine what is to be done, but once they learn the process, then they will go on to puzzle solving on their own, and you can take the puzzles to a higher level of difficulty.
Find many puzzle toys at the Online Clicker Training Store.
CLASSES: Even after you have a well-trained and obedient dog, classes are beneficial. In addition to giving you and your dog the opportunity to work together in a controlled environment of distractions and other challenges, classes offer a variety of avenues to further enrich your dog's life through mental and physical exercise. Depending on your taste and location, there are a numerous types of classes available today, including sports classes such as agility, flyball and freestyle, as well as tricks classes, Canine Good Citizen, and others.
CONCLUSION: All dogs need mental as well as physical exercise on a regular basis to remain well-adjusted and content. High drive dogs need this even more in order to avoid becoming problematic. By providing your dog with much needed mental challenges, you'll find that you have a happier dog as well as a more manageable household.