30 Fun Enrichment Activities to Calm Down Your High Energy Dog

Copy of enrichment ideas for high energy dogs

The most important thing to do with a high energy dog is to find the right balance. Too much exercise or not enough can lead to an overstimulated, anxious, and destructive pet. The key to calming your hyper dog is with the right enrichment games, toys, and exercise.

As a rule, using enrichment activities such as exercise, mental stimulation, games, and sports will help calm down a high-energy dog, Providing adequate amounts of enrichment can help dogs burn off excess energy and prevent problem behaviours due to frustration and boredom. 

High energy dogs can be difficult to handle without appropriate outlets to handle their hyperactivity. There are several breeds of dogs that are more prone to high energy levels than others, and dogs that aren’t provided with a way to burn off that energy will often find relief in destructive behaviours like barking, chewing, and jumping up on people. 

Below you’ll find a guide to some of the best enrichment activities to help calm down a high-energy dog. There is an outlet for just about every canine personality and owner to enjoy from brain teasers to dog sports. Read on to see what you might like to try.

The Importance of Dog Enrichment

Many people may wonder about how important it is to provide enrichment activities for dogs. The truth is that whether you have a high-energy dog or a low-energy dog, all breeds and mixes of dog can benefit greatly from enrichment. 

Enrichment for animals consists of any activity that stimulates an animal’s senses, exercises its cognitive abilities, or simulates a natural behaviour. 

While enrichment has gained recent interest due to its importance in animal welfare and maintaining wild animals in captivity, scientists have shown that enrichment positively impacts wild and domesticated animals. (Source: Untamed Science)

Several dog breeds have been bred for hundreds of years to serve men in vigorous working conditions as shepherds, guard dogs, and hunting hounds. Without sensory enrichment and cognitive tasks to take these traditional activities, many dogs become frustrated and bored. 

Finding the balance

The first step in reducing high energy is to find out what level of activity your dog needs. If you have a high-energy dog, the chances are that they need more exercise than other dogs do. However, if this does not work and your dog becomes overstimulated then it’s important to cut back on their amount of activities until they can find a balance.

The next step is to provide your high energy dog with the activities they need in some other way- this may be through toys or games. A toy, for example, could help reduce boredom and give them something more rewarding than their own shadow to chase if you don’t have time for an actual game of fetch.

You can also try to create a more structured routine for your dog’s day. This might involve games, walks or other exercise which will help them burn off the energy they have and avoid becoming overstimulated.

Let’s explore these ideas on more detail.

High-Energy Dogs Need Exercise

One of the biggest mistakes that novice dog owners make is underestimating the amount of exercise dogs need. This is especially true with working breeds such as border collies or gun dogs that work for hours in strenuous conditions. It’s no wonder these dogs aren’t comfortable spending hours lounging around on the couch watching television. 

How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need? 

While most dogs need between thirty minutes to two hours of exercise depending on the breed, some dogs need more depending on the individual. Exercise is even more important for dogs that have to spend part of the day crated while their owner is at work.

There are a few ways to determine how much exercise is enough exercise for your dog: 

  • Age: Keep in mind that young puppies need less exercise than adolescent or adult dogs. Puppies should only be exercised for short sessions to prevent damage to their growing skeletal systems. This is especially true for large breed dogs who can suffer from lifelong skeletal deformities from being exercised too hard too early in life. (Source: AKC)
  • Breed: If you know your dog’s breed, it is often easy to find a specific exercise recommendation according to that breed’s standard. For mixed breed dogs, going with the exercise for the breeds that the dog most resembles can indicate how much exercise to provide. 
  • Behaviour: Behaviour can also be a good indicator of whether a dog is getting enough exercise or not. If a dog exhibits problem behaviour like chewing and barking, these can be overt signs that the dog needs to burn off more energy through exercise. There is an old saying that goes, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” 
  • Health conditions: There are certain health conditions in dogs such as obesity, hip dysplasia, and others which may impact which enrichment activities will be suitable. Dogs with joint problems may have to choose low-impact exercises, while blind or deaf dogs will have to be trained very differently than sighted and hearing dogs.

When choosing exercises and enrichment activities for your dog, be sure to take cues from your dog as to whether they’re enjoying an activity or not. It may take several training sessions for dogs to accept a new game or activity. It’s also important not to push a dog past their physical limits during exercise or games, especially during very hot or cold weather. 

Why Is Exercise Important for a Dog? 

Without enough exercise, high-energy dogs end up finding other ways to try and vent their energy. This means that their excess energy is vented in nuisance behaviours such as the following: 

  • Excessive barking
  • Digging
  • Chewing and stealing objects
  • Raiding the garbage

Many people may inadvertently blame these behaviours on poor training, but the root cause is often excess energy instead. Like hyper children, dogs that aren’t allowed to burn this energy off will seek out other outlets to express it. 

Types of Exercise for High-Energy Dogs

There are many different kinds of exercise available both indoors and outdoors for all kinds of dogs and their owners. It’s best for dog owners to pick a type of exercise that they also enjoy themselves to be motivated to exercise their dogs consistently. 

Here are some of the best exercises for high-energy dogs: 

  • Running and cycling: For high-energy breeds like border collies and huskies, training the dog to run alongside a bicycle or jogger can help them burn off their extreme levels of energy. Since it can be hard for a runner to keep up with many of these agile breeds, training them to run parallel to a bicycle can help give owners a hand keeping up.
  • Fetch: Retrieving a ball or a Frisbee is an enjoyable activity for many dog breeds, especially those that are bred for retrieval. However, even dogs that aren’t bred for retrieval can easily learn to enjoy fetch from a young age.
  • Hiking: Hiking on a leash is a great way for dog owners to get just as much exercise as their dogs, and there have been many scientific studies on the benefits of spending time in natural settings like hiking trails. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine)
  • Swimming: Many dogs enjoy swimming, apart from a few dogs that don’t have the physical build to do it comfortably, such as French Bulldogs. Swimming is a good low-impact activity for senior dogs or dogs with problems in their hips or knees since it takes the pressure off the joints. 
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Switching between different exercise activities with your high-energy dog can help keep either you or your dog from getting bored over time. If you find yourself growing tired of one activity, switch to another rather than tapering off exercise. After you get your dog into an exercise routine, halting it can lead to the dog acting out. 

Swimming is good exercise for senior dogs
Swimming is good exercise for senior dogs

High-Energy Dogs Need Mental Stimulation

While exercise is an important part of calming down a high-energy dog, it is just as important that dogs receive mental stimulation. Many dogs that are high-energy breeds, such as border collies and labrador retrievers, are also among the smartest dog breeds. 

Mental stimulation is great for helping high-energy dogs burn off excess energy, but it also serves the role of helping dogs become calmer and happier. Mental stimulation improves impulse control in dog behaviour and can help stave off destructive or boredom-based behaviours. 

How Much Mental Stimulation Does a High-Energy Dog Need? 

Ideally, dogs should get some form of mental enrichment daily. Veterinarians recommend that dogs get at least twenty minutes of mental stimulation in some form each day. (Source: Petcetera Animal Clinic)

Even though twenty minutes is the bare minimum amount of mental stimulation recommended for dogs along with one or two daily walks, this doesn’t mean that all dogs will be satisfied with just twenty minutes of mental stimulation a day. Highly intelligent breeds such as collies and poodles may need half an hour or even an hour of mental stimulation each day to remain happy.

Why Is Mental Stimulation Important for High-Energy Dogs? 

Without stimulation for their minds, these breeds can make up all kinds of trouble and can even develop neuroses and phobias due to lack of sensory exposure. Luckily, there are several different ways that dog owners can promote mental stimulation in their high-energy dogs. 

Here are a few enrichment activities that can enhance a high-energy dog’s mental stimulation: 

  • Puzzle toys: Puzzle toys are a good choice to provide mental stimulation for crated or indoor dogs. These toys can also provide a useful distraction to help calm high-energy dogs that suffer from separation anxiety during the day, a condition that often manifests in behaviours like barking, whining, and chewing. 
  • Obedience training: Obedience training is another great form of mental stimulation that has the added benefit of reinforcing mutual communication between the dog and its owner. This makes it easier to teach a dog new behaviours and makes the dog more responsive to human commands.
     
  • Scent training: Unlike humans, dogs count their sense of smell as the primary sense that they use to navigate the world. Scent work is especially good enrichment for working dog breeds that are trained to use their noses, such as bloodhounds and beagles.
  • Teaching names: Like other high intelligence animals, dogs can understand and learn dozens of words of human language. Their owners can take advantage of this ability by teaching them the names of household objects and dog toys to create more advanced behavioural cues. 

Mental stimulation may not make a dog smarter, but it’s a great way to burn off excess energy and bond with your dog at the same time. Offering dogs a wide variety of mental exercises helps keep even the most intelligent dog from getting bored. 

Games and Toys Are Good for High-Energy Dogs

Along with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, it’s good for dogs to have plenty of games and toys. Games are a great way for owners to bond with their dogs and interact together. Toys can be used during mutual play or can also serve as a way for bored dogs to entertain themselves when humans aren’t around to play with them.  

Games for High-Energy Dogs

Games are a way for owners to engage in play with their dogs while also forcing their dogs to think critically. Playing a game that exercises the dog’s mind and its body is the best way to burn off excess energy. 

Here are a few games to try with your high-energy dog: 

  • Hide and seek: While it can take several training sessions to get across the concept of hide and seek to your dog, hide and seek is a game that many dogs enjoy once they get the hang of it. Hide and seek can either be played by the owner hiding themselves or hiding one of the dog’s favourite toys for retrieval.
  • Shell game: The shell game is a great way for dogs to use their sense of smell. Play this game, place a treat or toy underneath a cup in a set of three cups, spin the cups around before releasing them, and allow the dog to try and find which cup the treat is under.
  • Treasure hunt: Leaving dogs a treasure hunt is a great way to keep them occupied indoors when they’re left alone during the day. Take advantage of a dog’s sense of smell by hiding treats around the house and leaving them for the dog to find. Be sure to mark down where you leave each treat and pick it up later if the dog doesn’t find it.
  • Wrestling & Tug of War: Many high-energy dogs enjoy wrestling and play fighting, but it’s important for owners to instil good bite inhibition and boundaries before pretending to wrestle or fight with their dogs. Tug-of-war is a great game and contrary to popular belief, does not lead to aggression in dogs if played properly.
  • Tag: Tag is a game that dogs often initiate with each other by bowing, and bowing or feinting to pounce at a dog can easily initiate a game of tag with most of them. Be sure that if you play tag indoors that the area is safe for running around before you run around after your dog (and vice versa). 

The more human language a dog has been taught through obedience training, the easier it is to communicate the rules of a game to them. Likewise, the more games you play with your dog, the more language they’ll know and the easier it will be to teach them. This makes games a win-win situation for training any high-energy breed. 

Toys for High-Energy Dogs

Along with games, providing plenty of toys is also a good way to ensure that high-energy dogs get all the stimulation they need. Along with providing a healthy outlet for chewing behaviors, toys can also serve as beloved comfort objects or as a means for dogs to play on their own. 

These are a few suitable toys for high-energy dogs: 

  • Tug toys: Tug toys are great for playing tug of war with a dog, and many high-energy breeds such as pit bulls and guard breeds enjoy pulling games that simulate holding down struggling prey. It’s smart for dog owners to teach their dogs the command “Drop It” when they teach tug of war to make controlling the game easier.
  • Flirt poles: Flirt poles are made of a strip of rope or fabric attached to the end of a stick, and this stick is used to tease the dog into biting at the rope. Flirt sticks are a good way to burn off excess energy, but remember to let the dog “catch” the stick occasionally so they don’t become frustrated.
       
  • Frisbee: Frisbees ( or dog discs) are a fun retrieval object for many dogs, and dogs that become good at it can even compete in disc dog competitions. Since dog Frisbees tend to get chewed up quickly, it’s a good idea to buy several and keep them in rotation. This one from Trixie is a good buy.
  • Dog Tennis balls: Dog tennis balls are a popular retrieval object for many breeds, and tennis balls made specifically for dog retrieval come in several sizes for smaller dogs that may be too little to get their jaws around a standard sized ball.  We recommend that you use specific balls for dogs as normal tennis balls can split and potential cause harm to your dog. We love these blue dog tennis balls from The Dog’s Balls.
  • Squeaky toys: Squeaky toys are designed to mimic the noise of a wounded or dying animal that has been captured by the dog as prey, which makes it a very tempting enrichment object for many dogs. Squeaky toys can be purchased in strong materials that are suitable for dogs with stronger jaws that may destroy lighter toys, like this rather rude looking one from Znoka……
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A good way to keep toys fresh for dogs is to keep all of the dog’s toys stored in a chest, only bringing out a few toys at a time. This also helps keep toys stay in good condition longer since they aren’t left out for the dog to destroy out of boredom. Most toys can be popped in the dishwasher to be cleaned too.

Dog Sports Are Good for Athletic Breeds

One way for dog owners to get more enrichment for their high-energy dogs while interacting with a larger dog-loving community is to involve their dog in dog sports. Dog sports are competitive sports that pit dogs against each other in a number of activities from sled pulling to dock diving. 

Why Get Involved in Dog Sports? 

There are several good reasons why a dog owner might try dog sports as a way to calm down their high-energy dog. These sports are a great way for dog owners to meet other dog owners, and many dogs enjoy getting to socialise and be around other dogs as a part of their sport. 

The intense training that goes into competing in dog sports also helps improve other aspects of a dog’s obedience training such as increasing reactivity to commands and decreasing impulsive behaviours. Like many enrichment activities that encourage communication between dog and owner, dog sports can lead to a stronger bond overall between you and your dog. 

Another good reason to get involved in dog sports is that many of these sports are meant to mimic the behaviours that different breeds of dog are designed for. Herding breeds will get special enjoyment out of competing in herding activities, for example. This also helps dog owners feel a stronger connection with the heritage of their chosen breed. 

Flyball is a great sport for you and your dog.
Flyball is a great sport for you and your dog.

Types of Dog Sports for High Energy Dogs

The types of dog sports available are as diverse as the dog breeds themselves. Many dog sports are training trials designed to emulate working-dog conditions, while others such as flyball are in a league of their own. All breeds of dog from toy dogs to working dogs can benefit from getting involved with dog sports. 

Here are several examples of sports that you can look into joining with your high-energy dog: 

  • Flyball: Flyball is a relay-based fetching sport that puts dogs together on coordinated relay teams where they chase a ball and bring it back to the starting platform. Flyball is a popular sport with many different types of dogs and can be adjusted for either large or small breeds.
  • Dog agility: Dog agility has dogs compete in timed trials where they are directed through an obstacle course via their owner’s verbal commands and hand cues. Agility requires a dog to know a variety of different commands and also requires them to have impulse control.
  • Dock diving: Dock diving or dock jumping is a popular dog sport with duck retrieval dogs such as labradors and golden retrievers. Dock diving competitions are measured by how far from the edge of the dock the dog can jump out into the water. Dock diving dogs are taught to retrieve a thrown floating bumper in competition.
  • Herding: Herding and sheepdog trials can be performed by many intelligent breeds, but they are especially good enrichment for herding breeds. These breeds are often high-strung without a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Herding exercises can provide plenty of both.
  • Musical canine freestyle: Musical canine freestyle is also known as dog dancing and involves a dog owner choreographing a series of dance moves along with their dog in a memorized routine. Freestyle is a good dog sport for smaller or less athletic dogs that might have a hard time competing in extreme sports like flyball.
  • Earthdog trials: Earthdog trials are a dog sport designed for hunting breeds such as dachshunds and terriers who were bred to pursue burrowing prey underground. Earthdog trials involve a combination of digging, prey investigation, and scent work.
  • Mushing/carting: Mushing is a popular dog sport in cold weather geographies where sled dog breeds such as huskies and malamutes are common. In warm climates, carting trials and other pulling sports are used as a substitute to mimic the weight that these working breeds were traditionally required to drag.   

The best thing about dog sports is that you can get just as involved as you want to in the sport. You can go to national competitions or you can just practice the sport on your own property. In either case, there are very real advantages to involving your high-energy dog in some kind of sport to engage their mind and body.

Agility is a popular activity for high-energy dogs like Border Collies
Agility is a popular activity for high-energy dogs like Border Collies

Enrichment Tools to De-stress a High Energy Dog

If you’re already exercising your dog and providing plenty of mental stimulation but you’re still having problems with bad behaviour in a high-energy dog, there may be other issues at play. 

Sometimes when a high-energy dog is exhibiting antisocial behaviours such as barking, chewing, and whining, these can be indicative of a high level of stress rather than pent-up excess energy. Dog breeds that are high-energy may also tend to be mentally high-strung. In some dogs, this can result in anxiety. 

These are some enrichment tools that can help calm down an anxious high-energy dog: 

  • Thunder shirts: Thunder shirts are good for nervous dogs that react poorly to loud noises such as storms or gunshots. The weighted pressure provided by the thunder shirt helps calm the dog’s nervous system.
  • Music/television: Dogs that experience separation anxiety during the day can often be helped by leaving on a television or radio for them to listen to. Providing auditory stimulation helps give the dog something to focus on and calms them down.
  • Calming treats: Calming treats are treats for dogs that contain natural sedative ingredients such as valerian root and hemp. For dogs that get plenty of exercise but still have a hard time calming down after a long day of activity, calming treats can help to settle them in the evenings.
  • Calming sprays: Calming sprays work based on pheromones that give off a scent that dogs find soothing. These sprays are good for high-strung dogs that are frantic about scenarios like a bunch of houseguests or flying on an airplane. 

Hyperactivity in a dog isn’t always a symptom of excess energy – sometimes it can be a sign of anxiety and stress. Keeping these calming enrichment tools on hand along with plenty of exercise and activities helps you keep all your bases covered with a high-energy dog. 

Enrichment is Vital for Any Dog’s Health

Whether you have a dog that is high-energy or not, enrichment activities are a great way to keep a dog active and mentally healthy. Since they’re also good for helping owners to bond and communicate with their dogs, providing enrichment activities for high-energy dogs’ results in a win-win situation for everyone involved. 

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