Help me chill out my dog
March 26, 2013 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I super love my 4-year old German Shepherd, but his desire to work/have a purpose has not waned with age, and I feel like he would be so much happier in life if I could help him find that purpose. His favorite thing on earth is playing fetch, but I know I can give him more than that. Suggestions?

He is incredibly intelligent, athletic and has seemingly boundless energy. I'm looking for things I can train him to do and/or activities he can participate in.
posted by corn_bread to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why don't you train him to fetch things? I couldn't train my dog to do it because she gets too excited by the prospect of a treat, but my friend's dog fetches things all the time. He's super proud of it and it gives him something to do.
posted by cyml at 6:35 PM on March 26, 2013

Let me be the first to ask if you've already considered canine agility training.
posted by amtho at 6:36 PM on March 26, 2013

Four is still really young for a German Shepherd. They stay puppies for a loooong time. My eight(?)ish year old GSD's main job is sleeping in front of the door and farting.

That having been said:

-Take the dog hiking and make him carry his his stuff in a dog backpack. I don't know why, but some dogs really dig that. They know that they're being useful.
-Agility classes are a great idea.
-I don't know if there's something like All Breed Herding near you, but that always struck me as a great way to blow off some doggie steam.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:48 PM on March 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have an Australian Shepard pup. Now is the time to go walking/runningjogging.
posted by floweredfish at 7:12 PM on March 26, 2013

Look into doing agility or even obedience training, not so much because your dog needs training but it will give them something to do mentally and they have a social aspect to them for the dog too.
posted by wwax at 7:26 PM on March 26, 2013

You may want to look into scent training for your dog. A ball is a great motivator for that, as the dogs aren't usually trained using treats (they can lead a dog off the scent, I believe). Dogs with a strong working instinct are best for this - and he may even be able to do some search and rescue work or other sniffing work, depending on what exactly you train him to sniff out. This sort of thing is both an excellent physical and mental workout - and if he just wants a job to do, the latter is probably more what he needs. I assume you are currently meeting his purely physical exercise needs.

Also, related to the ball/fetch theme, possibly flyball.

The best sports are those you and your dog can both do. Other than scent tracking, hiking with a backpack, as suggested, is a great one, or maybe look into bikejoring (or skijoring, if you happen to be a skier). You need a good leadership relationship with your dog to do any kind of "sled dog" training, where the dog will be running out in front of you but still following your commands.
posted by Urban Winter at 10:01 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your dog likes playing Fetch, you could ramp it up a notch by doing something similar to gun dog training, which is like playing Fetch but with much higher expectations for the dog's self-control.

Also seconding dog agility. Once you and your dog have got the hang of it, you can do agility competitively, or as a kind of performance (good for a party trick, a conversation starter in the park), or just for the sheer fun of it as a game.
posted by emilyw at 2:40 AM on March 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, all! I am definitely meeting his purely physical needs and he is a happy dog. I just believe I can make I'm even happier by giving him a "purpose". I've looked into agility training courses, and we start next week!
posted by corn_bread at 5:31 AM on March 27, 2013

How is his sit/stay? If it's pretty good, you might try playing "find it".

You'll have to work up to it but eventually what happens is that you have him sit and stay in a specific spot, they you drag a treat or a high value toy along the ground from that spot to some hiding place (it should vary every time).

He has to wait for you to get back to him and tell him "find it!" Then he races off to find the item. It you can make it work with a toy, you can hopefully teach him to bring it to you making it basically "next level" fetch.

If he'll stay really focused on it and you have enough space it will take him a while to find it and give him plenty of physical and LOTS of mental stimulation.

I think this article has a pretty good explanation on how to get started.
posted by VTX at 11:37 AM on March 27, 2013

Fetching dogs sometimes like to herd, too. Consider training your dog in Treibball (pronounced try-ball). It's a herding game using exercise balls. It's more fun outside with a team of dogs but you can practice in your yard or even in your house.
posted by workerant at 12:58 PM on March 27, 2013

My dad taught our dog to fetch the paper every morning. He'd open the door, and she'd run out, grab the paper, and bring it back.

Backfired a couple of times when she got out of the yard during the night and we opened the front door to find a whole pile of newspapers from all the nearby houses sitting on the front porch, but it made her happy.
posted by telophase at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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