How to keep a puppy busy
January 4, 2021 3:29 AM   Subscribe

My puppy is a 7 month old mixed breed dog with probably some German Shepard in her - think big, strong and smart! I'm looking for ways to keep her busy and out of trouble- preferably without spending too much money or overfeeding her. I play with her a lot and taken her for walks but this is for when she needs to keep herself occupied. Please help?

Things I've tried that work - throwing a handful of dog food into the grass in the backyard and she has to find it. Using a wobble feeder for her meals. A frozen Kong or plastic snake with nice stuff inside to eat. Yak chews (she occasionally chews these) and pizzle sticks (these are expensive but last around 45 minutes). Paddywacks.

Things that don't work so well- Antlers (she's not interested). Soft toys that she easily chews to pieces and eats the stuffing out of. Pig ears last two minutes and are quite fatty. I don't like to give her rawhide as I've read it's bad for her. Thank you.
posted by hazyjane to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Food puzzles? Toys attached to suction cups stuck to the floor?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:58 AM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My large hound mix also shreds toys and powers through pizzle sticks (we call them bully sticks). I feel you.

Raw or smoked marrow bones from a good butcher or pet shop.

Definitely food puzzles/puzzle toys. My dog likes the ones that have spinning components.

Also, I swear by the Protocol for Relaxation. If you spend a few minutes of your daily play time on training her to chill out, it's likely to make a huge difference.

Good luck!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:28 AM on January 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Dog photo tax paid here: Trouble
posted by hazyjane at 6:11 AM on January 4, 2021 [15 favorites]

Marrow bones. And tiring the HECK out of her the rest of the time; in my experience the best way of doing that is to borrow another dog who likes playing.
posted by metasarah at 6:25 AM on January 4, 2021

Put her meals in a food puzzle, so she’s not getting any extra? Frozen Kongs?

That said, I dont even have my puppy yet but have already come to appreciate /r/puppy101 on reddit. There might be some ideas over there. The above linked relaxation protocol is referenced a lot over there as well. The jist is that it teaches your puppy to be ok with just chilling out on their own.
posted by cgg at 6:28 AM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have a dog like yours (albeit much older, smaller, and calmer) who prefers to chew on things that are easily consumed rather than things like antlers that are really durable. Ours loves beef kneecaps which are surprisingly low fat, and there are also No Hides which are similarly low fat but much cherished by our dog. Beyond that, we've made good use of a treat ball which at least makes her work for her snack. We are blessed that she loves baby carrots so she can snack without getting fat.

But so much of what a dog will like is unpredictable, unless you take her to the pet store and let her pick out her own toys and treats.
posted by DrGail at 7:04 AM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

My dog is a similar mix and has gotten a lot more calm now at almost 2 years. In addition to enrichment activities with their daily food (which it sounds like you're already doing well with, but there are endless possibilities out there if you want to add more), make sure she's getting some focused mental work like learning new cues/tricks or scentwork. Also a long "sniffari" walk in a quiet park where she can be either safely off-leash or on a long line, at least a couple times a week, will do wonders when added to your normal daily walks.

After doing that she'll be in a better mental state to work on relaxation training as mentioned above - settling down quietly doesn't come naturally to all dogs but it can be taught and encouraged. We also did a lot of capturing calm, where we would give her a few kibbles (from the bowl measured every morning) whenever she happened to be lying down calmly indoors. The ideal end result is that they just happily chill when their needs are met and you're not actively engaging with them.
posted by randomnity at 7:07 AM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

When our dog was younger, we'd bring a new toy home every time we went grocery shopping. It didn't take long to find out what he likes, and a few of them are still around six years later. And even now arriving home from the store is a Big Event much exciting.

For mental stimulation, it doesn't take a lot. In addition to play time, change up your routine and she will be super interested. Or set something down where it isn't usually to be found, and a close investigation will ensue. Give her a dinner plate to lick. Beef or lamb bones from cooking are a big hit.

For chewing, we're trying beef knees. He likes them enough to carry them around but doesn't chew all that much—they last about a week each.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2021

Oh, and I forgot the big one: the best dog is a tired dog. We go to a nearby dog park that is very large. He runs his legs off plus an hour before we go he is on High Alert.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:57 AM on January 4, 2021

Best answer: If I ever have a puppy again, I will book in 2-3 half-days a week at Doggie Daycare if at all financially and logistically possible. They just have so much energy, nearly infinite energy, it is really difficult to wear them entirely out unless you're going hiking or having them pull you in a cart. But it is also so beneficial to wear them out pretty regularly. I'm hearing from friends in most cities that these places are often still open, though with a low-contact dropoff process.

You could ask around on local social media if anyone else has a puppy the same relative age/size to come over for run-around time in the yard. This suggestion also sounds kind of exhausting to me because it'll mean managing a stranger-relationship plus pandemic arrangements but it does seem highly likely that somebody else within a street or two of you also has a pent-up puppy and is trying to work/school from home and would be relieved to share the burden.

You can also pick up (or DIY if you feel like it) a basic backyard agility training kit, which is the ideal combination of physical + mental exercise, and dogs like GSDs tend to really thrive with that kind of play/discipline. It doesn't have to be much to start with - some obstacles to walk around, a thing to jump over, you can add some non-traditional stations like stop and touch a "base" with a foot or nose, sit and do a high-five, down and roll, walk on a slightly raised balance beam. Do them in a scrambled order every time, it requires a lot of very hard dogthinking to learn to pay attention to you instead of memorizing choreography.

You can absolutely, if the weather's good and the sprinkler hasn't just run, throw an entire serving of kibble into the yard. You may want to pick up a snuffle mat for indoor use - not as good as a big spread in the grass, and a smart dog will learn very quickly to pick it up or flip it over, but it's better than nothing.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:01 AM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Switch to feeding her some meals/portions of meals in a toy like this wobbling dispenser, it takes less supervision/refilling than some of the more complicated puzzles.
posted by assenav at 8:15 AM on January 4, 2021

we have one toy that our crew has been unable to destroy. It is from West Paw and i don't see it one their website right now but they do have other options. Our is similar to this but must be a tough chew option from a few years ago. I imagine some of their tough chew options would be good, although one of the things our dogs like about the one with 3 legs is they can tug or carry it around together.
posted by domino at 8:16 AM on January 4, 2021

Are you looking for ways to entertain her that do or don't include you? You do have a lot of those covered, but honestly all the best methods include a human.

A tired dog is a happy well behaved dog. Dogs that age, breed mix & size need more exercise than you think & not strolls around the neighbourhood. German Shepherds need the bare minimum of 2 hours a day of active exercise so an hour a day brisk walking around a neighbourhood (this can be in 2 or more smaller session) and another hour of active play off lead, chasing a ball or Frisbee going, agility courses, hiking etc. Again this is the absolute bare minimum and can be broken up over the day. German Shepherds are working dogs, keep working dogs busy & tired for the best behaviour.

Mental stimulation can also tire out your dog, so now is the time to start clicker training all sorts of tricks & manners. There are great youtube videos out there teaching the basics or go to training classess. A nice brisk hour walk/jog then a short training session you end by giving them a nice chew to work on should buy you a few of hours of peace & quiet.

Go do agility courses once a week with a group, go do dog training classes once a week, keep the mind busy doing constructive things.

If you can afford it doggy daycare is great as it burns up tonnes of energy playing around with other dogs, that can often carry over to a quieter dog the next day.

Food wise, my own dogs get t a good 75% of their calories as rewards, in treat balls & puzzles scattered throughout the day. When I started I budgeted out the measured amount of food into a plastic bowl I used to stuff treats etc during the day then they got the rest for "dinner" so I knew I wouldn't be overfeeding.
posted by wwax at 8:23 AM on January 4, 2021

Best answer: I bought my dog the Tuffy brand 'indestructible' soft toys. He also loves to rip into them and pull the stuffing out, and these would usually last a month for stuffing extraction and an additional month or ripping bits off the remainder until it was too small to be entertaining. He loved it, so I just bought a new one after he was done.

If you try this, make sure she doesn't eat the stuffing - my dog needed a correction or two at the beginning and was fine after.
posted by ananci at 8:39 AM on January 4, 2021

The other comments have hit on all the biggies (playing with other dogs, walks, training, and feeding toys) - but for your back yard I highly recommend a Jolly Pets teaser ball (Jolly Pets is the brand). At first he couldn't figure it out, but my shepard/hound mix loves this ball. Get the biggest one you can find. He carries around, rolls it around, pushes it around, etc. This is something he does on his own - this is not a ball you play fetch with. This is a ball within a ball that can entertain my guy - usually for hours. We now have three - but his favorite is still the first one we got him. It is at least three years old and going strong. You could also use this ball inside if you can tolerate the sound (it's hard plastic and it makes noise on our floors that drives us nuts).
posted by donovangirl at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2021

When my dog was a puppy I used to bring him to the office and keeping him occupied was a huge issue. Two things helped: 1. Raw bones, especially knuckle bones, don't have a ton of meat on them but would keep him busy. 2. A BIG romp in the morning before I started work (or over lunchtime) to wear him out so he'd sleep for a couple of hours. At that age, I found a trip to the dog park wore him out more than a similar amount of time spent walking on a leash.
posted by lunasol at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2021

Best answer: I have a 10-lb dog who is 8 years old and requires two hours of walking per day if I don't want them cowering under the chest of drawers.

For your puppy, I recommend training them on bike walking. You ride the bike, your dog trots along-side. There are specialized bike leashes for this. When I petsit, it's one of the best ways to wear an energetic dog out for a little while.
posted by aniola at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2021

Homemade food puzzles can be a good way to introduce variety into the toy mix, without adding too much expense. Our puppy loved:
-A large plastic milk bottle (with handle) with a few kibble dropped inside to bat around the yard. The combination of squishy, sturdy, bouncy plastic, rattling kibble, milky smells and only a small opening to get the kibble out was very exciting for him. Ours never fully destroyed the plastic, which was quite strong and thick, but if you have a heavy chewer this would definitely require supervision to ensure they don’t swallow any plastic.
-Several cardboard toilet rolls stuck to the bottom of a big bucket with peanut butter, with bits of carrot and kibble dropped inside the toilet rolls. They take a while to figure out how to get to the bottom of the bucket. Ditto above if you have a big chewer. We never minded our puppy shredding a certain amount of cardboard, but it does mean they find toilet rolls exciting for a long time.
- An empty tissue box with a few hard dried liver pieces hidden inside.

Our puppy also loved any training game that required physical interaction with us, like the command “under the bridge” where they learn to crawl under your bent knees (while sitting on the ground) to retrieve a treat.

Also, don’t underestimate how tiring a walk is when they are also learning leash skills and are allowed to sniff as much as they like. Smells are a good source of stimulation.
posted by Weng at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2021

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