I’ve read tons of articles advising prospective dog owners to choose a dog that matches your energy level. But how do you really know what you’re getting when you adopt a dog? Sure, you can learn about different breeds, there are temperament tests to administer and you can even foster a dog to see if its personality fits your lifestyle before adopting. But there are so many variables concerning a dog’s personality, you can’t possibly know for sure what you’re getting into.
Such was the case when I saw the ad listed on Craigslist for a 4-month-old half Yellow Lab/half Golden Retriever; I knew I had to have her. Recently divorced, in a new apartment and lonely as hell, I needed a dog badly; never mind that it was January in Wisconsin and probably the worst possible time of year to adopt a puppy. She was a skinny ball of energy and the only training she’d had was potty-training. Born into a hoarding situation and then rescued by well-meaning (although misguided) parents as a Christmas present for their nine-year-old son, Charlie was completely untrained. Bottom line: she was going to need some work. Add into the mix that she also had a little bit of Border Collie in her genes, this was going to be a high-energy dog requiring a lot of attention.
None of that mattered to me. I was single again and in need of a project to occupy my time and keep my mind from wandering to the edge of Depression-ville. Most of all, I missed being a dog owner; Charlie was going to be my new companion.
Puppies are always very time-consuming, but I wasn’t prepared with just how much time this puppy would demand. She consumed my every waking hour. Basically, my life as I knew it was over. As a low-energy person who adopted a high-energy dog, here are the changes you can expect to make in order to accommodate your new family member:
1. Be prepared to walk — a lot
The daily walk will be the basis of exercising your dog. This will be a physical and mental exercise for both of you so bring along tons of small treats or kibble so you can work on loose-leash training and other commands or trick-training. Stick to a routine by scheduling the daily walks at the same time every day so your dog knows this is something they can count on; it will help them stay calm in between walks.
2. Incorporate intensive exercise
As stated above, walking is the basis of exercising your high-energy dog, which means you’ll need to incorporate some intensive exercise in addition to walks. Charlie and I took up long-distance hiking, spending two to three hours hiking in wilderness areas a couple times a week, especially on weekends. Sometimes I’d take her swimming to mix it up a little and since she has a high “fetch” drive, throwing a ball in the water from the shore gave her tons of exercise while giving me a sort of “day off.” Swimming is also a great non-weight bearing exercise that works different muscles and gives her joints a break, although this only works for dogs who like water!
3. Find indoor activities that will engage your dog’s brain
This is especially important if you live in a cold climate (like me) or for bad weather days when walking, hiking or swimming are just not an option. Mentally stimulating your dog can be as tiring for them as physical exercise. Of course this type of activity requires you to be just as present and engaged as your dog! Charlie is very food-motivated so we play a lot of Hide-And-Seek: I hide kibble all around the house while I have her Sit-Stay and then release her to “go find it.” This is her all-time favorite indoor game. Sometimes I even hide a few treats when I leave for work in the morning and as I’m giving good-bye kisses, I whisper “go find it” so she has something fun to do instead of being sad to see me go. There are tons of resources available — books, blogs, etc. — to help you figure out which games will work best for your dog, and if you use your imagination, I bet you can utilize several regular household items to construct your own games.
4. Invest in treat-dispensing toys
Treat-dispensing toys will become your best friends and can provide a small amount of “me” time when you really need a break from your dog’s constant exercise demands. I’ve completely removed Charlie’s food bowl and replaced it with several food-dispensing balls and toys. This can keep her busy for up to half an hour in the morning while I’m getting ready for work and again in the evening when I’m cooking dinner. It’s so nice not having a “yipping” dog trying to get me to play when I’m too busy, plus she’s getting exercise while eating! It’s a win-win. I also rely on a peanut-butter-filled Kong if I want to sit back with a cup of coffee and get caught up on a little leisurely reading.
5. Move on from basic training to trick training
Trick training is a great way to engage your dog’s mind and tire them out physically. Now that Charlie is three years old, and getting bored with some of our tried-and-true games, we’ve had to move on to more challenging “grown-up” games. I have a feeling we’ll be looking into agility training in the next year since she’s shown so much interest in the trick training. Again, there are several resources available online or in books for teaching tricks and local pet stores can refer you to agility training classes in your area.
6. Give up watching uninterrupted television
You will no longer have “lazy time” where you can lie on the couch and watch hours of TV at a time. When you have a bad day at work and just want to “veg out” for a couple hours, forget about it; those days are long gone. Get used to throwing a ball or wrestling on the floor during your favorite programs and have your dog chase you around the house or up and down stairs during commercial breaks.
Bottom line is, when you adopt a dog it becomes a part of your family. You don’t re-home a dog because it didn’t turn out the way you thought it would; you deal with it. You make changes to your life and provide the best home possible. There are going to be bad days where you want to pull your hair out but there will also be days when you beam with pride because someone is in awe of how fast your dog can run or how smart they are! You will experience extreme joy and gratitude for the chance to have this wonderful being in your life. A high-energy dog will challenge you and change you forever.
Every weekend, Charlie and I explore new trails and get to know our beautiful state better. I’m eternally grateful for this awesome, high-energy dog; because of her I recovered from my divorce quickly, developed a healthy and active lifestyle and learned to love the simple joy of being active.
Has your dog challenged you in ways you never thought possible?
Read more by Heather Burt and about dog training:
- Confession: I Hated My Dog’s Play Group So Much I Had to Quit
- A Dog’s Tragic Death Brought Me and My Neighbors Together
- How to Occupy (and Tire Out) a Dog Who’s Bored and Restless
- Dog Trick Training: The Benefits Go Way Beyond Wowing People
About Heather Burt: Nerdy accountant by day, aspiring writer by night, Heather Burt is a weekend adventurer and constant advocate for getting active with your dog. Bringing awareness to dog-friendly trails and the benefits of getting out into nature, she documents her ongoing adventures with her ever-active dog, Charlie, on her blog, Hiking With Heather.