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Does My Dog Need a Hobby?

Written by Anna Hollisey

Updated

Collie jumping agility course

Just like humans, dogs get bored and need entertainment. Canine hobbies range from puzzle toys to lure coursing. Not only can it be super cute teaching your dog something new, but it’s a great way to grow your bond and earn their trust. Depending on which activity you go with, it could also be a good way to increase your exercise levels too. So long as your dog is fit and healthy, there really is no downside to taking up a doggy hobby. 

Signs of a Bored Dog

It’s easy to misinterpret boredom as naughtiness, stress, or hyperactivity. Like us, dogs get bored, and they’ll look around for new things to chew, tip, or play with. This is frustrating for us owners. But there’s an answer. Mental stimulation could be just what they need to unwind and relax at home. 

Your dog might be bored if they are:

  • Digging the yard. Not in a helpful way – your dog may begin digging for treasure, leaving devastation all over.
  • Chewing more than usual. Pups do it to alleviate teething pain and generate feel good endorphins. Older dogs may be doing it because they have excess energy and no outlet.
  • Jumping at furniture. Bouncing around and stealing things from counter-tops or tables is an engaging activity for a bored dog – especially if you discover them and give chase. 
  • Jumping on you. Your bored dog will be delighted to see you and keen to have your attention. They may jump on you or bite you to initiate play.

Some dogs will be more prone to boredom than others. High intellect dogs and working breeds like German Shepherds, Retrievers and Poodles need jobs to do to keep their brains engaged and stop them taking their boredom out on your couch or favorite shoes. 

Choosing a Hobby for Your Dog

How much time do you have? Be realistic. If you don’t have the time to commit to weekly herding or agility sessions, it won’t stick. Can you find an activity to do with your dog that replaces something in your schedule? For example, swap your spin class for a bike ride outdoors. Or swap line-dancing for heelwork to music! Arrange sociable dog-meets with your pup-owning friends. 

What is your dog’s personality like? A speedy sprinter would enjoy lure coursing; a dog who shadows their owner would probably love Obedience. Other dogs might discover a passion for scentwork.

If you decide to pursue scheduled activities with your canine pal, here are some top choices (and who they’ll suit).

Obedience Training

While obedience doesn’t sound like the most thrilling occupation in the world, some dogs love it. They’re content to work closely with you, and that bond means they’ll be keen to make you happy. Choose a class where your dog can progress through levels so that you can keep them interested and continue their development. Once they’ve got the basic commands, your dog can move onto tasks like locating your keys or helping to pick up laundry!

Agility

This is Crufts work – with ramps, platforms, cones and jumps, Agility is loads of fun for active dogs. If your dog works well for a reward and catches on fast, they’ll probably learn fast. You can find Agility courses online, or create your own and start from scratch. Agility can be high impact so it’s important your dog has finished growing so you’re not putting unnecessary stress on their developing joints. 

Heelwork to Music

Check out the video above (we love Daquiri dancing to Crackerjack at the 7:50 point) and then tell us you don’t want to try Dog Dancing! 

Remember some dogs have different reactions to different music. It’s not unheard of for music with a heavy beat to unnerve some dogs and there’s a reason calming classical music is recommended when there’s lots of fireworks going off. 

Tracking

Lay a scent trail and teach your dog to follow it – Tracking is a useful skill for dogs who can be tasked with finding missing people or things. There are loads of applications for this skill. From events and competitions through to volunteering. If you live somewhere rural, the chances are you’ll find a local group grateful of volunteer dogs who can learn to track missing hikers. 

Rally

This is a new event in which owners and dogs follow a non-timed course, stopping to demonstrate skills at each marker. AKC has a Youtube playlist where you can see some of the 40+ skills required to compete. Rally is far less intensive and competitive than Agility, and can be pursued by beginners. 

Fast CAT

Another event which is relatively new, Fast CAT was introduced by the AKC in 2016. It’s a timed race where dogs chase the lure – an artificial rabbit. Points are awarded based on their MPH speed and handicap (related to size). If your dog has a compelling prey drive, they might become addicted to Fast CAT. Don’t worry though, it stands for Coursing Ability Test and no felines are harmed in the making of this event! 

Lure Coursing

Lure coursing is different to Fast CAT as it’s run over a curved course, using an artificial lure on a pulley system. It is organized all over the US and open to sighthounds. For those dogs with an insatiable hunting instinct, lure coursing can be immensely satisfying.

Field Events 

Events are often arranged for certain breeds: for example, there are Field Trials for Basset Hounds and Beagles, Dachshunds, and Pointing Breeds. Each one will have different tasks and expectations to suit the breed’s strengths – and you’ll have the opportunity to meet owners with the same joys and challenges as yours.

Herding

If your dog has a herding instinct, you’ll already know. Ever since the classic Sheepdog Trials were invented, herding dogs have shown off their abilities in field events. There is an Instinct Test which can be attempted without much training, but Herding requires dogs to be familiar with many commands so that they can manipulate livestock in different situations. Even if your dog is never going to set paw on a farm, this can still be a great hobby that plays to their strengths. 

Games at Home

Perhaps you live in a rural area, or you can’t find any local canine sports sessions. You can develop games with your dog at home. For example, you could build your own Agility course in the yard. Visit YouTube for tutorials on dog tricks and games like:

Hide and Seek

Hide yourself or a toy. Ask someone to keep your dog indoors and release them after 20 seconds, then go outdoors and hide – somewhere quite close at first. Make note of your route as you’re leaving a scent trail. Call your dog to come find you. Then make it harder, following the same route if your dog’s scenting ability is not yet expert. 

Where’s the treat?

Place a treat beneath a cup and reward your dog for touching it with their nose or paw. Then introduce more cups and shuffle them around, giving your dog the treat when they pick the right cup.

Dog Dancing for beginners

Leg weaving is an easy starter trick to introduce your dog to dancing. Ask them to sit at your side, then put one leg forward and entice your dog through with a treat. Then move the other leg forward and reward your dog for walking through. It takes practice (for owners as much as dogs). 

Check out the video below for more instructions.

Has your dog discovered a sport or hobby that they love? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!