Your Dog's Great Backyard Adventure

By Stacy Braslau-Schneck for Exceptional Canine

Your Dog's Great Backyard Adventure

Trainers are fond of saying "A tired dog is a good dog" -- and there's no doubt your dog needs adequate physical exercise. But we sometimes overlook the fact that dogs might often find mental stimulation to be more tiring than physical exertion. The brain, in fact, uses more energy than most sets of muscles. Zookeepers, who cannot take their animals out for long walks or runs in the park, understand this, and they mentally stimulate their animals accordingly. Here, a few environmental enrichment ideas to keep your dog entertained and exercised:

Nose out the Hunt

You'll find a number of toys on the market you can stuff with food to give your dog a challenge at meal time -- which can last all day while you're gone at work. Hide these around the yard. Or simply scatter all of your dog's food in the grass outside before you leave, like you're feeding chickens. Your dog will spend time searching for each piece -- and your pal won't really know when the last one is gone. That means your dog will spend quite a bit of time on the hunt.

In my experience, once a dog figures out what you've done, the dog seems to really enjoy the challenge of the "treasure hunt." Watch Certified Trainer David Muriello's video of this:

Dogs seldom get to exercise their noses as much as they'd like, so you can provide new things to sniff. One colleague brings home her son's soccer team's clothes to let the dogs sniff them before laundering. I make a point of letting my dog sniff my pants and shoes if I've visited a petting zoo.

Sand, Surf and Obstacles

Many dogs like to dig and splash, so your dog may appreciate a cheap wading pool filled with a few inches of sand or water. If you want to be more elaborate, you can build platforms and ramps for your dog; putting a cushy dog bed at the top of your obstacle course helps. Make sure your pet's pool is shaded on hot days, or consider full sun for cooler days when your dog wants to soak up some warmth.

It's easy to set up jumps with a broomstick or hula hoop, although this is a more interactive game, which I'll describe in a future post.

A little bit of planning and setup can create exhilarating backyard adventures for your dog.

Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy's Wag'N'Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.