Home E Wellness E When Walks Aren’t Enough: Your Dog Needs Breed-Appropriate Activities

When Walks Aren’t Enough: Your Dog Needs Breed-Appropriate Activities

By Kayla Fratt

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I have bad news: marching your dog around the neighborhood on a six-foot leash is not enough for most breeds. While getting your dog outside and giving them physical exercise (plus an opportunity to relieve themselves) is a necessary part of dog ownership, it’s far from enough. 

Many of the behavior problems I see in my practice today stem from dogs being prevented from exercising enough or fulfilling their genetic needs to chase, chew and run. From hyperactivity to hypervigilance, phobias to anxiety, our modern dog behavior problems stem from dogs being prevented from exhibiting normal dog behavior. The reality is, our dogs are primarily bred for jobs that do not exist. 

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Many of the behavior problems I see in my practice today stem from dogs being prevented from exercising enough or fulfilling their genetic needs to chase, chew and run.

When you take a dog bred for running across the tundra (huskies), independently chasing and treeing quarry (many hounds), digging up and killing vermin (terriers), herding and managing livestock for hours on end (shepherds and collies), or patrolling our farms for intruders (guardian breeds) and expect those dogs to be left alone for 8+ hours a day, get an hour or two of yard time or a walk, sleep 8+ hours at night, and politely stay out of our way while we run errands and prepare meals and decompress after work, it’s no wonder that our dogs are stressed out. We bred dogs for hundreds of years to make them want to dig, chase, herd, or guard – and now we call trainers to “fix” these “problems.” 

The good news is, it’s possible to help your dog de-stress by channeling her genetic needs into an appropriate direction. Giving your dog an outlet for her genetic needs won’t “teach” her to do more of the problem behavior: her genes already know how to do that! Instead, you can channel it appropriately. Your dog will thank you, and you generally will see fewer problem behaviors elsewhere as well.

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Giving your dog an outlet for her genetic needs won’t ‘teach’ her to do more of the problem behavior: her genes already know how to do that! Instead, you can channel it appropriately.

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Here are a few examples. These breed groups are based on Kim Brophey’s book “Meet Your Dog” rather than AKC breed groups. If your dog is a mixed breed, take your best guess on the breed groups she falls into.

1. Terriers.

Rather than lamenting that your terrier wants to dig up your tulips, you can give her an appropriate place to indulge her digging needs: a kiddie pool full of sand. She will also enjoy disembowling toys and really “killing” them. Let her shred junk mail envelopes to find a few pieces of kibble, or get your toys at the thrift store to save some cash.

Examples: rat terrier, Yorkshire terrier, skye terrier, cairn terrier, border terrier, Airedale terrier.

2. Herding dogs.

Let your herding dog exercise his need for control and order in the environment by playing games like treibball, teaching him to collect his toys, and giving him clear jobs like lying down when guests arrive rather than herding them. Herding dogs love being involved and need to keep their active brains busy!

Examples: border collie, Australian shepherd, German shepherd, koolie, kelpie, Belgian malinois.

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3. Guardian breeds.

While many guardian breeds are quite lazy, they will also enjoy getting some movement and exercise in! Rather than going for a long hike or a new place every day, your guardian breed might enjoy “patrols” of the same walk every week — provided he doesn’t start to try and guard this territory from your neighbors. Guardian breeds also often enjoy sniffing for their meals from a snuffle mat because it’s easier on their bodies than many other games.

Examples: St. Bernard, Bernese mountain dog, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundland, bullmastiff, Cane corso, Anatolian shepherd, most mastiffs.

4. Toy breeds.

These sensitive and emotional little dogs thrive on comfort and interactive play. Don’t underestimate their energy and zest for life! Like bigger dogs, most toy dogs will enjoy using puzzle toys to earn food and interactive games with their people.

Examples: Papillon, Chihuahua, pug, shih tzu, maltese, pomeranian, pekingese.

5. Scent hound breeds.

Sniffing is really the name of the game here! Your scent dog is bred to work independently of humans, but often in close concert with her pack-mates. Lay out treat trails through your yard that lead to a tasty morsel; hide tiny bits of roast chicken throughout your apartment and let her sniff them out. You can also get the scent of a prey animal from a sports store and intermittently sprinkle that along a fenceline for her to investigate. She’ll love using her nose and will happily pass out on the couch afterwards. 

Examples: bloodhound, coonhound, beagle, basset hound.

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6. Sighthound breeds.

These dogs are bred to catch sight of prey on the horizon, and run all-out after it to catch it. They really love games like lure coursing, where they case a small toy that races across a field. You can actually get home lure coursing setups, but many sighthounds will also be content with some short, sprinting-based games each day, whether that’s chasing a toy or you! Most sighthounds would prefer not to be wrestled with.

Examples: whippet, greyhound, Saluki, wolfhounds, Afghan hound, Pharaoh hound.

7. Gun dog breeds.

Lovable, foolish, bright, doting, and playful — gun dogs are practically puppies their whole lives. Most gun dogs love retreiving, but it’s also important to let the setters, pointers, and spaniels practice their setting and flushing skills. These dogs will love nothing more than bounding through a field looking for birds. Provided you’re somewhere enclosed and far from any protected wildlife or young birds, let her go wild “hunting.” Her extroverted, enthusiastic spirit also means your gun dog will enjoy most any cooperative activity you suggest.

Examples: Poodle, retreivers, pointers, setters, spaniels.

8. Bull dog breeds.

Bull dogs — which include boxers and pit bulls, not just bulldogs — are often lazy and cuddly until they aren’t. Then they’re high as a kite, full of energy and strength and zeal. Let your bull dog’s intermittent enthusiasm shine with games like weight pull, wall climb, flirt poles or spring poles. Their powerful shoulders and neck will benefit from the workout, and their love of chomping and tugging will be satiated.

Examples: bulldogs, pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers, boxers.

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9. Natural dogs.

“Ancient breeds” like huskies and basenjis fall into this category. Many of the dogs in this group are independent and love hunting. Like terriers, they will enjoy shredding and “killing” toys or trash to get their food. Intentionally giving them an old cereal box to shred for treats satisfies their needs without ruining your couch. This group is quite varied; some will also really enjoy canicross or other running and pulling sports, while others are expert ratters that would love barn hunt

Examples: husky, basenji, malamute, chow chow, shiba inu, Akita, spitz breeds.

10. World dogs.

Many of the dogs around the world actually come from genetic lineages that were never truly domesticated into breeds; they’ve just always been village dogs! These dogs weren’t bred by humans for a specific purpose, but selected by nature to succeed as our companions. Many are independent opportunists that will relish in the same hunting and shredding games mentioned for natural dogs. Let them take the lead and show you what they like!

We’d love to hear your creative ideas for giving your dog breed-appropriate outlets. What activities has your dog loved the most? Drop us a line.


Kayla Fratt is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She’s passionate about helping owners prevent and treat behavior problems in their pets. She also works as a conservation detection dog trainer with her border collies in Missoula, Montana. She’s an avid runner, cross-country skier and a budding agility competitor.

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