News Item | PAWS Chicago

Move! Tips to Stimulate Your Active, Energetic Dog

by Joan Harris | May 01, 2013

In the shelter world, there exist certain dogs who are considered “harder to adopt.” These are not the calm, quiet dogs that greet you politely. They are also not the special needs dogs or those who may be missing an eye or a leg. They are the dogs with an over-abundance of energy who jump up and down in their suites. A greeting from them may be an enthusiastic, full out body slam. They drag their handlers down the hallways excited to get outside, or anywhere for that matter. They are waiting (sometimes for a long time) for the right adopter who can match their need for training, exercise and stimulation. Usually, they are the descendants of dogs bred to have a specific job or purpose, commonly referred to as “working dogs.” 

In the early days of man and dog, dog selection was centered on helpful behaviors such as barking at unfamiliar creatures and people, guarding or herding livestock, hunting or retrieving game, pulling sleds and carts, or killing pesky vermin such as rats and mice. Our protection dogs required the strength and intelligence to apprehend the “bad guy.” Our hunting and herding dogs needed the energy to run all day in the fields. Our Terrier breeds were selectively bred for an extreme “prey drive.” Predominant in Chicago is the Pit Bull Terrier type dog, who descended from dogs bred for working strength and athleticism. 

It is easy to understand how these dogs came about but the dilemma is, how do we keep them happy? How do we set them up for success in their new homes? We know that exercise and mental stimulation is vital for any dog’s physical and mental wellness, but these dogs clearly need more. They need brain-stimulating or task-oriented activities and without them, they are likely to develop behavior problems. These problems include destructive behavior, inappropriate mouthing and general frustration. They tend to create their own “jobs” by barking out the windows or chasing small animals. 

Generally, dogs of this nature do best with an active adopter who loves to get out and walk or run. But now there are many dog sport classes and training activities, conveniently available throughout Chicago, that can provide even more. After some basic obedience training, dog sports can become a fun hobby and satisfy an energetic dog’s need for a mind-stimulating job by channeling all that energy into a specific task. They are available year-round, even during the extreme winter weather. There is nothing more fun and rewarding than witnessing what these amazing dogs are capable of doing! The following classes are great for active dogs and easy to find in the city. 


All dogs should start with a basic training or manners class. Clicker training is a method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior with a “click” and then rewarding it. The “click” tells the dog exactly when he is doing the right thing, so it can speed up communication. This method allows the dog to become an active part of the training program making it more fun and exciting. 

At PAWS Chicago, clicker training may have already been started for you. Clicker training is taught to our Level 2 and 3 volunteers and monthly workshops are conducted to track the progress. Participating volunteers are assigned a dog to train with the goals of increasing the dog’s adoptability by teaching good manners and providing mental stimulation. 

Behaviors are taught by capturing (marking behaviors that the dog does naturally), targeting (teaching the dog to touch a target with his nose or paw, then moving the target to create the desired behavior), or shaping (marking increments of the final behaviors and gradually raising the criteria to reach the end goal). Once the dog can consistently offer the desired behavior, it is “put on cue” or given a name. The clicker can then be phased out and the behavior can be variably reinforced. 

Clicker training is a fun and exciting way to teach dogs more complicated tasks and tricks. So with a little bit of patience, your dog could learn to “take a bow,” “high five,” “roll over” or “sit pretty.” With some more work (and a motivated dog), you could teach your dog to put away his toys, close doors or even get your beer from the refrigerator! 


Agility classes have been prevalent in Chicago for several years and are clearly here to stay. Its popularity is on the rise and is frequently described by enthusiasts as “the most fun you can have with your dog.” Dogs and their handlers learn to negotiate a different course each class, so it never becomes boring. A dog can attend a class just for exercise or continue on to compete in trials. 

In a beginning level class, dogs are taught to jump, climb an A-frame, run through tunnels and negotiate weave poles. More advanced obstacles may also be introduced such as the dog walk and teeter. Once the dog feels confident, speed and handling techniques are emphasized. All that is needed is an energetic dog and a bunch of training treats! Your dog will go home tired and satisfied. 

K9 Nose Work 

All dogs love to use their nose to gather information about their environment or to simply find something interesting on the ground. Relatively new, the sport of K9 Nose Work is gaining popularity and classes are now held at several locations in Chicago. In beginning classes, dogs search for treat rewards in boxes. After your dog gains confidence, the rewards are then paired with a target odor such as birch, clove or anise oil. The game then expands to search rooms, exterior areas and vehicles. 

A wide variety of dogs can participate in this sport, even dogs who are shy or reactive. High-energy dogs get exercise from racing around on the hunt. It is also easy to practice at home, unlike activities that require extensive equipment. If competition is your thing, K9 Nose Work is also an organized, titling sport with official rules and titles. There are three levels and trials are held nationwide. 

Canine Conditioning Class & Rally Canine Crossfit 

The aim of Canine Conditioning Class is to combine obedience training along with conditioning exercises, designed to target specific muscle groups, while providing a good cardio workout. The class uses exercises that mainly focus on the core through agility obstacles and FitPAWS™ conditioning equipment. After an obedience warm up and some stretching, dogs move from station to station with the goal of running the entire course. As the dogs progress, more repetitions, better form and a faster pace will be emphasized. 

Canine Conditioning can be a great addition to any obedience training or can be a prerequisite to compete in the new sport of Rally Canine Crossfit where teams run relay races and are required to perform exercises alongside their dogs! This fun, fast-paced “fat busting” class guarantees that “boredom” never becomes an excuse for bad behavior again. 

With today’s nationwide trend of health and fitness that urges people to be physically active, maybe one of these “high energy” dogs could be your perfect partner and inspiration. With so many fun dog activities available year round in Chicago, it is easy to give one of these “highly motivated” dogs the stimulation they need and keep in shape yourself. Runners and outdoor enthusiasts are not the only ones who can provide the perfect home for these feisty canines. Anyone with the time to get to class and the desire to train can enjoy one of these fun activities with their canine partner. So, “let’s move” and get in shape with your dog!