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Living With High Drive Dogs

With all the different breeds out there, its important to really know a dogs needs before deciding whats good for your family. Unfortunately, in the adoption and shelter systems, the main focus is to adopt the dogs out . There is little to no education for the potential owner to understand what this breed or mix may need. This is also part of the reason for so many specific breeds being in the shelters and rescues ...but thats a topic for another day.


Most of my experience is derived from living with Jack russells...my first of 14 years and now my 3 that are coming up on 4 years. The intensity of a Jack Russell is not exaggerated. They are bred for hunting foxes...which means strong jaws and quick reflexes that are set off by movement. I believe the only breed I've seen come close in intensity is the Border Collie. Now I don't mean to make these dogs sound too crazy, they have their positive sides too. They are loyal, hilarious , quick learners and love to work.


The reason behind this post is to talk about how to manage a high drive, intense pup. How do you fulfill their needs without spending hours of your day running and walking them. Can you have a well mannered dog without stifling their personality? Keep in mind I am not a behaviorist and these are my experiences....let's dig in! (Pun intended)


When I got my first Jack Russell I was young, single and active. We hiked daily, he came everywhere with me. He was an amazing dog, well mannered, didnt bark and nothing phased him. I loved teaching him new tricks and he wore all the gear.... Sunglasses, shoes, clothes and his backpack when hiking. At the time I knew absolutely nothing about professional dog training. All I knew was that I had a smart dog that would learn anything.


I mention this because many clients that call us for dog training tell me the same story.


'My last dog was amazing and I didn't have to train them at all...but this new dog is crazy and doesn't listen at all!'


90% of these calls end the same. The first dog was before a marriage, before the kids came or before a new job. The first dog had all the attention and time. I am another one of those clients. When I brought my new 2 puppies home...and then a 3rd....I was wondering why it seemed like so much more of a challenge. The answer was the same...I was now married, with kids and a job. It all boiled down to time. How much time am I actually giving to my dog, not to mention how much individual time am I giving my dogs now that I had multiple.


Now, I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty( although I definitely guilted myself) but understanding that the time we give them is what makes the difference. How we spend our time with our dogs will determine the kind of relationship we have.


There are 2 things you need to focus on to fulfill a high drive dogs. Their physical energy and their mental energy. You need to fulfill both to have a well balanced dog( and your sanity).


How do we accomplish this? I am constantly looking for new ways to tackle both of these aspects. Let's start with the physical. I'll be referring to high drive as HD moving forward.


If you've ever tried to walk or jog until your HD dog is tired, you'll understand that it's a losing battle. You may have a slightly tired dog...then you get home and your dog is ready to play 5 minutes later...meanwhile you're ready for a nap.


Something I have invested in, is a dog treadmill. These range in price and I've even seen people use a han one with some rigging. The treadmill has been great for me for a few reasons

  1. If it's raining , I can still run my dogs

  2. If we have already hiked and the energy is returning, I can again run my dogs while I work at my desk

  3. I can teach them about speed


Something I have learned is that slowing a HD dog down can make them more tired then a full run sometimes.


Backpacks- the backpack is another great tool. Not only does the backpack give your HD dog a job but the little bits of weight you add( water, poop bags, toys, treats) will give them a better workout.


Another great option is a hike vs a walk. The neighborhood walks are better than nothing but it doesn't usually require much exertion. I try to opt for hikes with hills or new neighborhoods for more mental stimulation and smells.


Wheels. The ability for a dog to run at a full sprint is great for a full energy release. There are bike attachments or (if you have the skill) having them learn to run next to a skateboard.


Swimming- Same as humans, swimming is a full body workout. While not everyone has access to a pool, there are many dog friendly beaches and apps that can help you rent a pool for an hour or so.


I could probably come up with more on that subject but those are all the activities we currently do....as soon as I'm more comfortable riding a bike (embarrassing at my age I know) I hope to have my 3 rats running gloriously along side me ...and not causing me to fly over the handlebars and ending up on Instagram.


Now let's talk about the mental fulfillment.


All dogs are smart however when you have a HD dog you have to be creative so they don't get board. I mentioned the treadmill as a physical fulfillment however if I put my dogs on the treadmill at a 2(slow walk) you can literally see the wheels turning in thwir head. HD dogs don't like to go slow. Since they are typically go go go, it really makes them think when you slow their world down. Not only have I been able to teach my dogs the word 'walk'as a means of changing their speed on a walk or jog , but they have become more aware that walking is a possibility. My smallest JR trotted everywhere from the minute he woke up...I had to teach him to slow down.


Brain Games- there are lots of options here. They sell different levels of puzzles for your dog to figure out. These are great to use them put them away for a bit and bring out a couple weeks later. There are also snuffle mats which dogs love to use to fulfill that searching instinct and of course a ton of YouTube videos to create your own.


Tasks. HD dogs need something to do or they come up with creative ways to stay busy like chewing , barking and destroying your house.

The possibilities are endless here and depending on your lifestyle, can be a big help to the house. Obedience is a task as well. The more they perform the more routine it becomes. Things like learning place, recall, stay and impulse control are tasks that are helpful in daily life. When you add things like trick training, agility, dock diving etc., you are not only combining mental and physical work but you give them the opportunity to learn, make choices and have fun doing it!


The last tip I'll mention is the owners energy. How you work with your dog during any activity, will determine the outcome. HD dogs are sensitive and will react accordingly. If you get frustrated and angry there's a high chance your dog will react the same way. We are not always as clear with directions as we think we are. Recording yourself while working with your dog can be enlightening. Whenever attempting a new training technique, trick, task or just basic obedience....make sure you are in a calm, relaxed, happy state of mind. Be happy with baby steps, don't force it.


So to wrap it up, managing a high-drive dog like a Jack Russell or Border Collie requires a balanced approach to both physical and mental stimulation. By understanding their needs and finding creative ways to fulfill them, such as using a treadmill or incorporating a backpack, you can ensure a well-rounded and happy dog. Remember, the time and effort you invest in your dog directly impact the quality of your relationship. With patience, consistency, and a bit of ingenuity, you can enjoy the rewards of a well-mannered, energetic companion without feeling overwhelmed. Happy training and if you need additional help, reach out!



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