Helen Says, “Does Your Dog Need To Get A Job?”


Dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. They may not need to work in an office every day, but they absolutely benefit from having some form of ‘work’ incorporated into their daily routine.

Some dogs are bred specifically for certain activities like hunting, herding, and tracking. Many pups work in human sectors like assisting in search and rescue missions and working alongside fire and police departments. A group of New York City dog owners even teamed up to form a terrier club to tackle their neighborhood rat problem. While not every dog needs to become a service animal or sheep herder, all dogs benefit from being challenged in their daily lives, especially during a pandemic when it is easy to slip into less active routines.

There are so many ways to provide enrichment to a dog. All you need to do is consider your dog’s behavioral style and get creative in and out of your home. Here are a few ideas:

  • Dogs love variety, so try rotating their toys.
  • Learning new tricks or obedience skills can be fun and helpful for both pups and their peeps.
  • Exploring new hiking trails, paths, and parks (always on a secure leash, of course!) is great exercise for both of you. Consider changing up your local walking route or letting your pup pick which way you turn at an intersection.
  • If your dog is a hunting breed, they may enjoy playing hide and seek in your home or hiding toys and treats around a fenced-in yard.
  • Scatter feeding can be both stimulating and rewarding. Instead of feeding in a bowl, scatter kibble around your home for pups to sniff out and enjoy. If that is too easy, try putting some treats in a towel or blanket and twisting it up for them to untangle.
  • Some dogs like working for their food. There are many products, such as lick mats or puzzle feeders, that turn snack time or mealtime into a challenging game.
  • If you are the crafty type, try creating your own tasks and challenges out of old cardboard boxes or milk jugs, and hide food in them.
  • If your dog gets along well with a particular dog buddy, consider switching homes one day a week. Your dog gets the stimulation of a play date twice a week, and each dog owner gets a “day off” from entertaining an energetic pup.

Not only will enrichment keep your dog’s brain sharp, it can also keep them out of trouble. Pups tend to be less destructive and better behaved when they are challenged regularly and have plenty of tasks to fill up their time. Who needs to chew on shoes when you have lick mats and obstacle courses? If your dog misbehaves, it may signal that they are missing out on enrichment activities. For example, if your pup won’t stop digging up the yard, try putting sand or dirt to a cardboard box or kiddie pool and voilà! you’ve suddenly transformed a forbidden activity into dog “work”, while sparing your flower beds and grass!

There are also many, organized activities available around town that you and your dog can enjoy together. A quick Google search can find classes near you like Agility, Flyball, Barn Hunt, Earth Dog, and Dock Diving. These, and more, are great ways for your dog (and you) to learn a new skill and burn off some extra energy.

If cold weather is impeding your dog’s outdoor stimulation—and working from home isn’t working for your pup—a fabulous form of enrichment is doggy daycare. At Downtown Dogs, your dog can enjoy expertly supervised, dry and warm socialization and play for as little as $5 per hour. We are open seven days a week, no reservations necessary.

The advice provided is based on many years of experience as dog parents and operators of one of the largest and longest established dog daycare and boarding facilities in the Twin Cities. Always consult your veterinarian. When not sharing advice, our dog bloggers — Frannie, Lyle, and Helen — share a space with their people, Downtown Dogs owner Ralph Bernstein and his wife, Abbe.