Sulu, a harlequin Great Dane puppy, stands in an open field covered in fall leaves.

How to Exercise with Your Dog When You’re Mobility-Impaired

Exercising a high energy dog is always a struggle, but things get harder if you’re mobility-impaired. Since most service dogs are working breeds, it’s common to end up with a handler-dog pairing that has an energy mismatch.

But never fear! Even high-energy Border Collies, German Shepherds, and retrievers can thrive off of exercise that doesn’t require Olympic-level fitness.

As a Border Collie owner and dog trainer myself, I’ve come up with quite the laundry list of ways to exercise my dog when I’m just not up to the challenge. The great thing about working dogs is that they love jobs
—meaning we often can exercise our high-energy dogs just by working their brains. A mix of mental and physical exercise is ideal for most working dogs.

Luckily, there are many free and fast ways to exercise your dog when you’re mobility impaired. The list grows even longer if you’ve got some extra money or time!

Kayla Fratt of Journey Dog Training and her dog, Barley.

Free and Fast Ways to Exercise Your Dog

  1. Hide Treats. Hiding treats, hard chews like bully sticks, or your dog’s meal around the house is a really easy and fast way to burn of excess energy. Your dog will love searching for food indoors or outdoors. You can do this at your own pace and however you’re comfortable if you put your dog away. Start easy to ensure your dog “gets” the game, then build up the difficulty.
  2. Play training games. Teaching your dog tricks like jumping over or crawling under things is relatively easy to do at home (or even from the couch). Physical tricks will help work your dog’s muscles. You can also work on sit-down-stand repetitions for your dog on an unstable surface (like a couch cushion) to build up core muscle and give a real workout!
  1. Fetch. If your dog likes playing fetch, you’re in luck! This activity is indoor-outdoor friendly and really gets your dog’s heart pumping.
  2. DIY puzzle toys. Feed your dog his dinner inside of old cereal boxes, egg cartons, or even plastic bottles. Your recycling can become a treasure trove of fun DIY puzzle toys for your dog. The food keeps your dog engaged while you can relax.
Sulu, a harlequin Great Dane puppy, getting treats out of a green and white round puzzle toy.
Sulu, a harlequin Great Dane puppy, works to get treats out of a puzzle toy.

Cheap and Easy Ways to Exercise Your Dog

  1. Flirt poles. For about $15, you can bring home a flirt pole. These bungee toys are great for dogs that don’t love fetch. Simply find a large enough area (most patios or backyards will do) with good flooring for your dog. Then wave the toy around. You can easily sit, brace yourself, or take breaks while your dog plays like mad.
  2. Puzzle toys. If you don’t have enough cardboard in your recycling to make your own puzzle toys, or you just want something you can easily refill, you’re in luck. The puzzle toy market is huge right now, and with good reason. My personal favorites are the Kong Wobbler and Snuffle Mat.
  3. Teach your dog to pull things. With a bit of training, you can teach your dog to pull weighted carts. Of course, this takes a bit of practice and equipment. But if you’ve got limited energy on daily walks, pulling a weighted wagon will help wear out your dog more quickly.
  4. Walk your dog with a weighted backpack. Dog backpacks require a lot less training than teaching your dog to pull things, but will get the same effect of working out your dog quickly. You can simply fill your dog’s backpack with water bottles, gradually increasing the water weight. If you aren’t able to walk your dog, a weighted vest indoors can still help wear your dog out a bit.

Effective but Pricier Ways to Exercise Your Dog

  1. Smart Puzzle Toys. The Furbo, Treat N’Train, and CleverPet are all incredible new additions to the pet exercise market. These gadgets work your dog’s brain and can easily be mixed with a flirt pole or weighted backpack to fully exercise your dog. Each smart puzzle toy works a bit differently, but they all will help exercise your dog’s mind through training. The CleverPet is the best hands-off option.
  2. Dogwalkers or Doggie Treadmills. Both handler-free dogwalking options are quite expensive. If you’ve got the space for a doggie treadmill, it’s probably the cheaper option in the long run than paying for a regular dogwalker.
  3. Training classes. Classes that focus on nosework, dock diving, or agility will all really work your dog’s body and mind. Most instructors will happily work with your needs, creating a training plan that fits you and your dog. Unfortunately, most classes are just once per week — but you can practice skills on the other days to get a full week’s worth of canine exercise.

Service dogs get a variety of mental and physical exercise as part of their jobs, but many working dogs need even more. For handlers who can’t just “jog the dog,” this can be frustrating and challenging.

We hope this list helped you get some ideas for exercising your high-energy pup. Please comment below with your own tips and tricks, and we’ll incorporate them next time around!

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