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How to calm down an energetic dog such as an Australian Shepherd

Updated on February 6, 2015

Dogs bred to work, such as Aussies or Border Collies, can easily become bored if not challenged.

If you're one of the lucky few who live with an energetic dog, learning to walk him or her on the right leash is key to draining energy daily. And, with the addition of a backpack and a flexi leash, you'll have him happier in no time flat!

The Outward Hound backpack you see Killian wearing there in that picture to the right has proven to be a lifesaver for me in helping Killian drain energy. He's been comfortable with this backpack since the first time I put it on his back. Depending on his mood, I might load it with a few hardback books or, if it's a nice day, he totes a picnic lunch for the two of us.

Photo credit: All photos on this article are my own unless they're items for sale on

This Australian Shepherd is much happier when he has a job to do
This Australian Shepherd is much happier when he has a job to do

With a little work and a lot of love, you can adapt an energetic dog to your lifestyle

Energetic dogs need a way to drain energy

I was lucky (?) enough to adopt a full bred Australian Shepherd 13 years ago. I took 'Jack' (now Killian) into my home with the idea of training him up, and sending him off to a good home like I did with 18 other foster dogs before him. Well, fate had a different idea.

Killian came back to me after 3 short days at his new home. Through no fault of his own, this dog missed his mama! So, through a lot of tears and pleading (on my part) and whining (on his), I've finally figured out how to keep him happier and calmer in every day life and realized that he was truly my dog for good.

Killian joined a pack of three at the time. I had Barley, Hops and Killian. The pack has since grown to 6 with the addition of Rita, Gizmo, and Matee. Throughout all of the changes to our revolving pack, Killian has remained a strong alpha dog which has given me a run for my money. I was right in knowing I had to get the upper hand with some intense training.

I finally figured out that the trick to calming down a working dog was to give him some jobs - jobs that he had to think about.

Killian trained very quickly to help my 95 year old mother pick up items she dropped. He didn't even have to be asked to retrieve that stray kleenex, head under the bed for a wayward sock or shuffle the TV remote control between the two of us. But, even with those jobs, this dog was still bored. But, he was fine, until...

I noticed Killian was less settled as I just adopted my 6th (and last!) dog, Gizmo. With more time devoted to acclimating the new girl to the household, my interaction with poor Killian had slipped. As he slowly started to drive me nuts with unacceptable behavior such as charging the front door when guests appear, barking endlessly at squirrels or pestering Hops, my 3-legged dog, I decided that a change was needed. So, I started concentrating on giving him more jobs. Enter the doggie backpack....

Killian now is sporting a brand new Outward Hound backpack. This thing is a lifesaver! Not only does he tote items around the house for me but, when we're walking, he carries my cell phone, keys, his own treats and water. With 4 pockets, the doggie backpack is ideal for a short day trip. And, on cooler days when he needs to drain even more energy, I load his backpack with 2 paperback books for added weight. He acclimated beautifully to the backpack and, now, when he sees it, he sits patiently for me to 'load em up.

Outward Hound Backpacks

Outward Hound Kyjen 2490 Dog Backpack, Large, Blue
Outward Hound Kyjen 2490 Dog Backpack, Large, Blue
Although Killian's Outward Hound backpack is red, this is the exact one I purchased over 10 years ago. It has proven it's worth many many times over.

Give your dog something to do - Agility!

Killian ROCKED the agility course at dog camp
Killian ROCKED the agility course at dog camp

Australian Shepherds excel on the agility course, generally placing second only to their cousin, the Border Collie (who are manic!). Agility training will not only give your Aussie some needed obedience training, but running around an agility course will drain excessive energy also. And, as an added bonus, you'll strengthen the bond between you and your dog through this type of training AND you just might lose a few pounds at the same time - your dog is not the only one who will be running around the agility course....

Find a beginning agility class and sign up. It might take a few instructors or a few different tries to find just the right agility trainer for you and your Australian Shepherd. Practice your dog's growing skills every chance you get; a walk in the park can net an extra training session as your Aussie balances and walks on a downed tree. A park bench can double as an agility table where your dog must get down and stay until you release him.

Agility equipment is quiet easy to purchase online. Below are a few beginner pieces that i've used and have loved. And, here's another article I wrote about training Killian in Agility:

Agility equipment for your Australian Shepherd

Dog Agility Equipment Construction Instructions: YOU CAN! Build Better Training Obstacles for your Dog
Dog Agility Equipment Construction Instructions: YOU CAN! Build Better Training Obstacles for your Dog
If you're handy, with just a few tools and some PVC piping, you can easily make your own beginning agility obstacles
Affordable Agility Agility in The Bag
Affordable Agility Agility in The Bag
This is a great starter kit for beginning agility.
Channel Weave 6 Pole Set
Channel Weave 6 Pole Set
The weave poles were my favorite obstacle, if not Killians....
Killian loves his walks and his toys
Killian loves his walks and his toys

Drain energy from a dog with the use of a Flexi leash

Let them run 'free.'

Flexi leashes are an amazing tool in helping to keep a dog under control but allowing him or her to run at the same time. These leashes have a roller built in and extend to a maximum of 26 feet so the dog can run too and fro only so far.

One hazard of the flexi leash though is that, even though the dog is on a lead, he or she can run into traffic so care must be taken to pay close attention to where your dog is.

But, Killian now has 52 feet to run (26 feet up and 26 feet back), from way behind me to charging in front. By the time we're done with our 3 mile walk, he's probably gone 5 miles! It's a win-win situation! He's exhausted and I'm not!

Flexi Leashes To The Rescue

I have 4 current dogs (updated Jan 2014) and the same number of flexi leads, in different styles and sizes, of course. On each walk, I rotate which dog will be on the flexi leads - it's impossible to try and walk more than one dog on these leads at a time as they get tangled. It's also not safe as you'll be very distracted trying to figure out whose lead needs to be let out and who needs to be reeled in.

They are wonderful tools though in releasing excess energy in dogs as they can run farther on the flexi lead. I prefer the 26 foot leads but that's just me.

And, as I was just updating this article, I found Flexi lead accessory bags which are a great idea! They just wrap right around the lead handle and you can add in poop bags, keys, money, dog treats, etc.

Killian relaxing in between jobs
Killian relaxing in between jobs

Training Killian to help my Mom

My 54 year old Mom lived with me and, since Killian needed a few new jobs, I trained him to help out Gert with the help of a clicker trainer (positive reinforcement training). The first helpful task I trained him was to "pick it up." On this command, Killian immediately will run to wherever my mom is and pick up whatever she has dropped.

Training him was quite easy as he was interested in everything so I started by dropping a paper towel which had the scent of a bone in it. He immediately went to the paper towel and smelled it. I clicked and rewarded. Eventually, he figured out that he needed to interact with the paper towel more to get a click and treat. It took us just 2 days to master picking up the paper towel and handing it to Mom.

Killian also put the clothes in my front loading washer - but, his sorting skills sucked. On my command of "do the wash," he would pick up and deposit in the washer whatever clothes are on the floor in front of the washer.

And, finally, Killian's newest skill is to close the refrigerator door for me. We just bought one of the new french door fridges with the freezer on the bottom. It's wonderful but the door doesn't easily close. Within 30 seconds, if a door is open, a chime will sound and Killian will willingly jump up and close the door. This trick is incredibly helpful and allows me more couch time (not that I need it!).

Attach Your Dog To The Bike With This Safety Leash

A tired Killian after his first ride
A tired Killian after his first ride

Take your dog along on a bike ride

If you're not a jogger, it might be hard to drain energy from an energetic dog during a leisurely stroll. Kick the game up a notch by teaching your dog to run beside your bike. Easier than said than possibly done...

I just started this activity with Killian, and it's going very well. I started off by acclimating Killian to the bike. Since he can be a bit skittish, I attached a few dog bones right to the frame and encouraged him to approach and find the bones. He was thrilled and quickly accepted the bike as a good thing.

The next thing I did was walk the bike and the dog beside it on the left. I did a few laps in the driveway and taught him "left" and "right" in two days. Once I was sure that he could be verbally controlled, I was ready to try the first ride.

I suppose one could hold a dog leash and bike ride at the same time but I'm not sure this is the safest thing, especially if the bike has handbrakes. So, I attached his leash to the top bar of the bike and climbed aboard. A very SLOW bike ride ensued as I wasn't sure how he'd do with this new development. He was great and jogged right beside the bike. He responded very well to "left" and "right." My next purchase will be an official dog leash for a bike which will keep him a safe distance from the bike frame.

Anyway, here's a few things I've gathered during the process of teaching Killian to run beside the bike:

1. I should have taught him to stay on the right side as, when biking on a path, other riders will pass me on the left. I can protect him by having him on my right side. I can also have him run on grass (easier on his pads) while I stay on the bike path. So, today, I'm going to switch his sides.

2. Wear a helmet! Since you're not in full control of the bike as you normally would be, wear a helmet to protect your head during spills. So far, so good on Killian's and my front, but I'd rather be safe than very sorry.

3. Dogs are like people; if your dog hasn't had a lot of exercise for a while, slowly build his endurance with slow, short rides at a slow jog for him. As he gets used to the effort, increase the speed and length of the rides.

4. Pay attention to your dog's pads after each ride. Since your dog will be running, that's a lot of pounding on what could be tender pads. Make sure you're not overdoing it for him.

5. Pay attention to your dog's demeanor during the ride. If he appears overly fatigued, stop! Walk him and the bike back home.

6. Control your dog's water intake after the ride. He might gulp water and then will regurgitate it if he takes in too much too fast.

Bike riding with a dog!

This is Killian's second time out on the bike. I'm giving him commands which he is quickly learning of which "turning" is the most crucial! He also has already learned "let's GO" (speed up), "slowing" (obvious) and "oops!" which means he crossed onto the left side. Amazing dog.

The first time this Australian Shepherd had ever seen sheep

This video was taken at dog camp in Vermont a few years ago. Killian had never seen a sheep in his short life. I love to see his herding abilities "turn on" when instinct takes over. The shepherd said that he was a natural herder - he stayed 18" off the sheep's hindquarters and had no intention of getting closer.

The art of canine freestyle

There is some dispute about who came up with the idea of dancing with dogs (canine freestyle), but, regardless of whom gets credit, teaching your dog to dance will also drain energy.

Canine freestyle is moving with your dog to music. The dog never truly moves alone; it takes a strong partner (you) to teach him and guide him through a routine. Now, this doesn't mean that your dog won't put his own spin on things (sometimes literally), but learning canine freestyle is another method of obedience training.

There are two main organizations for canine freestyle in the US; The WCFO (World Canine Freestyle Organization) and the CFF (Canine Freestyle Federation). You can look at these two organizations this way - The CFF is interested in showing off the beauty of the dog through movement through dance. The routines are more focused on precision and fine tuned moves. The WCFO is the CFF with a sense of humor. The routines are much more animated, the humans get some focus too and, in general, the organization is laid back.

Killian and I trained with CFF for 3 years. During that time, his obedience lessons were a snap. He was happy, he was centered and focused. Once life got in the way (my 94 year old Mom came to live with me), canine freestyle fell by the wayside. Oh, I still put on a tune or two and run him through some paces but, in general, he was happy learning and working routines with me on a daily basis. I'm trying right now to find a local class which we can join to get back to this fun activity. This time around though, I'll join WCFO as I found the CFF to be too rigid.

So, get your dog started in canine freestyle as a fun activity. If you don't want to join an organized class, just grab some tunes, an open space of floor and teach him some of the below moves:

Twist: have your dog turn one way (like to the left) in a circle. To have your dog go the other way (to the right), give him a different command, such as circle.

Orbit: This is one of my favorites with Killian and is a crowd pleaser. Have your dog stand by your side and circle around you backwards. This always gets applause.

Weave: This move is when the dog will weave around your legs as you step forward.

Come: A good strong "Come" command is a beautiful way to start a routine, especially if the dog will come running enthusiastically and go straight into heel position.

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Killian knows he's a beautiful Australian Shepherd

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Killian thinking about dashing across my backyard in the snow last yearWaiting for the next commandKillian has a sense of humor. Good thing as you need one to live here!You can see the intelligence in his eyesKillian and his favorite 3-legged dog, Hops.Killian loves the agility course.This Australian Shepherd never met a sunroof he didn't like. Here his is heading down the road to my cabin in WV.
Killian thinking about dashing across my backyard in the snow last year
Killian thinking about dashing across my backyard in the snow last year
Waiting for the next command
Waiting for the next command
Killian has a sense of humor. Good thing as you need one to live here!
Killian has a sense of humor. Good thing as you need one to live here!
You can see the intelligence in his eyes
You can see the intelligence in his eyes
Killian and his favorite 3-legged dog, Hops.
Killian and his favorite 3-legged dog, Hops.
Killian loves the agility course.
Killian loves the agility course.
This Australian Shepherd never met a sunroof he didn't like. Here his is heading down the road to my cabin in WV.
This Australian Shepherd never met a sunroof he didn't like. Here his is heading down the road to my cabin in WV.

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