As a long time dog trainer I have thoroughly enjoyed demonstrating the versatility of the Cairn Terrier, my heart breed. When I attended dog performance sports and training seminars, I saw the brilliance firsthand of the Border Collie, and I always thought I would love to own and train one someday.
And that day has come for me, a senior citizen, and Rue, a whippersnapper Border Collie mix. Rue is a great young pup. He is young, loving, and brilliant. The problem is that I am older, slower, and admittedly not as patient as I was when I was younger. Rue challenges me because I must channel that brain for good instead of evil. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.
Rue was outstanding when he graduated from his Basic Manners class. He did it all, perfectly. The time and effort we put into that class was obvious, and I was so proud. But I am not always able to meet Rue’s requirements. I had a tooth extraction on Friday night which became a very complicated and unexpected surgical procedure. As a result, I have had extreme pain all weekend. I could not get the dogs out. Tonight when I let the dogs into the sun room to exit into the yard, Rue was so excited and hit the door so hard he broke the handle. Now my door wouldn’t close. Ack. Thank you to my neighbor for making necessary repairs.
Many pet parents are quick to call their high-energy dog “hyperactive,” but is that a fair assessment of the dog’s behavior? Is an over-the-top drive actually abnormal?
According to Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals (Karen Overall, 1997), true hyperactivity in dogs is actually rare. The hallmarks of hyperactivity (such as the inability to fully relax even in familiar environments, reactivity to routine stimuli, a short attention span, and physiological signs like elevated baseline respiration and heart rates) probably aren’t present in the typical overactive dog.
It’s more likely that your high energy dog isn’t having his physical, mental, and social needs met on a daily basis. Dogs who have a hard time settling down might be operating under the influence of many factors, like breed drive, a lack of the right kind of stimulation, or a poor diet (I am not guilty of this one). Parenting this type of active dog can feel like a full time job, but there is hope for household peace.
The following multi-level approach will help address your high energy dog’s needs from the inside out:
Work the body
First, consider your dog’s exercise requirements versus what he’s actually getting on a daily basis. If you have a high-drive dog from the sporting or herding groups (Border Collie), or even a mixed breed dog who seems to exhibit those same “can’t slow down” tendencies, your dog is going to need a new workout plan and a coach to go with it — that’s you!
There is no universal canine exercise standard, but it’s a safe assumption that if your dog is in constant motion and unable to settle down even at the end of the day, he probably needs more exercise than he’s getting. You can vent some of that excess energy by playing focused games with your dog, like tug and fetch. Both games are excellent energy burners, and when they are played with rules they are transformed into mini training exercises.
Work the brain
Taxing your dog’s body will help to calm him down, but there’s an equally important body part that needs to be exercised: your dog’s brain.
Mental exercise is a phenomenal way to wear out the dog who doesn’t require an all-day commitment or a national park-sized yard. Dogs are athletes, so it’s not always easy to exercise them to the point of exhaustion, but it’s surprisingly easy to work their brains until they’re begging for a break. Something as simple as a shaping game with the clicker (shaping involves breaking down a desired behavior), which encourages your dog to think creatively and try new things, requiring your dog to focus and work through frustration. This isn’t always easy for busy dogs. Clicker training your dog is an excellent tool for you both during the long winter months.
Games that incorporate nose work, like “find it,” also force a dog to tap into his senses in a new and challenging way. Finally, treat dispensing puzzle games that make your dog work for his food will turn meal times into brain-teaser times. I purchased a ball for Rue that dispenses food. He is so clever he can quickly get the biscuits inside, but he works intensely and steadily at that game for 10 minutes.
A dog who jumps all over you when you try to clip on his leash at walk time and barks at you when he wants his dinner might seem hyperactive, but these inappropriate behaviors actually signal a lack of manners rather than a problem with hyperactivity. Manners training will teach your dog how to engage with you so that he gets what he wants, whether that’s food, attention, play, or access to the outdoors — in a way that incorporates impulse control, which is often the missing link in seemingly hyperactive dogs.
The core concept in manner’s training is teaching your dog to say “please” by sitting for anything he wants. Before you throw the ball, open the door, clip on the leash, or put down the food bowl, first ask your dog to sit. The moment your dog does it, reward him.
Reward for calm behavior
It’s tempting to tiptoe around when an over-the-top dog finally decides to rest, but it’s important to acknowledge those moments when he’s acting appropriately and taking it easy. Some dogs learn that we only interact with them when they’re engaging in “naughty” behaviors, so they knock over the garbage can and counter surf (Rue!) in order to get our attention. Angry attention is still attention.
Taking the time to connect positively with your dog when he’s calm, like when he’s resting in his bed or hanging out quietly near you, will encourage him to perform that behavior more often.
Consider the food
Inexpensive foods are typically loaded with ingredients that your dog doesn’t need, like fillers, byproducts, coloring, and sugar. Much like eating junk food can alter our moods, feeding your dog a low quality diet can impact his behavior.
When is it time for a medical evaluation?
Some underlying medical conditions, like metabolic disease associated with liver dysfunction, hyperthyroidism (which my cat Monty has), and neurological conditions, can manifest as hyperactivity. If you’re concerned about your dog’s activity level, or if you’ve noticed a sudden change in his behavior, talk to your veterinarian.
Resource: Victoria Schade/PetMD
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org