Is your dog bouncing off the walls?
Running amok off leash?
Can’t stop won’t stop?
Hyperactive dogs can be exhausting to live with, and it’s one of the most common behaviour complaints in puppies and teenagers!
Here are three things we do to help keep our high energy, high drive dogs happy and easy to live with!
Mental exercise > physical exercise
Although all dogs need physical exercise in varying amounts, mental exercise will serve you better when dealing with a hyper dog. Focus on teaching new skills in a way that doesn’t increase frustration, and provide more enrichment! I usually recommend that at least 7 meals a week come out of an enrichment toy. Pick a sport or specific training goal and work towards it every day. You can start with simple tricks, but make sure you keep progressing!
Focus on activities that calm, not excite
Enrichment like searching, sniffing, chewing and shredding, as well as long line or off leash walks in nature and away from triggers can all help dogs calm down. Oftentimes, we want to tire our hyper dogs out by throwing the ball a lot or taking them to the dog park, but this can actually make the problem worse.
Letting them move their bodies freely without an exciting toy or friend to wrestle with can be a game changer, as can giving them opportunities to engage with doggie behaviours like digging and searching for food.
This one seems counterintuitive. If the dog is over excited, shouldn’t they need more exercise, not more rest?
Think about kids on Christmas at about 2pm. They’re fried. Days of excitement and too much activity and sugar is a recipe for a meltdown. The same is true for dogs. Often, dogs who are hyperactive aren’t getting enough quality rest.
Your dog’s sleep needs will vary with their age, but make sure they get regular down time and that they’re actually sleeping, not just waiting for something exciting to happen!
Sometimes, hyperactivity can tip over into the territory of a mental health disorder that needs treatment from a veterinary behaviourist. Talk to your vet about your dog’s hyperactivity and speak with a qualified trainer before embarking upon a training plan.
If you live with a dog who is just a bit much, we can help
Our frantic to focused program is available fully digital or hybrid in person and digital.
Let us get you from frantic to focused!
When we’re working with our dogs, we want to stay in the “happy bucket” and avoid the “yucky bucket” as much as we can (to paraphrase Dr Amy Cook).
And one factor that might tip us into the yucky bucket, but that tends to fly under the radar, is frustration.
Frustration is aversive. It is not fun for us, and it’s not fun for the dog. That means that even if we’re standing there with our clicker and our cheese or hot dogs, we might be giving the dog an unpleasant learning experience.
And that is one of the reasons why positive reinforcement training can be unsuccessful sometimes, because we were creating an uncomfortable learning environment.
We don’t like the feeling of being frustrated, and neither do our dogs.
And frustration can cause all kinds of fallout, or negative side effects, just like any other aversive.
So how do we know when our dogs are frustrated, and how do we fix it?
Frustration can look like a lot of things, and it can look different from different dogs. It might look like:
It’s important to note that these behaviours can be due to many different issues, and a qualified trainer can help you determine where the issue lies.
But if we know we have frustration, what do we do about it?
The biggest issue is clarity.
Frustration arises when we don’t know how to get what we need, or make what we want happen.
Things like driving behind an extra slow driver or assembling ikea furniture are things typically frustrating for humans, because they often don’t have a clear solution, or we don’t yet have the skills to solve the problem with ease.
We have to ensure the cue for the behaviour is clear and consistent, and that the way the dog is offered reinforcement is equally so.
The other question is are we teaching in small enough pieces that the dog can be successful? Is there a way to break a behaviour down further so it’s easier for them, and they’re more likely to get the right answer?
Once you know how your dog expresses frustration, you will want to act fast as soon as you see the signs. Frustration can be just as aversive as pain or fear, and can poison cues or even the whole training game.
But once we know what frustration looks like in our dogs, we can take action to increase clarity and make the game fun again.
Is your dog ball obsessed?
Ball obsessed dogs might hyperfocus on their toy, give frantic or frenetic behaviour like spinning or barking to try to get it, or go into almost a trance at the sight of their toys. They might struggle to listen, or eat treats when the toy is there, or move mountains to try to get it.
Toy obsession can be problematic for your dog, and it can also be really annoying and stressful.
Here are three tips to help you manage this frustrating behaviour problem
If your dog is toy obsessed, and you’d like to learn how to help them, and to use the toy as a powerful reinforcer for training, sign up for our newsletter and be the first to learn when our upcoming webinar Ball Obsessed is released!
We run into problems when we’re using the same words but meaning different things.
When I say “I don’t play fetch, I don’t think it’s the safest or best option”, I get a lot of comments like this:
“So you’re saying NEVER play with my dog?"
“But look, you threw a toy for your dog!”
“How is retrieving different from fetch?”
Because we’re using the same words to mean different things.
I grew up with retrievers. There had to be a functional difference between “retrieving” and “fetch”, because our dogs all competed in hunt tests and working certificate trials. They also played fetch a lot, with tennis balls and rackets.
To me, fetch is repetitive, back and forth throwing of a toy, often with a ball launcher. You throw, dog runs, dog catches, dog brings it back, you throw, rinse and repeat.
Retrieving has multiple points where the dog stops, performs trained behaviours and demonstrates they are still in a “thinking” brain. It often involves waiting for the toy to stop moving before releasing the dog, or not having the dog see the toy being thrown in the first place. Often the dog uses their nose to search for the toy. It involves mental work, and it generally has a lower impact on the knees, shoulders and spine.
Because of all of this, we usually have much fewer reps of retrieving than fetch.
I argue that we should move away from playing “fetch” and towards “retrieving” with our pet dogs.
And having that conversation starts with using language thoughtfully and defining our terms.
Do you want to know one of the biggest secrets for surviving the puppy months?
Management is where we arrange our dog’s environment so they don’t practice unwanted behaviours.
With puppies, so much of their problem behaviours are just normal for animals of their developmental stage. They put everything in their mouth, including your baseboards. They don’t know how to hold their bladder. They bite!
Setting our puppies up for success by using management gives us more opportunities to reinforce wanted behaviours, and prevents behaviours we don’t want from becoming habits.
An 8 week old puppy is a baby animal, and just like we wouldn’t leave a toddler loose and unsupervised, we shouldn’t leave a puppy. Using baby gates and playpens will prevent puppy from getting into all kinds of unsafe shenanigans.
Puppies frequently have only two modes: asleep and turbo. Keep that energy from being taken out on your furniture, shoes and decor by providing a variety of activities for your puppy. Rotate toys every day or so to keep the novelty intact, and use food enrichment as much as possible. Pick up and put away shoes, books, human toys and all other puppy-enticing objects to prevent destruction.b
Your puppy won’t know how to hold their bladder, or that they should relieve themselves outdoors. It’s much easier to just go whenever, and honestly if you were given the choice between outside or inside, which would you pick? Preventing our puppies from making mistakes is essential to house training. If you can’t be directly supervising the puppy, put them in a crate or pen to avoid accidents.
When puppy’s environments are set up to prevent mistakes, we have so many more opportunities to reinforce good behaviour. Puppies can learn that chewing on their rope toy gets them kibbles and a game, and that pottying outside earns tasty chicken. When we build strong habits with great history of reinforcement, we avoid many unfortunate training pitfalls.
Modern dog trainers, we talk about wellness a lot. We talk about the Four Pillars of Behaviour Wellness, we talk about the importance of regular health checks and providing enrichment. For our dogs.
But there is a whole other half of the equation: you!
And you need those things too.
You cannot be a good learner when you are stressed, sore, tired, hungry or afraid.
You cannot be a good teacher, either.
Just like your dog deserves to feel safe and relaxed in their home, to be free from chronic tension or stress, to have opportunities to do appropriate enrichment activities and to spend time in nature, so do you! You deserve all those things.
Put your own oxygen mask on first. Ask for help when you need it.
You got this.