Training a hyper dog may seem challenging, but with some time, patience and training tricks up your sleeves, you'll be able to see improvement. Don't be too quick to label your dog as hyperactive. Turns out, true hyperactivity is quite uncommon. If your dog is in perpetual movement and bouncing off the walls, chances are you'll need to tweak your training and implement some lifestyle changes to teach him to learn how to relax.
True Hyperactivity is Rare
Truly hyperactive dogs present with elevated heart and respiratory rates, appear agitated and reactive and struggle to settle in presence of common triggers. At the vet's office these dogs often appear as slim dogs who salivate excessively, breath fast and are over reactive to noises. When given amphetamines, these dogs exhibit a paradoxical reaction and calm down. Overall, hyperactivity is considered a rare clinical syndrome, according to Debra Horowitz, a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and owner of Veterinary Behavior Consultations based in Saint Louis, Missouri.
More Common Causes
Most likely, your dog's over-the-top behaviors aren't an indicator of a clinical condition such as hyperactivity. Instead, it simply may be your dog belongs to a breed known for being very active or your dog is lacking sufficient outlets for his pent-up energy. Sometimes, dog owners may be inadvertently reinforcing "hyper" behaviors with attention, and in some cases, medical problems or the wrong diet may be contributing factors.
Provide the Right Exercise
To help your overactive dog, provide moderate physical exercise and training through structured games and canine sports. Go on brisk walks or hikes, take your dog for a swim, train your dog to play hide-n-seek or find items with his nose. Enroll your dog in tiring activities such as agility, tracking or canine nose work. If you're struggling with time, hire a dog walker, and if you're away most of the day, take your dog to a good day care providing appropriate, supervised play time.
Add Environmental Enrichment
Dogs don't only need exercise, they need mental stimulation too so add some enrichment to your dog's life by including puzzles and food-dispensing toys, which are sources of surprisingly tiring activities. Instead of feeding food from the food bowl, organize a treasure hunt and train your dog to find the kibble around the home or yard or try stuffing food inside a Kong or a plastic water bottle so he has to work to get it out. Alternatively, keep the kibble in a treat pouch and reward good behaviors as they unfold.
Apply Grandma's Law
Highly excitable dogs often have little patience when they face situations that increase their arousal. The sight of the leash or food bowl or the noise of your car announcing your return may get him in a frenzy. Grandma's law, also known Premack's Principle is based on the fact that high probability behavior will reinforce a low probability behavior. Just as your grandma told you to eat your broccoli first so you can have ice cream, you'll be training your dog to perform a calm behavior such as sitting before you put on the leash, before you open the door to go out and before you put down his food bowl.
Relax on a Mat
Sometimes overactive dogs need to learn that there are alternative options to jumping, whining and barking. By training your dog to relax on a mat, you're teaching him better coping skills. To get started, place a mat near where you normally sit and place several treats on it. Then, put your dog on a leash and let him eat the treats off the mat as you sit down. Reward him for sniffing the mat and walking on it. Because he's leashed, he'll likely eventually sit or lie down on the mat. When he does, reward with several treats. Gradually, start rewarding longer relaxation times by delaying the time you give treats.
Make sure to ignore rowdy, attention-seeking behaviors and reward the calm ones.
Work Under Threshold
You may find it challenging at times to train your dog when he's overly aroused by something. When your dog is too anxious, stressed or aroused by stimuli in the environment to pay attention to you, he's what trainers call "over threshold," and therefore, is unable to learn. Moving your dog to a less distracting area may be helpful. Start training in a quiet area such as your home, then move to the yard and gradually expose him to increasingly distracting environments. If your dog cannot focus in obedience classes, you may need to start with private classes.
Consult with the Pros
If your dog is overly active and easily aroused and you're having a hard time training him, you may want to consult with a professional. Your dog may need help from a dog trainer, but if your dog is overly anxious or he's truly hyperactive, he may need medication along with a behavior modification plan. A board-certified veterinary behaviorist will help rule out underlying medical problems and implement a treatment plan based on his or her findings.
If at any time your dog appears aggressive, consult with a behavior professional.
- Clinician’s Brief: Hyperactivity in Dogs
- Clicker Training: Desperately Seeking Snoozing—How to Help Your Dog Relax
- Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers; Bonnie V. G. Beaver
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training
- Healthyy Pets: Getting Your Hyper Dog to Relax
- DVM 360: Can Hyper Dogs Become Happy Dogs?
- Changing People Changing Dogs; Dee Ganley
- Dog Star Daily: The Glass of Water Analogy
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.