Many dogs are described as hyperactive. Labelling behaviors does not provide solutions or excuses for impulsivity. Owners do not have to live with a “wild child”. A productive approach is to understand the triggers behind those behaviors, which present as unruly, inattentive, or just plain mindless.
Excessive activity is often a lack of emotional self-control and intolerance for frustration. Other factors include ineffective (or no) training, fear and anxiety, unclear leadership, inadequate physical exercise and mental stimulation (boredom), and under socialization. Behavior – desirable or not – is a manifestation of the dog’s emotional state. Well-adjusted, mentally balanced dogs are capable of finding the “off” switch. Here are ways to install self-control in your dog.
TEACH YOUR DOG TO “WAIT” FOR WHAT HE WANTS.
Owners often teach their dogs to “wait” for the food bowl. Why stop there? While this is a good introduction to coping with delayed gratification, it is not helpful out in public – in the real world. Ask your dog to “wait” to gain access to space or objects he wants, including treats and toys. Ask him to “sit and wait” calmly for a door to open. No mindless barging out! Training exercises work best when distractions and novelty are increased gradually. Reinforce your dog’s calm and attentive behavior with something meaningful, such as food or a favorite game. Clicker training is especially amazing for dogs living in overdrive.
When you observe consistently correct “wait” responses from your dog, increase his focus and self-control by teaching him “stay”. This is a complex cue that requires a protocol and solid criteria setting for the best results. It is well worth the effort!
COUNTER-CONDITION YOUR DOG’S FEARS
Fear has several faces and one of them is over-activity. Without clear direction from his human, a fearful dog can engage in behaviors that present as unruly. The solution is to teach your dog to look to you for guidance and to change his conditioned emotional response to stimuli that trigger excessive activity. This behavior modification program requires the use of threshold distances and time frames, and high value reinforcements. Like any significant behavior change, it also requires deliberate effort and takes time. Most behavior change programs take months to become new habits.
PROVIDE CLEAR LEADERSHIP
We often refer to ourselves as pet parents. Parents provide direction and guidance. Clear communication and boundary setting are necessary to establish leadership. When you ask your dog to sit or lie down before giving him what he wants, you are kindly and clearly communicating your control of that space or object. By complying, your dog shows you deference, acknowledging and accepting your leadership. Dogs trust humans who set up for positive reinforcement. Make it easy for him to choose the right behavior, and reward him for it. This approach is a tremendous stress reducer for everyone. Think of this practice as your dog’s “job”.
PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND MENTAL STIMULATION
Young dogs, especially, need exercise, and all dogs benefit from it. Take your dog for a walk every day. In the absence of a safe, confined space, use a long line to play ball or Frisbee, so your dog can run. Boredom is a leading cause of stress. Incorporate mental stimulation and enrichment into your dog’s daily routine. Serve up all meals and treats in food-dispensing toys or puzzles. You can teach your dog useful cues as well as games like target training, nose work, or problem solving.
Agility is fun as well as a wonderful confidence booster. Taming your dog’s “hyperactivity” requires a three-pronged strategy: TRAINING, ENRICHMENT, and MANAGEMENT.
©Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2018 All rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC