Despite what you may have heard, your pampered pooch won't take over the world and establish control over humankind. If you believe you own a domineering dog who will rule the roost given the opportunity, take a deep breath. Chances are high you are dealing with a totally different type of problem. If your dog is hyper on top of that, count your blessings; most likely your pooch is not even hyperactive as thought.
Debunking Hyperactive Myths
If you think Scruffy is hyper, relax; most likely you own a perfectly normal dog. An astounding number of dog owners label their dogs as hyperactive, when in reality their dogs simply have boundless energy. Certain dogs, especially those belonging to the sporting and herding breeds, are genetically wired to have high activity levels. When these dogs' needs for exercise and mental stimulation are not met, they transform into relentless fur balls in perpetual motion.
Authentic hyperactivity, in the real sense of the word, may be a rare find. The most accurate term used by veterinary behavioral medicine is "hyperkinesis." Affected pooches display highly impulsive behaviors, engage in frenetic activity and have abnormally short attention spans. It's like dealing with the canine version of attention deficit hyperactivity disorders observed in children, explains The Whole Dog Journal. Truly hyperkinetic dogs often require stimulant drugs and are a far cry from the high-energy dogs who are still capable of focusing, but just need to learn how to better control their behaviors.
Debunking Dominance Myths
So your dominant dog has taken control of the couch and is now keeping your family hostage until he finishes watching the Westminster Dog Show. Obviously, that's not a good sign. While for decades the prevailing belief was that animals misbehaved because they were striving to attain higher rank, in reality things turned out to be a tad bit different. More likely, dogs labeled as dominant are simply displaying behaviors that have been inadvertently rewarded and fail to behave simply because they haven't been trained more appropriate behaviors, explains the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
What may look like dominance, in reality may be a whole different story. You may think Scruffy barks at you to tell you he's in charge, when in reality he's barking because you have inadvertently given him attention every time he barked or he's simply bored, anxious or fearful. You may also think that jumping on you is a way for your pooch to assert dominance over you, when in reality he's just jumping to simply say hello or because you unknowingly rewarded it, explains the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
Differences between Hyperactivity and Dominance
When dealing with high energy dogs, you're often dealing with aroused dogs who have exaggerated needs for novelty and variety. Many of these dogs have a past as working dogs and become easily bored and frustrated if their needs for exercise aren't properly channeled. On the other hand, when dealing with so called "dominant" dogs, you're often dealing with dogs who have a history of being accidentally rewarded for displaying undesired behaviors. Fortunately, with the right approach, many so called "hyper" and "dominant" behaviors can be changed for the best.
Similarities Between Hyperactivity and Dominance
While hyperactivity and dominance differ from one another, they also share some similarities. Both high energy and so called "dominant" dogs may appear to be needy. The high-energy dog will likely come to you, jump on you and try to convince you to chase him or toss the ball so he can play and release some pent-up energy. The domineering pooch may pull on the leash, not to be in charge of the walk, but to simply enjoy the sights and smells of the world. Both behaviors are driven by a desire to attain some form of reward under the form of play or interaction with the outdoor world.
How to Deal with the Problem
So if Scruffy is not truly hyperactive or truly dominant, then what is he and why is his behavior so challenging to deal with? Most likely, you're gifted with a high-energy dog who doesn't know any better and simply needs some guidance. In the old days, and with proper guidance, these little stinkers made prized workaholic dogs. Starting today, forget about worrying about dominance or hyperactivity; rather, ask yourself what you would like your dog to do instead, and start teaching him. Better off, consult with a positive reinforcement trainer and enroll him in obedience classes. While you're at it, don't forget to look for ways to channel Fido's energy through doggie sports and interactive play; a tired dog is ultimately a good dog.
- Whole Dog Journal: Dealing With Hyperactive Dogs
- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior: Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals [PDF]
- Association of Pet Dog Trainers: Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities
- Association of Pet Dog Trainers: What are Some of the Common Myths About Dog Training?
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.