Hyperactivity in Dogs

Hyperactivity in Dogs
Stevie MacDonald

Many people find their dog's hyperactivity frustrating, and many hyperactive dogs get taken to shelters because they are deemed "untrainable." If these hyper dogs are lucky enough to be adopted by someone who has the patience and experience to work with them, they can turn into champion agility and performance dogs and wonderful family companions. It takes a little patience and skill to deal with a hyper dog.

Hyperactive Breeds

Many dogs have been selectively bred for centuries to work hard. Labradors spent all day retrieving nets for fisherman and hunting. Herding and drover dogs were expected to run twenty miles a day or more. Terriers spent their days patrolling for vermin. Getting a dog with any working background and expecting it to calmly lie around the house all day with nothing but a rawhide bone for stimulation is not always realistic.

People who compete in sports like agility and Schutzhund, or police departments selecting police dogs, look for hyperactivity in puppies. In a sport or working context it's called drive. When high drive is properly channeled, the dog excels. Someone who is looking for a laid-back pet is better off with a low drive dog.

Hyperactive Puppies

Many puppies are naturally curious, playful and hyper. Some larger dogs stay mentally "puppies" until they are three or four years old. Ask anyone who owns a Labrador retriever or Labrador mix--they are known for being clownish and fun-loving until they're at least three.

The key to living with a hyper dog is to provide adequate exercise and training, and understand that she'll grow out of it. Eventually.

Teaching Self Control

Over-stimulation is part of hyperactivity. A dog who is in full hyper mode is has a hard time moderating his own behavior, let alone paying attention to you. While hyperactivity can be very normal, you can teach him some self control.

The lynchpin of most control exercises is teaching "sit" or "wait." Briefly, your dog gets rewarded for showing self control. Ask him to sit until you put his food dish down or give him a treat. If he lunges, he doesn't get the food. Tell him to wait before getting out of a car, or going outside. Take him to group obedience classes so he learns to focus on you in the presence of other dogs. In his world, there is no logical reason to have manners and be self-controlled. These are not innate skills, and they have to be taught.

A Tired Dog is a Good Dog

Exercise can "cure" destructive and rambunctious behavior. If you are short on time, hire a dog walker or drop your dog at doggie day care once or twice a week. Exercise her efficiently by teaching her to run with your bicycle (check with your veterinarian first) or carry a doggie backpack. Take classes in agility, herding, Rally obedience or tracking. Anything that combines physical activity with learning a new skill is a valuable outlet for hyperactivity.

Medications and Herbal Remedies

Occasionally, separation anxiety or stress is at the root of a dog's hyperactivity. This is more common in clingy dogs, and those who are nervous about strange situations and loud noises. While medications should only be considered after behavior modification and training has not been effective, your veterinarian my prescribe calming medications, such as clomipramine or fluoxetine. Herbal and botanical supplements like Rescue Remedy may also help calm a hyperactive dog.