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How to work with a Hyper Dog

Hyper dog Maggie May

One of the most common questions I receive from prospective clients is: Can you help me calm down my dog? She jumps, she is mouthy, and she is full of energy.

And of course my answer is yes!

But, it would be misleading if I did not reveal that the hyper dog is a challenge to trainers everywhere. However, it is not always the dog that is the challenge; often hyperactivity is a symptom of miscommunication between guardian and dog and lack of available activity. If you have a hyper dog, it means it is time to get up and go!

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a hyper-pup:

1. Reward wanted behaviors: We all value a calm dog. But too often we take their good behaviors for granted. If we want to see more of a behavior we must reward it. Given that argument it is imperative to reward your dog for calm behaviors, like: sit or down... and for the really hyper, there is no shame in bending down and praising your sleeping or sunbathing dog for lying still. For food motivated hounds keep a small bag of treats with you at all times (tear them into small pieces to avoid weight gain).

2. Ignore unwanted behaviors: Just as we all like a well-mannered pooch, we all groan at a poorly mannered one. But unlike good behavior we do not ignore these "bad" or unwanted behaviors. "How the heck am I supposed to ignore my dog when they jump on me? Bite me? Bark at me? Etc.?" Well, it is frustrating but simple really, we have to train ourselves to properly respond to the unwanted behaviors. The proper response to a jump is what is known as a "hip slam" in the wolf research world. If you watch wolves and dogs, the way they avoid unwanted advances from one another is by using their body parts. A hip or shoulder slam is therefore not a body slam but consists of turning away from your dog and pushing your hip toward them, while saying the word "No." There is a wonderful book, written by Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, that describes how to properly respond to many of the other problem behaviors we encounter.

3. Ensure Fido gets enough exercise: I know it's bad enough that I am suggesting you stop tangling with your dog (giving your dog attention) in response to their unwanted behaviors, now I am telling you to get up and get active. But yes, that is what I am telling you. A hyperactive dog is almost always trying to tell you that it is not getting enough exercise. "Hey mom/dad, I have all this energy built up and I can't possibly listen to a thing you are saying until I burn it off with a walk or a game of fetch." Dogs were bred to do things but few of them are serving these functions in society anymore. In order to burn off that energy a dog should have one or two walks a day, or engage in some high energy play. But, if your dog has not had an exercise plan make sure to start off slow - especially if you live in Florida. And, always make sure to test the temperature of the sidewalk or ground. If it is too hot for your bare feet then it is too hot for their paws. I recommend walking your pup in the grass.

4. Enroll in obedience training: It is one thing to monitor you and your dog's behavior at home, but it is wholly different to consult with a Professional Animal Behaviorist / Dog Trainer. We are seasoned professionals that have been trained in animal behavior, ethology, biology, and learning theory. We know how dogs behave and how they learn. We can see changes in their body language that others cannot. But more than that we also understand human behavior and psychology. We work with both people and dogs to bring about change in your dogs behavior. For example our focused efforts can calm a hyper dog within sessions, rather than across many months or years.

5. Widen Fido's social circle: Many of the hyper dogs I have met have a small social circle, or social world. The people and other dogs that they encounter on a regular basis are limited to immediate family. These dogs often embarrass the family, resulting in even further restrictions on the social circle. But, how can this dog ever learn to be calm around other people and dogs if they never get to meet them? A novel situation is no longer novel if it is repeated. To overcome some of the hyperactivity try slowly opening up the social world of your dog. But remember, a hyper dog is going to be reactive to new stimuli so start with one guest at a time - don't start with a house party!

6. Keep Fido challenged: A bored dog is a hyper dog. I love buying my dogs puzzles. Puzzle bowls, puzzle toys, and puzzle feeders. Each puzzle variety creates a challenge for the dog to solve. These challenges serve as a source of environmental enrichment, or household fun. Enrichment has been shown to increase neural growth, improve motor functioning, and help relieve anxiety.

7. Monitor your relationship with Fido: How is your relationship with your dog? Are you best friends? Do you cuddle on the couch, or even sleep together? How about when you come home... do you throw a big celebration when you see them? I am asking these questions because many hyper dogs have a co-dependent relationship with their guardian. Co-dependence is an unhealthy form of attachment that can, in extreme cases, lead to destructive behavior and separation anxiety. But more mildly a hyper dog is simply used to getting attention whenever they demand it. Do you give your dog attention (whether affectionate or in reprimand) whenever they ask for it (wanted and unwanted behaviors)?? If so, go back to #1 and #2

If you still need help, call me for a free assessment: 865-771-3647

- Dr. Owens

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