Is your dog a bundle of seemingly endless energy? Do you find it difficult to take them for walks, to training classes, or let them inside because they’re constantly excited and jumping up?
Apart from anxiety and phobic disorders like separation anxiety, storm or noise phobias and fear-related aggression, working with hyperactive dogs is one of the most common behaviour problems seen by vets. Here are seven strategies you can try to help restore the joy of living with your high-energy hound.
Physical Exercise and Routines
Exercise is important for dogs! It stimulates serotonin release in the brain, which is nature’s anti-depressant and mood regulator. Aim to provide your dog with daily exercise – walk or run – for at least 20 to 30 minutes, once or twice a day.
It is important to aim for the same time each day in order to establish a routine, which encourages both stability and confidence in your dog.
Dogs don’t just want to run around; they also want to play with their owner, and often high energy dogs will want to do both!
Playing fetch in the backyard, throwing a Frisbee or ball, or playing chase (tag) are some of the ways you can create interactive playtime. Hide-and-seek is also a great game – however, it should be avoided if over-excitement is an issue around kids.
For indoor dogs, there is the BUSTER ActivityMat, which is a great option for interactive play. It provides a range of challenges for dogs and has an additional 12 attachments to choose from, allowing for a variety of activities and repeat use.
Mental Exercise and Impulse Control
Mental stimulation is crucial for keeping high-energy dogs occupied. Firstly, good communication needs to be established between you and your dog.
It’s important to teach your dogs to ‘Sit’ before any interaction – not as an order or punishment if misunderstood, but simply a miss on the reward. This will start teaching your dog to sit before receiving a reward.
Extend the time gradually to ‘Sit’ for up to 5 seconds before giving the reward – this helps your dog to focus and learn impulse control.
Try to practice this activity in a variety of locations and with different family members, as dogs don’t generalise well. Short sessions of 2 to 5 minutes total are ideal.
When your dog accomplishes sitting before any interactions, you can try to expand the ‘Sit’ into a ‘Drop’ or ‘Lie Down’ for gradually longer periods (5 to 10 seconds) and then reward with play. Interspersing playtime with ‘settle’ time helps reinforce consistent impulse control in your dog.
Treat Toys or Slow Feeders
Treat toys (or puzzle toys) and slow feeders help turn feeding time into a game! They allow you to use your dog’s daily food ration to stretch its mind and make it work for its food.
There is a great range of treat and puzzle toys around to do this job, such as the BUSTER Food Cubes or BUSTER Treat Ball, which dispense treats as your dog plays with the toy.
Alternatively, a slow feeder like the BUSTER DogMaze provides mental stimulation at feeding time and slows down the rate of your dog’s eating.
Home Alone Activities
Many dogs love to dig so providing an area where they are allowed to dig, such as a kids’ clam shell pool, is a useful idea.
Fill one half of the shell with sand and bury treats in there to provide extra stimulation, and then fill the other half with water for hot days or for dogs that love swimming.
Reward Calm Behaviour
It is vitally important to remember to reward your dog for calm behaviour. Dog owners often miss all the opportunities to reward their dog when they are calm and doing absolutely nothing!
Try to become more aware of what your dog is doing and whisper ‘good dog’ when they are lying down or just sitting calmly, as this teaches stable behaviour. Try not to engage in eye contact or stimulate the dog; simply reward them with verbal encouragement.
Teach Your Dog To Relax on Cue
High-energy dogs can’t ‘switch off’ on their own, so one eye is always half open, ready for action. Perhaps they suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out)? Nonetheless, these dogs really need help to relax.
Rewarding calmness and teaching ‘Relax’ cues are some of the most important training tools available to you.
Try to use a ’Settle’ cue for short periods or ‘Go to Bed’ (on a mat or crate) for longer sessions, as it becomes a cue for quiet time, relaxing with a good chew toy or even sleeping.
By Provet Resident Vet
Contributor: Dr Julia Adams BVSc
Last updated on 5 March 2020