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 Dog Behavior Library

Dog Excitable Personality
Why is my dog so hyper?

This is a common question with many possible answers. Consider which of these factors might at least partly account for your dog's behavior:

Fortunately, you can bring this problem under control no matter which factors account for it.
  • Some species have been bred for a high energy level – to herd sheep, for example, or to lead hunters to game. This genetic component could be powerful, depending on what kind of dog you have.
  • Since they've been people's companions for centuries, all dogs may have a genetic drive toward attention-seeking behavior.
  • Many dogs need more exercise than they're getting.
  • Some owners don't realize that generally a dog will be unruly unless he's deliberately and consistently taught manners.
  • Owners often give lots of attention when their dogs misbehave (encouraging what they don't want) and virtually ignore them when they're calm (punishing the dog for good manners).
  • Like children, dogs can have attention deficit disorder (ADD), which most researchers today believe is a neurological condition that results from a physical inability to regulate levels of neurotransmitters (substances that transmit signals in the brain).
  • Several types of anxiety can contribute to hyperactivity. "Punishment anxiety" may result if a dog is disciplined without understanding the reason. "Leadership anxiety" indicates the dog is uncertain of his place in the hierarchy of household dogs or unclear about whether his owner is in charge. Often dogs who get overexcited when greeting their owners are suffering some separation anxiety, much like children who fear their parents won't return for them.

Suggestions
Fortunately, you can bring this problem under control no matter which factors account for it. What's crucial in your basic approach is to respond calmly and in the same way each time your dog acts up. In addition, consider these measures.

  • If your dog is male and hasn't been neutered, have this surgery done. It won't resolve the problem by itself, but neutered dogs are usually less frenetic.
  • Increase the amount of exercise your dog gets. Unless you have a huge yard, you'll probably need to take him out for walks (or runs) or to a park where you can romp or play fetch together. If he's high-strung, providing chew toys is also a good idea.
  • Don't give your dog attention when he's hyper. Leave the room and close the door. Also, remember to praise him and show affection when he's relaxed.
  • Don't reprimand your dog for any misbehavior that occurred more than a few seconds earlier. He won't understand the connection.
  • Learn more about training your dog – with a good book, video, or obedience course – and practice good manners with him every day. He's depending on you to show him how you want him to behave.
  • To deter undesirable behavior, get a head halter for your dog. (This effective restraint allows the owner to exert pressure behind the dog's neck and around the muzzle.) Use it on walks, checking him for pulling ahead or any unruly conduct.
  • Establish yourself as your dog's leader: Have him earn dinner, treats, petting, and praise by performing Instructions; for instance, give him his supper only after he sits for a few seconds. Teach him to wait and let you go first through doors. If your dog has a bossy personality, don't let him sleep on your bed or other furniture; give him a spot at the foot of your bed.
  • Through the "close-tether training technique," you can teach your dog to accept – and even enjoy – being tied up for short periods. Use a two- to three-foot leash. If your dog is independent, you can encourage bonding by practicing this technique at home; keep him tied near you or to your ankle or belt. If your dog is aggressive or doesn't know that you're his leader, tether him away from you for a 10- to 20-minute time-out. If he gets anxious when you leave, wait for him to be calm and then leave for gradually longer periods, always returning before he shows distress; to desensitize him, ignore him when you leave and come back.
  • If you patiently practice these measures for weeks and see little improvement, consult your veterinarian. To test for attention deficit disorder, your dog may be given a stimulant such as dextroamphetamine (also used for children with ADD). If the test is positive (he settles down), he may be put on a daily dose for life.

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