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Bandit has always been a very energetic dog. He gets so hyper and can’t control himself. It has ended up with him mildly injuring my husband and I. I really need to teach him self-control. We just can’t seem to ever get enough energy out, no matter how many walks or playtimes. I’m desperate! — Anna
An over-excited dog can easily overwhelm their pet parents. Besides the fact that it can make many activities challenging, it can also become a downright dangerous situation. The possibility of knocking people over, scratching, nipping, or even inadvertently head-butting someone who is bending down to greet them can make this issue a real liability. If you add young children or elderly folks into the mix, it can be an accident waiting to happen. The key is prevention. Here are some simple tools you can use to prevent over-excitement.
Exercise is super important, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a dog who is overly energetic. Adding alternative forms of exercise such as mental stimulation and environmental enrichment are critical to keep the energy at bay.
This engages your dog in problem-solving techniques, binds anxiety/energy, and improves communication. It can be incorporated daily within your normal home routine. Consistently practicing basic obedience cues and incorporating those skills into your daily routine is a great way to reinforce what your dog already may know and also introduce them to some new training protocols. Keep the training fun and consistent. Make sure to mix it up so your dog remains interested and you keep them on their toes.
This can be done with interactive feeding toys which engage your dog in foraging and dissecting behaviors while consuming their daily meals. Another option is playing a game of hide and seek with some treats hidden around the house. Scent tracking games are a lot of fun as well. There are also a lot of great chew toys out there that can help your dog bind some of that anxiety and/or extra energy through rigorous chewing.
Despite your best efforts, an over-excited dog may still go totally bonkers when guests arrive or if your kids start running around the house. This may take a specific approach that includes teaching self-control and implementing a management plan.
Teaching Self Control
Your first priority should be to reinforce and practice your basic foundation skills. Make sure Bandit has a good grip on basic cues such as “sit,” “come,” “stay,” “go to your mat,” etc. If he seems to be struggling, find a basic obedience or manners class or hire a certified professional dog trainer for some private lessons. Be sure to do your research and seek out trainers who are certified and practice positive reinforcement techniques.
Once Bandit has the basics down, you want to focus on teaching him how to stay calm while exciting things are happening in his environment. Start by teaching Bandit to go to a dog bed or mat on cue — choose a designated spot that he can be instructed to “go to mat.” Once he is eagerly complying, ask him for a “stay.” Do this several times while you slowly increase your distance as you move away from him. Slowly increase the duration of time you expect him to “stay.” The next step is to introduce some distractions around him during his “stay.” Make sure to reward him for completing the task with a high-value food treat and positive praise.
Once he can go to his mat and stay for 20 to 30 seconds, add more and more challenging distractions. Clap your hand, jump up and down, sit on the floor, sing at the top of your lungs — you get the idea. Over the course of a few weeks, you want to be able to build up to knocking at the door, ringing the doorbell, eating on the floor, running back and forth, etc., the idea being that you can help Bandit control himself by teaching him to eagerly perform an incompatible behavior and desensitizing him to exciting environmental triggers.
Make Over-Excitable Behavior Unsuccessful
Throughout your training journey, it is inevitable that Bandit will get up to his old tricks and occasionally go nuclear when you are answering the door or greeting a friend while out on a walk. We will need to respond to his behavior in a way that helps him realize that we don’t appreciate it. Dogs will always repeat behaviors that are successful to them. If jumping, barking or grabbing at clothes gets all the attention in the room directed toward him, he will see this as very fruitful. Even negative attention is still attention!
Utilize time outs
Utilizing time outs are an effective way to show him his hyperactive behaviors are working against him. When he exhibits these behaviors, calmly remove him from the room. In cases where you can predict a situation where you know he will get overstimulated, employ the use of a house leash which he can drag around indoors. This way the moment he jumps, you can say “too bad” and escort him to a bathroom or bedroom using the leash. Time outs should be short. Fifteen or 30 seconds of isolation from the provoking stimulus will do. If he comes out all jazzed up and repeats the behavior, immediately repeat the time out steps again. He should not be able to engage in the stimulating activity until he has noticeably calmed down. Avoid yelling or being too forceful while going through this new ritual, as this will only add excitement and frustration to the situation and likely exacerbate his behavior.
Reward appropriate behavior
If you are out for a walk and he gets overzealous over someone you meet, you can remove him from the person the moment he begins his excitable behaviors. Move back by about three to five feet, redirect his behavior, and then re-approach the person when he is calm and repeat as needed. Be sure to praise and reward Bandit for appropriate behavior. It’s not enough to tell him what not to do; you need to let him know when he is doing things well.
Prioritize training exercises
It’s important to realize that while time outs can be effective, they will not be enough on their own. The training exercises should be your focus. If he can learn how to control his enthusiasm in a controlled and manageable setting, you will do much better than relying on timeouts alone. Especially in a setting where the stakes are high and you are too distracted and he is too excited.
Remember: You are teaching, not testing. Go slow, and work at Bandit’s pace. This is going to take some time. Be patient as he already has a default behavior that he has been practicing with varied success for some time. It will be challenging for him to suddenly stop his excitable behavior and switch gears, but with knowledge, patience, and perseverance, you should see steady progress. Practice makes progress. Happy training!
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Robert Haussmann, CPDT-KA
Robert Haussman founded Dogboy NYC in 2005 to help pets navigate the urban jungle that is New York City using creative, practical, and humane training methods. Haussmann is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant, specializing in helping dogs overcome behavioral issues including fear, phobias, anxiety, and aggression. He advises owners on the best practices for making their dogs feel safe at home and beyond.