By: Gillian Daniels – Trainer at New Dawn Animal Behavior Center, Clearwater, FL
More often than not, a dog labeled as “hyperactive” is a normal dog who is understimulated and has no idea what to do with himself, or no outlet for his energy.
The energy level of a dog comes down to several factors. Genetics play a big role, as many popular breeds of dogs are bred to have the energy and stamina to work alongside their humans all day. Poor genetics of dogs from puppy mills or backyard breeders also play a role, and result in poorly bred, poorly socialized puppies ending up in the hands of people who are unprepared to care for and train them.
People can also have unreasonable expectations of their dog’s behavior, and have a poor understanding of their dog’s needs, which results in a lack of adequate physical and mental exercise. Many dogs have much more stamina than their humans, which is why mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Mental exercise can be a dog figuring out a food puzzle, doing a sport like K9 Nose Work, or scent games, or clicker training fun behaviors.
“Hyperactive” dogs often have poor impulse control, and training can greatly increase your dog’s impulse control. If you are unsure how to train your dog, contacting a local trainer who uses modern, science based methods is a great place to get started. Steer clear of a trainer who uses terms like, “being the alpha”, “dominance”, or mentions any “wolf logic”. Devices like shock collars, choke chains, and prong collars are not used by trainers who employ modern, science based methods, and should be avoided.
The reason we want to steer clear of using corrections and aversives in training is this just suppresses the behavior, but doesn’t teach your dog what you want them to do. Using aversive methods or punishing your dog damages your relationship, and can often make a dog more frantic, as he has no idea what is causing your (to him) random scary behavior.
The best way to teach your dog what you want him to do is by reinforcing the behaviors that you like, and teaching an incompatible behavior for things you don’t like. Clicker training is a lot of fun, and a very clear way to communicate to your dog what behaviors you like, and want to reinforce.