Caring for and trying to train a hyper, high energy dog can be exhausting, time consuming, and frustrating. We’ve collected a few tips below to help you rein in your rambunctious dog and produce a calmer dog that is happier and better able to fit in your family.
Step One – Identify the Cause of the Excess Energy
Evaluate why you dog is so hyper. Some dogs are predisposed to hyperactivity because of age or breed, but hyperactivity in dogs can be as simple to fix as switching brands of dog food. Do you feed your dog a supermarket or store brand of dog food? Do you feed a corn based food like Science Diet, Eukanuba, or Pro-Plan? Check the label! When your dog eats high energy carohydrates like corn, the cabohydrates are converted to energy and can be the worst offender in food based causes of extremely energetic dogs. Consider switching to a protein based dog food- a food whose top ingredient listed is chicken, beef, or another type of meat- with no corn and low starch. Surprisingly, many premium dog foods are higher quality and lower cost than what you may be feeding. Top quality foods like Wellness, Eagle Pack, or Innova are slightly more expensive than Science Diet, but even Diamond brand foods are better than Science Diet and sell for almost half the cost. Cutting the carbohydrates from your dogs diet may help your hyper dog calm down by eleminating some of his excess energy. Once you’ve eliminated nutritional causes, you can begin to behaviorally shape your hyper dog’s ability to pay attention.
Step Two – Behavior Modification to Release Energy in Acceptable Ways.
Sometimes it’s okay to have lots of energy! Running laps in a dog park or big back yard, playing fetch, or roughhousing with other dogs are all times that it is okay to unleash boundless energy! In the car, going to the vet, or coming along to a child’s baseball game is NOT a time for a dog to behave in a hyper way. Below are some suggestions for safe, positive energy release:
Let your hyper dog express his energy!
We once had a standard poodle who was full of boundless energy, and every morning we’d let him outside our rural home and he would run about 6-12 laps around the house as fast as his legs could possibly carry him- and he’d finished, continue on the day with us, come to work, nap, and behave all day. Like a child- he just needed to use some of his energy before he could focus or relax. Most dogs will not exercise themselves even if their yard is huge, you may need to start walking or jogging with your dog, or play a half hour of fetch with your dog while catching up on gardening or doing other chores in the yard.
Give your dog the tools to contain his energy.
You’ll rarely wear a hyper dog out completely, but you can give him the tools, through training, to know when it’s important to behave and how to do it. The most important step to this kind of training is involving the dog’s brain. If the dog’s brain is engaged, then he’s much more likely to be able to behave than if he was asked to be completely inactive. Rather than telling your dog to “calm down” or “behave” or booting them out all together, teach your dog to “calm” or “sit still” on command. Train it just like you would a stay- stand right in front of her (so close she can’t take a step forward) and give the command, then praise her for 1 second of stillness, the next time for 2 seconds, then 5 etc. If you needed to, you can physically put your hands on her to encourage her to stay seated, then move your hands away just an inch or two as you train. She will learn quickly that remaining still earns a treat! If you can teach her to be focused on being still you can begin to use that “trick” to calm her in situations where her hyperness overwhelms you or visitors to your home. Training your dog to “calm” isn’t a fix to the problem, but may help her focus at times when it’s necessary for your hyper dog to calm down.
Is your dog home alone all day?
There are special considerations for dogs who are left at home or in crates all day. Like you, your dog has a need to express energy and react to stimulation. Have you ever been snowed in for a few days and experienced the frustration and physical need to move? Dogs were designed to be much more active than humans, so your dog may reach that frustration level in hours, not days.
If you have to leave your dog home alone for long periods, make sure to leave him in such a way that he can occupy his brain, and preferably body, while you are gone. Interactive toys, and safe rubber chew toys are a perfect occupation for clever, curious dogs. Your dog will appreciate exercise early in the morning- before you leave for the day. If possible, install a doggie door to a safe fenced yard so your dog can express energy and explore his world- running, sniffing, barking, and playing in such a way that you come home to a happy, moderately energetic dog ready to welcome you home without extreme energy.
A final note- dog’s process information sometimes very slowly. Stimulation one day can occupy their brain and keep part of them happy and stimulated a few days into the future. It is for this reason that a once a week obedience, agility, or herding class is a great idea for hyper dogs. The class will help them expel energy constructively (especially herding and agility) and help occupy their mind between classes.