Case Study: What to Do About an Overexcited Dog

Learn what to do if your dog gets overexcited because he’s so eager to meet other dogs.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #105

The stars of this week’s article are Squid, a 16-week-old Jack Russell Terrier puppy, and my friend and colleague Bob Ryder. Bob worked with Squid as part of a 6-day behavior seminar held by the eminent trainer Pat Miller. Squid had been picked up as a stray when he was about eight weeks old; Pat was fostering him because some of his behavior would make him difficult to place without a little extra help. One problem was that Squid got super excited around other dogs, pulling toward them, whining and barking, and ignoring cues from his human handler.

How Can You Tell When an Excited Dog Is Friendly?

We often see dogs bark and lunge at other dogs in an aggressive or threatening way. But Bob saw that Squid play-bowed while pulling on leash. Squid’s tail wags were wide and low, not high and tight. And the muscles of his face were soft, not tense. Squid needed help learning to attend to his handler in the presence of dogs, but he didn’t have a problem with aggression.

Is It Normal for Young Dogs to Be Excitable?

Bob also put Squid’s behavior into context: Play is fun for many dogs, and especially for puppies. Even though Squid’s interest in other dogs was intense, it was normal; only he hadn’t yet learned to find people equally enthralling. His behavior was pretty typical of a young, energetic, untrained dog.

Most of us would say that a dog who acts like Squid has trouble paying attention. Bob reframed the situation with this elegant insight: Squid had no trouble at all paying attention—it was a question of what Squid paid attention to. Get that laser intensity working for you, and you’ve got quite a canine partner.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).