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

Good Trainers Plan Carefully

Squid had no trouble paying attention. He paid great attention to dogs--just not to his human handler.

Bob was to work with Squid two or three times a day for five days. Each work session lasted 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how well Squid was doing and how tired he was or how frustrated he got. Point to notice: Bob was careful to work within the limits of what Squid could handle.

Bob set a short-term goal: By the end of the week, Squid would learn to hold eye contact with Bob for 3 seconds and respond to the cue “Down,” 20 feet away from two people who were also working on Down with their calm dogs. Notice how modest this goal is? TV shows, and I guess our own wishful thinking, lead us to expect that we can solve our dogs’ training and behavior problems in an action-packed session or two. In real life and with a competent trainer, progress is careful, systematic, and, yes, slow. Hare, meet tortoise.

Good Trainers Work in Small Steps

Bob started with Squid and one other dog, keeping about 50 feet between them. They worked in Pat Miller’s fairly quiet barn, so that Squid wouldn’t be additionally distracted by the 500 bajillion other things in the world that fascinated him. Bob clicked and treated for a split second of eye contact in 3 sets of 5 reps each, then moved 3 feet closer to the other dog.

And here are the next points to notice about how really good training works: Bob didn’t ask for much at first--that “split second of eye contact” comes straight from his own writeup of his work with Squid. Bob also used food treats that Squid adored--Squid’s favorite was tiny bits of meatball. He gave Squid plenty of practice at each level of difficulty, and he upped the ante just a little at a time. If Squid couldn’t succeed at least 90 percent of the time, Bob went back to an easier step and practiced some more.

Good Trainers Adjust for Real-Life Complications

Real life got in the way of Bob’s systematic plan on the third day.


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).