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 other handler’s dog got scared when the barn timbers creaked in high wind. Working outside, in less controlled circumstances, Squid outdid himself. He was even able to respond to Bob’s cues to perform other simple behaviors that he already knew well. For my money, this is a great example of why good trainers won’t rush progress at the outset. Start slow, and you might be surprised by how much you can speed up later.

On the last working day of the seminar, the class took a field trip to a local mall. Squid had been adopted and was about to move to New York City. The mall was about as close an approximation as Hagerstown, Maryland, could get. Squid did well with those 500 bajillion other distractors I mentioned earlier. And he could work at long distances from the other dogs, but he couldn’t manage to work up close as he had been doing in the familiar environment of Pat’s barn and premises. Because he wasn’t quite ready for this challenge, he earned fewer food reinforcers. And because he earned fewer reinforcers – and also didn’t get to engage with the other dog – he got tired and frustrated. He whined, he barked, he pulled. Bob wisely took this as a cue to give Squid a break and then practice easy behaviors that he knew well.

Good Trainers Are Flexible

We need to be flexible in working with our dogs. Bob set his original goal for Squid expecting that he could control all the conditions under which they worked together. When the situation changed and they had to work outdoors, Squid did just fine. But the other new context, the mall, turned out to be more challenging for him. Bob well stated the point to take with you here. If your dog isn’t quite ready for a particular situation, “slow down and work more systematically again to set him up for success.”

Why Do Dogs Sometimes “Blow You Off”?

Over the course of the seminar, Bob also noticed that Squid learned more easily and had more success early in the day. Several factors could be involved. The first daily training session came after a long hike on Pat’s farm, so Squid came to work relaxed and hungry. But he’s a young and bouncy dog, so the effects of a morning hike wore off as the day went on.


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).