What to Do If Your Dog Is Hyperactive

Is your dog super energetic? Hyperactive? Hyperkinetic?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #094

Why You Should Train a (Slightly) Tired Dog

Trainer proverb: A tired dog is a good dog. Well, sort of. A dog who’s had a chance to blow off steam with exercise will have a much easier time learning manners and self-control. But exercise alone won’t make your dog mannerly; if you don’t pair exercise with training, you’ll wind up with an ill-mannered, out-of-control, athletic dog. So take your slightly tired dog and teach her the skills that will make her easy to live with: walking politely on leash, greeting people without jumping up on them, resting in her crate, waiting for permission to go out an open door, remaining relaxed around your kitten instead of chasing her ... whatever matters to you and your household.

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Hyperactive

The diagnoses of hyperactivity and hyperkinesis exist because you can exercise and train some dogs till the cows come home and find yourself getting nowhere. Bear in mind that for certain individuals and certain breeds--and especially for dogs bred for hard work--the normal level of energy is extremely high. The difference between those dogs and hyperactive or hyperkinetic dogs is that the latter have trouble learning and don’t seem to get used to new stimuli and new situations. They’re restless, on edge, and always moving, no matter how much exercise they get. Their heart rates are high. They pant and salivate a lot. Some show aggressive behavior. The one such dog I have met in my work could hold a down-stay for half an hour (she was an exceptionally good learner in spite of her condition), but she seemed to vibrate the entire time. I stress, she was getting plenty of physical exercise; this wasn’t normal adolescent pent-upness.

How to Treat Your Dog’s Hyperactivity

If your dog’s main symptom is that she jumps around a lot, first ask yourself honestly whether she gets enough exercise and whether you have worked patiently and consistently to teach her good manners.

You’ll remember that at the beginning of this article I said that some veterinary behaviorists consider hyperactivity and hyperkinesis as different disorders. Yet I’ve been lumping them together as I describe their symptoms. That’s because--you’ll love this--“the clinical presentation of hyperactivity is exactly the same as that for hyperkinesis.” (1) Veterinary behaviorists may classify hyperactivity and hyperkinesis as separate because they respond to different medications. Hyperactive dogs are treated with tranquilizers. Hyperkinetic dogs often respond to methylphenidate--the active ingredient in drugs such as Ritalin. (2) Like children with ADHD, they respond to the stimulant paradoxically, developing better focus and the ability to calm down.


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).

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