Funnily enough this title is a bit of a red herring, because if we want to calm down a hyperactive dog, less is more. In fact it’s often human behaviour which keeps a dog in this hyperactive state. Let’s break this down and look at it in detail.
Why does a dog become hyperactive?
Many things can put a dog into a hyperactive state. To me, the most simple way of thinking about it is that when a dog is being hyperactive they can’t relax. They are in a heightened state which could have been triggered (or kept going) by any number of different stimuli, such as:
- Your return home
- Arrival of visitors
- Anticipation of the walk
- Us talking to them
- Hearing noises that they think may be a threat
- Something unusual happening
- Something that they don’t understand happening
What DOESN’T cause hyperactivity (contrary to popular belief) is BOREDOM. We believe this to be true because it’s what we’ve been told and it looks like it fits, but actually the more we try to ‘relieve’ this ‘boredom’ the more we are stimulating them and they are already in a heightened state – so they will actually become MORE hyperactive.
Party host syndrome
My favourite way of describing hyperactivity is to get owners to imagine that they are hosting a party. There are a number of guests round and they spend the whole time making sure that everything is going well. All drinks are kept refreshed, there’s plenty of food, any spillages get cleaned up, everyone has someone to talk to – and so on. When you host a party you don’t relax until everyone has gone home and you’ve finished clearing up. To an alien watching the party, if asked to point out the most hyperactive person, they would probably indicate the host (unless it was a children’s party, but that’s a different story).
When you go to someone else’s party, you feel completely different. None of it is your problem, so you don’t need to rush around. The alien would not pick you out at this party. You are not responsible, so you can just relax.
Hyperactive dogs feel responsible
If your adult dog is in a heightened state for a prolonged period, without being stimulated – that means that your dog is feeling responsible and just doesn’t quite know what to do about it – so can’t just relax and be calm. This creates feelings of anxiety and being out of control, so the behaviour can escalate.
N.B. Young pups do lots of exploration and play, so it’s natural for them to stay on the go for longer periods of time. Provided they are also conking out, having calm periods and sleeping lots too!
How to calm down a hyperactive dog
Take control. Not in a human way though, in a dog way. For more information on that, check out “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell, or book an appointment with your local dog listener (or both!)
At the time that your dog is being hyperactive, you must stay calm yourself. Gently move them way from anything you don’t want them doing, e.g. jumping up at you, getting over interested in cables, etc. Don’t look at them or speak to them. Make sure there is something accessible that they are allowed to chew – chewing is a natural stress reliever. If possible, stay fairly still yourself. Do not interact at all until they have completely calmed down and lay down to relax…
Now before you say it… hundreds of times owners have said to me “My dog never fully relaxes” – yet within the consultation they are saying “Wow, I’ve never seen him/her relax like that before”. All we are doing is creating an environment which allows the dog to calm down. Their natural state is calm and relaxed, so we just have to allow it.
Sadly our default human behaviour is to do the opposite! We must learn the way of the dog, if we want our beloved pets to be as happy as they can be.
If you’d like help with your hyperactive dog, I am based in Leigh on Sea, near Southend in Essex, and I do in home consultations all over the county, including Basildon, Brentwood, Chelmsford and Colchester, so get in touch if you’d like to know more about how I can help.
If you are further afield, I do have a number of colleagues throughout the world, so check out your nearest one via this link: http://janfennellthedoglistener.com/listeners