True hyperactivity, or hyperkinesis, is a rare condition in dogs. In order for a clinical diagnosis to be made, most or all of the following symptoms should be present:
- Increased resting heart and respiratory rates
- Failure to adjust to common stimuli like everyday household noises and activities
- Sustained emotional arousal and an inability to settle down
- Paradoxical calming response to amphetamines
Does your dog run when he could walk, or pace back and forth when he should be snoozing?
Does he lurch forward on his leash, yanking and tugging -- threatening to dislocate your arm?
Does your pup bark at nothing, chase his tail, counter surf looking for food left behind, or just plain wear you out with his constant need for activity and attention?
If your dog is so wired he bounces off walls and can’t ever seem to sit still, believe it or not, chances are his behavior isn’t a sign of a clinical condition like hyperactivity.
It’s more likely your pup’s energy level is a result of his breed, his lifestyle, how you react to his excessive behavior – or a combination of factors.
High Activity Breeds
Every dog, regardless of breed or size, has a requirement for physical movement, exercise and playtime. But several breeds are characterized by a high to very high need for activity and stimulation.
If your high energy dog is one of the following breeds, or is a mixed breed with primary characteristics of one of these breeds, it’s important to know your pup is designed by nature to be much more active than other breeds.
*Jack Russell Terrier
*Old English Sheepdog
*Poodle (toy, miniature, standard)
Canadian Welsh Corgi
Dandie Dinmont Terrier
English Springer Spaniel
*German Wirehaired Pointer
West Highland Terrier
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
*Breeds characterized as “very active.” Remaining breeds are characterized as “active.”
Each dog within a breed is an individual, of course. Within each breed characteristic there is a spectrum of what is considered typical.
Within the Golden Retriever temperament spectrum, for example, you can expect dogs with a high need for activity and dogs that are often content to nap at your feet all evening.
Puppies and young dogs will have different energy levels than adults within the same breed, as well.
Breed characteristics are simply guidelines for what is usual or expected for a breed. If your dog’s activity level seems excessive, understanding his innate temperament can give you important clues about how to channel his energy in ways that will benefit both of you.
Could Your Dog’s Diet Be the Problem?
If you’re feeding your dog a commercial pet food, she might have an allergy to one or more ingredients in the mix. Many of the so-called “healthy pet foods” on the market contain inferior meat meals, cheap grains like corn, rice and soy, fillers, by-products, food coloring, pesticides, preservatives, and other contaminants.
If your pup has a food allergy or intolerance to ingredients in the diet you’re feeding her, it can contribute to restlessness and hyperactive behavior, as well as sub-optimal health.
I recommend a diet that mimics your pet’s biological nutritional requirements as closely as possible. Ideally, your dog should be eating a species appropriate, nutritionally balanced, raw food diet.
Your next best option is to go with a human grade, USDA approved canned food.
I don’t advise you feed your dog kibble (dry food), and especially not an exclusive diet of it. If you do feed kibble occasionally, stick with a blend made with human-grade ingredients and little to no grains. Whenever you serve kibble, make sure your pup has access to lots of fresh, clean drinking water.
Why Exercise is So Important
Every dog, from the smallest to the oldest, needs regular physical activity to be healthy, and this is especially true if your dog is a high energy model.
Dogs are workers by nature and many were bred for a specific purpose, like hunting, retrieving, herding or guarding. Canines in the wild have very busy lives tending to the business of survival, raising their young and socializing with other members of the pack.
Unfortunately, many companion dogs today have sedentary lives. They don’t get enough physical or mental stimulation, and they often spend many hours alone at home every day.
Dogs with very active temperaments, in particular, can develop behavior problems if they aren’t provided with appropriate outlets to work off their natural energy.
If your dog is under exercised or bored, he’s likely to exhibit some or all of the following behaviors and seem as though he has a clinical case of hyperactivity:
- Barking or whining for attention
- Excessive mouthing and play biting
- Predatory and rough play
- Destructive chewing, digging or scratching
- Counter surfing, garbage raiding and other sneaky type behaviors
- Rowdiness, crashing into furniture, jumping up on people
Suggestions for Exercising Your Dog
Insuring your high energy pooch gets an adequate amount of physical and mental stimulation is a priority.
Many parents of former hopelessly hyperactive dogs have found the key to a calm, well-behaved pup is plenty of exercise and playtime.
Contrary to what many dog owners believe, your dog – no matter how small – can’t get adequate exercise running around your home or backyard. Only dogs in the wild, fending for themselves, get all the physical activity they need on their own.
Your dog needs your help to get the most out of exercise and playtime. There are lots of activities you can enjoy with your pup, no matter your own level of physical fitness or limitations, including:
- Take a walk or a hike with your dog.
- Play fetch the ball. If you don’t have a strong throwing arm, you can use a gadget like a Chuckit! Ball Launcher to lengthen the distance your dog must run to fetch and return the ball.
- Take a bike ride alongside your dog using a special dog bike leash.
- Roller blade or jog with your pup.
- Take your dog for a swim and play fetch in the water.
- Play a game of tug-of-war.
- Play hide-and-seek with treats or your dog’s favorite toys.
- Get your dog involved in obedience, tracking, flyball, agility or other types of sports. If you can match an organized activity to your dog’s breed characteristics, all the better.
When your dog is indoors, and especially when she’s home alone, challenge her with food puzzle toys like the Clever K-9.
If your job or other obligations keep you away from home for long hours, consider taking your pup to a doggie daycare facility a couple days a week. You might also hire a dog walker to take your pooch for a daily stroll or a romp at the dog park.
Be Careful Not to Reinforce Unwanted Behavior
Many parents of highly active dogs unintentionally reward their pets for excessive behavior.
Some dogs -- especially hyper what-about-me types – regard any attention, positive or negative, as better than no attention at all.
Attention-seeking behaviors can run the gamut from non-stop barking every time you take a phone call, to games of “keep away” involving your cell phone or watch. There have even been reported cases of dogs feigning lameness or illness in a bid for attention.
The way to put a stop to unwanted behavior in your dog is to ignore it. Depending on the behavior this can be a challenge, but if you remain consistent and determined, your dog will ultimately lose interest because his bid for attention is having the opposite effect.
The first few times you ignore him when he’s performing an attention-seeking activity, understand that your dog will most likely escalate the behavior temporarily.
But if you continue to ignore him, and only pay attention to him when he’s not engaged in unwanted behavior, eventually his attention-seeking antics will grind to a halt. His goal is to get your attention, which is the opposite of being ignored, so he’ll soon learn which behaviors are getting him the opposite of what he wants.
Meantime, be sure to lavish attention on him with petting, praise, food treats and shared activities when he’s behaving as you want him to. Remember -- attention to good behavior begets good behavior, and ignoring unwanted behavior extinguishes it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you’re at the end of your rope with your energetic pooch and your efforts to properly socialize, train and exercise him don’t seem to be helping, it’s time to visit your veterinarian for a consultation and workup.
Certain drugs, especially bronchodilator medicines and thyroid hormone supplements, can contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity. Aging can also be a factor, as can diseases of the central nervous system.
And of course it’s possible your dog really is clinically hyperactive, in which case all your best efforts to modify his behavior may not have much effect without simultaneous drug therapy or treatment with natural remedies.
If your vet determines there’s no physiologic basis for your pup’s hyperactivity, the next step is to consult a dog trainer or other animal behaviorist.
What you don’t want to do is become overwhelmed or completely exhausted trying to modify your dog’s behavior on your own.
Commit to finding answers for your dog’s behavior, and seek the help you need from knowledgeable sources. This will strengthen the bond and long-term relationship between you and your best furry friend.