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Help! My dog gets over excited

Help!  My dog gets over excited

image001-1Yip we’ve all experienced it, our dogs get way too excited when they are playing fetch in the garden with the ball or they are out on a walk around the neighbourhood, they start jumping about, barking relentlessly and mouthing, all of which we humans don’t enjoy too much. It’s a totally understandable behaviour and we need to learn to manage their experiences of it. If we want our dogs to be chilled and happy, we need to help our dogs achieve this through mental release exercises. It’s kind of the same for humans, we are more relaxed if we take part in yoga classes as opposed to running marathons. When playing with your dogs, it is extremely important take note of their excitement levels. We call this keeping them below threshold. Whether it’s during formal training, exercise or playing games. Simply put, don’t let the dog get over excited. Although this is particularly pertinent to dogs that are easily aroused, it is a good general guide line when working with any dog. Because excitement in dogs often causes undesirable behaviours in the humans eyes.

Regular physical exercise is both healthy and necessary for our dogs. There is however some common problems that can, and often do, affect our dogs when they are incorrectly exercised or when playing games with them.

There is a misconception that “over excited” dogs need to be exercised harder and longer to tire them out and this often leads to the emergence of unwanted behaviours. By walking our dogs longer we are actually just making them better athletes. Although it’s great for your dog to get out and exercise. Not all exercise relaxes our dogs, some in fact cause they to become over excited.

So what is over-arousal and how do we recognise it.  Arousal is our dog’s level of excitement and emotional control. When a dog is highly aroused he will have very poor impulse control and his heart rate will often be elevated. He may vocalise incessantly and jump around or up on you, including mouthing or grabbing at leads, toys or other items you may be carrying. Panting, pacing, spinning in circles and trying to hump you can also be associated with over-arousal.

Dogs that are highly aroused are often stressed, however stress is not always a bad thing. When we talk of stress we always do so with a negative connotation but there is also a positive form of stress called eustress. Winning a prized trophy or having your car stolen are both stressful events to which the body reacts in exactly the same manner although your emotional response is vastly different. This is pertinent to our dogs to and is an important factor to remember because happy and exciting events can create a physiological stress response in our dogs. When your dog is stressed the body releases certain “stress hormones” into the bloodstream and these hormones can take up to, and sometimes even longer, than 72 hours to dissipate. Imagine then how you would feel if you went sky-diving followed by a rock concert every single day for a few weeks ! Our bodies and likewise our dog’s bodies are not “designed” for prolonged periods of over excitement!

Exercise that over-arouses your dog can be ok occasionally but allowing it to happen every day is likely to do more harm than good and dogs that have difficulty in calming down or controlling themselves often become reactive and hypervigilant. For example, playing fetch every day with a ball or frisbee obsessed dog may well result in over-arousal as the hormones do not have sufficient time to dissipate before being subjected to another “hormone burst”.
Rather reduce this type of exercise and interchange it with some other forms of physical and mental release like searching for an article that you “dropped” while out walking with your dog.

Use the high arousal games and exercises less frequently or for “special occasions” instead of a daily routine. This will allow a longer “calming down” period between bouts of over-arousal which will prevent the activity (i.e. over arousal/excitement) from becoming a normal behaviour for your dog.

Remember that the mental release your dog gets from calm relaxed games and interaction with you is as important as the robust physical exercise.

SOME CALMING GAMES & ACTIVITIES FOR YOU AND YOUR DOG

Whenever you have a moment, try stimulating the dog/dogs with different games. Here are some possible games you can try :

Mealtimes

Mealtimes are very important to your dogs and are something they look forward to excitedly. So it is important that they do not get put under any stress while eating. If your dog tends to “gobble” their food, I would suggest that you serve the meals in a slow feeder. This will encourage him to take longer over his meals.

Slow feeder, see Dogma Slow Feed bowl, www.dogma.co.za.

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Brain toys

Brain toys are great for keeping the dog stimulated and occupied while they figure out how to get the treats out of the toy. Brain toys can be very effectively employed at meal times by replacing the dog’s food bowl. There are a wide variety of these toys available, all designed to brighten up the lives of our pets. Shingavet carry an extremely good range of brain toys.

For more examples of brain toys see www.shingavet.co.za

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Chew toys

Suitable chew toys would be stuffed kongs, hooves stuffed with peanut butter etc. There are numerous similar chew toys available from pet stores and supermarkets. The home- made ice cube chewy is an inexpensive and very effective toy to keep all the dogs occupied for long periods of time. Simply freeze some of their pellets, chopped up Vienna sausage, small pieces of chicken or similar yummy treats in some beef stock or water and give the “ice cubes” to the dogs to chew.

It is important to make sure the dogs do not fight over the toys. I would suggest that you supervise the dogs the first few times you give them chewy toys to monitor their behaviour. As these toys are fun and enjoyable, the dogs regard them as high value articles and may display resource guarding tendencies. That is they will not willing want to share their toy. Should there be any disagreements over the toys, separate the dogs and let them have their toys alone for an hour or so then pick up all the toys and let the dogs back together again.

kong-stuffing

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CLICK HERE – for the best Kong recipes to create delicious treats to stuff inside a Kong dog toy.

CLICK HERE – to watch a video about stuffing kongs

Seek

Place a small piece of chicken or other suitable treat under an upturned bowl or cup (empty yogurt tubs are suitable) then place another empty bowl/cup next to it. Encourage the dog to look for the treat. When he/she finds the correct bowl/cup say “yes” or any word of your choice, and allow him/her to have the treat. As they learn what is required you can increase the number of bowls/cups and move them further apart. You can also hide them behind trees, flower pots and other objects. Remember not to let him see where you are placing the treats.

Another fun version of the seek game is to use an old muffin or cub cake tray. Place a small high value treat in the recesses of the tray, then place a tennis ball on top of the treat. Put the tray on the ground and allow the dog to search for the treat under the tennis balls.

Recall

The recall is another useful game to play and can be done anywhere indoors or outdoors. When walking around call the dog to you in an enthusiastic voice. Use the same cue word each time, “come “ is commonly used. As soon as the dog gets to you reward him/her with a treat and lots of verbal praise. The more you do this the quicker the dog will respond when calling him/her. A strong recall teaches the dog that coming to you is more rewarding and much better than any of the behaviours they are doing at the time.

By Gordon Banks
Dip CABT (NOCN UK) / CABT SA Practitioner / IMDT
DogtownSA Trainer & Behaviourist

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