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Over-Stimulated, Overly Friendly Dogs
Before they can learn, wild, high-arousal personalities need to learn how to relax.
Some dogs are go-go-go 24/7. They wake up wound up. They burst through doorways, bark at you to hurry up and feed them. Must go, must do, must go see, might miss something. Others are only wired up when something in the environment changes. Doorbells and the sound of the mailman opening the mailbox become emotional event triggers. They don't just bark to alert you. They lose their mind and their ability to think. They are on high alert to every sight and sound. Canine adrenaline junkies.
What does way over-the-top arousal look like?
Combinations of one or more of the following: High startle response. Hyper focused, scanning the horizon, pupil dilation, chattering teeth, rapid panting, or mouth clenched shut when focused in. Up on their toes, scorpion tail and cobra neck, staring with zero blink rate. Jumping on you, on furniture, on other dogs or people. When they chew on something they seem ravenous. Zero impulse control. Grabbing things, clothing, your arms, your ankles. Whining. Their bark is sharp and piercing. They bark at what they want, at you, at movement, at sounds, at sudden environmental contrast.
It's important to note that an under-exercised dogs are often over-stimulated and wound up. Dogs need adequate exercise, brain toys, and training and attention to give them a full and satisfying life. But It's not enough to try to wear them out. They also need to learn how to relax and get adequate rest.
Check out these resources:
"Too Much of a Good Thing: Over-excitement in Exercise"
"Chill Out, Fido - How to Calm Your Dog" by Nan Kene Arthur
"Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training the Crazy Dog from Over the Top to Under Control" by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Some dogs seem to go from 0 to 100 in 0.5 seconds flat. But it's more likley that they are riding at 95 for much of their day, so the tiniest change in the environment sends them into a frenzy.
The Complete Guide to Stress in Dogs (And How to Relieve It)
Impulse Control-Impulse Control-Impulse Control
"If only I could wear him out."
"Maybe if we can find dogs for him to wrestle with he'll stop abusing us."
It sounds good in theory. But it often makes matters worse.
You throw the ball until your arm aches and still he wants more. What started out a way to wear him out, has become an obsession.
Responding to demand barking just feeds the frustration. Provide mental exercise instead, problem solving, scent games, self soothing activities, marrow bones, snuffle mats.
Riding the adrenaline wave of hyper-arousal is stressful on the body. He needs to learn how to calm himself.
You took him the dog park so he could run and play, and now he loses his mind at the sight of every dog he sees.
He needs practice just hanging out, sniffing, sprawling in the lawn being polite with another dog, without wrestling or chasing.
Overly-social - it's a good problem to have - way better than the alternative! But it can get them into trouble. They strain at the leash to get to dogs or people. They rush in too fast, too close, with too much contact. It puts the other dog in a very uncomfortable position. The tension against the leash pulls them into what looks like an adversarial posture. This is a recipe for a dog fight.
The biggest problem is they aren't listening to what the other dog is saying - it's a one-sided conversation. They aren't following appropriate social protocol. Other dogs telegraph their "no thank you' signals, warn louder, brace themselves for impact, and finally react. Both dogs are impacted by the interaction. Dogs who are continually rushed by other dogs eventually abandon the polite 'no-thank you's' and go straight to self defense every time another dog shows interest.
Overly-social dogs can easily become dog-aggressive dogs.
They are rude. They rush into other dogs' space and get decked for it. They become defensive. "I'll get you before you get me."
"But, he just wants to say 'hi' to the other dog!"
Read this article by Suzanne Clothier Don't wait. Do it now!
Meeting every dog he sees will not satisfy him so he doesn't obsess so much. It will likely make him worse. You are rewarding the emotional excitement and sustaining the expectation.
"But, he's fine as soon as he gets to meet them."
What are you teaching him? Whatever behavior he displayed before he met that other dog is what you rewarded. Rushing up to that other dog is the most amazing jackpot reward you could possibly give him in return for dragging you there. Trade CALM polite behavior for what he wants.
Dog Meets Dog by Nick Ares
The dog above is certainly being "friendly" - but look at the other dog. Ears back, tail tucked, leaning away and against his tight leash as his owner pulls him toward the big scary dog. This is NOT a good meeting!
The 10 foot / 3 second rule:
Keep your distance - Keep greetings short and sweet.
Maintain a minimum distance of a 10 foot arc when passing other dogs. If you have room, make it larger. No straining, no staring!
Do not allow the dogs to meet unless you AND the other owner have agreed that the dogs can safely and calmly meet. If either dog hesitates or turns away, don't! If they are calm and focused on you, make sure the leashes are slack before giving the okay. They should say 'hi' for no more than 3 seconds before calling them away, even if it is going well. After a short break, ask them if they'd like to say 'hello' again. If either dog declines, move on.
The over-excited greeter needs distance and time to acclimate to the arrival of guests in the home before being allowed to say hello. Leave the dog in his crate, behind an adequate baby gate, or in another room, until your guests have settled in and the dog is quiet.
Bending over and reaching over a dog's head is a sure way to invite a face-full of leaping dog. Over-excited guests can send your dog over the top. Before you bring the dog in, give your guests specific instructions on the importance of being calm so your dog can be calmer. Tell them what to do to help your dog be successful. "Ignore the dog, speak quietly, scratch with one hand under the chin, not over the top of his head." Bring him in on leash and let him settle at your feet before you bring him around to say, 'hello.' If the people are seated and you lead the dog so he is sideways with his ribs against their knees, they will be able to pet his back without leaning over or reaching over his head. You can keep him busy with a handful of really yummy treats. More tips here for mouthy/grabby greeters.
What are they learning through high-arousal play?
If your party animal loses his mind when he sees other dogs, STOP going to the dog park or day care.
For many dogs, the repeated free exposure to other dogs makes them worse. They drag you to the entry and rush in and rush up to other dogs. They are practicing high arousal play with no boundaries. And worse, what is it doing to your relationship?
They can't wait to get away from you and to the other dogs.
It may seem like if they had "more practice" playing with other dogs, they'd get better. If they got more exercise, they'd be tired and happy. The reality is, there is a correlation between dogs who regularly attend group free play with unfamiliar dogs and leash frustration and poor dog-to-dog manners.
If your dog isn't improving, or is getting worse from his group play experiences, STOP.
Article: Why Not the Dog Park?
Sleep-overs and play dates. Hikes with other dogs and their owners. Play dates with familiar, socially appropriate dog-friends. Small, well-regulated play groups of just a few dogs who compliment each other's personalities and play style, respect each other's needs and set fair boundaries. Good mentors! They should mostly wander, sniff, nap, and explore together, interspersed with occasional bouncy chase games.
Sniff Spots where you and your dog's good friends can rent the area for private play dates rather than take your chances at a public off leash area and hope that the other dogs and owners will be a good experience for your dog.
HELPING YOUR PARTY ANIMAL IN CLASS AND IN PUBLIC
Set up Contingencies: IF / THEN
You set the expectation. You control what behaviors get rewarded.
Your dog should assume that he is NOT going to meet other dogs on the street or in class. Getting to meet should be the exception, not the rule.
When he does get to meet other dogs or people, there should be specific expectations in place. You will insist that, in order to get to meet, he will:
Approach calmly - no pulling, no straining
Listen and follow directions: full attention on handler before release
Eye contact - looking to you for permission
Come away when called - without having to be pulled away
IF your leash is slack. IF your attention is on me. IF you are patient and polite. IF you wait for the specific "okay" to meet, THEN you may meet briefly and politely, and then we will move on immediately when I cue.
Prepare your wild child for class:
Exercise, but don't over-exercise - choose activities that create a satisfied, relaxed dog, not an energized ready-to-party dog. Sniffing and searching is a good form of tiring exercise that is calming and satisfying.
Hungry - eager for the rewards you have.
Not too-hungry - If he's ravenous and frantic about eating, you could add stress rather than motivation. Know your dog.
High value rewards - if he's on an adrenaline high, kibble won't cut it. It needs to be moist and smelly. You need real meat, organ meat, cheese, canned food in a squeeze tube, deli meat.
Work on bite inhibition. When dogs get wound up, the tension in their bodies is also held in their jaws - if they already struggle with bite inhibition, the addition of stress will naturally cause them to bite even harder when they take treats or grab for a toy. Don't toss treats for them to catch. This causes sudden snapping at a moving target, not careful taking. You may calmly place treats on the ground for your dog to collect. When you deliver food, cup it in your palm, like feeding a pony grain, rather than pinching it in your fingers.
No tight leashes - short, but no tension. Brake and release. Keep him close and limit where he can go, but be sure his weight is evenly distributed and he is standing in balance, not leaning against a tight leash. Be aware that a large portion of pulling is YOU!
Eyes and noses to themselves. Pay attention to how the dogs around you are feeling. Your dog may be super-friendly but if the dog he is dying to meet is shrinking away redirect his attention on you. If your dog's gaze is causing another dog to act up, please get his attention back on you.
Practice redirecting - help your dog be good at it before you need it. Settle and focus, keeping attention. Ask your instructor to show you how to teach and use bail-out moves to quickly get your dog out of sticky situations.
Equipment - gentle leader head collars are a great choice for dogs who lunge or bark or stare as you can gently turn their head away from the thing they are focused on.
Calm entry and exit - how he arrives will set the tone for the rest of the class. How he exits sets the tone for the next entry. Wait in the car until the crowd has cleared or arrive early to get settled before the crowd assembles. Your dog should wait until you have checked to be sure the coast is clear before he leaves the car or follows you through any door.
Avoid traffic hazards - avoid OTHER maniacs!
No tail-gating! Stay alert! The world is a busy freeway of potential hazards. Defensive driving is essential. Where is your dog looking? Your dog should practice getting it RIGHT, not blowing up and recovering.
Distance is your friend. If he can't look at you because he's too laser-focused on something, move farther away.
Party Gates. Portable gates will reduce the amount of visual stimulation your dog has in the classroom. This will help social butterflies and worried dogs be less distracted so they can focus on their owners. If you need a gate, please ask!
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