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Jumping, barking, grabbing, biting, and humping.

The dog who gets worked up and can't stop.

Over-stimulation is a response to a too-high level of excitement for this particular dog in this particular moment.


Some dogs ramp up easily and quickly and have a hard time recovering from their big emotions.  This can be individual temperament or breed-trait, a product of genetics.  It could be a misunderstanding between dogs or dog and person.  A mismatch of age, size, or play styles.  Out-of-context behaviors,  like shaking-off, scratching, or suddenly getting the zoomies, can occur when the dog is experiencing conflicting emotions.  Displacement behaviors are an attempt to deflect stress, uncertainty, anxiety or frustration. 

In most cases, it's simply immaturity.  

Impulsive young dogs, like young humans, have a hard time regulating their emotions.  Especially if they are hungry, tired, or have had too much stimulation for the day or are being asked to do a skill they aren't ready for.

Frequently, it's inadequate exercise or boredom.  

A strong, athletic dog with no outlet for his energy or problem-solving skills.

But it can also be too much exercise - creating a dog who can't settle, rarely relaxes, and doesn't get enough sleep.

Are you trying too hard to give your dog enough entertainment and exercise? Trying to "wear them out" can backfire.  Encouraging high arousal games every time they ask creates a dog who can't accept it when you say, "not now, later." Yes, your canine athletes need exercise and mental stimulation.  But they also need to rest and really relax.​ To flop at your feet and snore instead of trying to engage you in a game all day long or wrestling with each other every waking moment.  

Sending a dog to day care or the dog park can create a dog who is chronically over-tired and leave them cranky at the end of the day.


Dog-to-dog play may involve sparring and grabbing with teeth.

Sometimes play gets too rough and turns into a fight.
Puppies who constantly play wrestle with other dogs may never learn proper greeting rituals or how to negotiate appropriate social greetings with mature or shy dogs. They may become bullies.

Dog--human play should not involve teeth on skin or clothing.

You are not a dog. Don't play like one.


Where there is strong behavior, there is reinforcement. 


What's fueling the behavior?

Sometimes, it's learned behavior - something encouraged (wrestling and roughhousing) or inadvertently rewarded (greeting them when they jump up).  Perhaps the barking, jumping or grabbing behavior historically gets results (you notice them when they do it).  Noticing is the fuel.


Sometimes, it's stress.

The behavior might relieve stress or appear to cause a problem to cease.  The dog humps your leg and feels less stressed - and it likely makes the stressful situation end.  They bark wildly at the window and the mail carrier leaves the porch.  They harass the cat and the cat runs.  Chasing is fun.  A visitor leans over a dog and reaches to pet.  The dog jumps up, the person withdraws.  The uncomfortable looming behavior of the stranger is relieved.


Stressed dogs who are corrected for their hyper response to stressful situations become more stressed.  The doorbell rings and now the dog is not only stressed by the arrival of visitors, he's also stressed about his person's response.  Hyper behavior gets worse, not better.

Whatever the consequence, the result is something the dog needs, or he wouldn’t be putting so much energy into doing it!

Training an Over-Aroused Dog - Hyperactivity, Whole Dog Journal

Poster by Lili Chin -

How you play with and handle your dog will directly influence your dog's behavior. 

Are you unknowingly doing things that accidentally trigger the over-excitement which fuels grabbing, biting, chasing, or humping without knowing it?  This is often the case.  


WHO'S THE TARGET?  Does your dog get wound up more often with one person in the family than others?

Just like dogs differ in personality, some people are more excitable or more dramatic than others.  Their actions, speed, sounds, and posture can trigger more wound-up responses than calmer, more steady humans. This is why dogs are more excitable around children.  Take candid video tape of them interacting.  Study the video clips.  Play them in slow motion.  What catches the dog's attention?  Watch for changes in ear and tail position, head flips, side eye, front feet leaving the ground, gaping mouth.  Now you know what actions are proving too much for your dog.


Human behavior that can cause a dog to wind up:

  • High pitched voices, squealing, giggling, yelling, crouching, stomping, running, jumping, hugging. Wild actions or teasing with a toy.

  • Fast movements, getting down on the floor, chasing, wrestling. Using hands or feet as toys. Keep away, poking, grabbing or "gotcha" games.

  • Competitive or confrontational games.  Not listening to how the dog is feeling.  Doing things he doesn't like to get a response.

  • Quickly reaching.  Hands coming in from above head.  Fast petting, patting, thumping, fast scratching.  Erratic and revving actions.

  • Pushing, pulling, lifting, flipping, pinning.  Grasping legs, hovering over or swooping toward.  Grabbing of face or other body parts.

  • Restricting the dog's movement with your hands: keeping tension on the leash. Pulling the dog back while he strains forward or pulls away.

  • Encouraging behavior one minute and punishing it the next.  Teasing and then getting mad when the dog becomes upset or defensive.

  • Ignoring that the dog would like to change the game or has asked for a break.  Healthy play has LOTS of stops and starts.

  • It doesn't matter that you "didn't mean to."  If the dog is uncomfortable or frustrated, change what you are doing.

Now that you know better, you can do better.

Human behavior that can help your dog regulate their emotions:

  • Be upbeat and fun, but not overwhelming.  Use easy, fluid movements.  Be present and intentional.  Ask your dog, "how is this for you?"

  • Be aware of and avoid actions that encourage the dog to spiral up.  Watch for pupil dilation, gaping mouths, wrinkled lips, and head whips.

  • Notice early signs of over-arousal and tone things down or take a break BEFORE it gets out of hand.  Ask your dog, "do you need a break?"

  • Communicate in calm, encouraging tones with well-learned cues and signals in well-rehearsed patterns.  Praise and reward generously.

  • Avoid physical restraint.  Use the leash for communication, not physical control.  Communicate via his brain, not his muscles.

  • Petting should be enjoyable.  Respect that sometimes when you want to lavish on petting, it may not be the right time for themVideo

  • Avoid over-petting.  Touch in ways that encourage the dog to lean in and seek more.  Pause and ask if he wants more. Stop if he doesn't.

  • Know where your dog loves to be stroked or scratched and how.  Know and respect places or ways he doesn't enjoy being touched.

  • Play cooperative games, not competitive games.  PLAY FAIR.  It's a game not a battle.  There are no winners or losers.

  • Play with toys, not your hands or feet.  When you grab with your hands, it encourages your dog to grab with his mouth.

  • Play in short spurts.  Take a break when the dog is still receptive to cues or gentle strokes.  He should be having fun but is able to calm himself.  If he gets bitey, you have pushed him past his threshold.  It was too arousing, went on too long, or made him uncomfortable.


How to Play with Your Dog

Good Games, Bad Games

Puppies Need an Off Switch

Teach Cooperative Games that build an on/off switch:



The Stress Factor in Dogs.jpg

Stress and generalized anxiety

Stress often shows up as overstimulated play, intense greetings, high arousal mouthing, grabbing, humping and inability to recover when they get worked up.  



Here are some books & resources that may help:  


The Stress Factor in Dogs -book by Kristina Spaulding  - get this book!

The Complete Guide to Stress in Dogs (And How to Relieve It)

Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol in daily checklists!

Dr. Karen L. Overall: Techniques For Encouraging Dogs to Relax-video


Girls hump, too.  It's not about sex or dominance.  Puppies only weeks-old hump each other and toys, long before sexual maturity.  It often happens when a petting or play session gets to be "too much fun."  Petting can be over-stimulating.  Being hugged can feel like being trapped or like you are humping them.  Pay attention to what the dog likes.  Long deep strokes?  Where does he like to be scratched?  Ask permission.  Respect "no, thank you's."  If the dog starts to wind up, pushing him away will wind him up more.  Calmly STOP.  Go quietly still and look off in the distance for a moment.  If this doesn't help, calmly interrupt the behavior with the least amount of touching or talking possible.  Just end the interaction by standing up and/or calmly walking away.  "All done."  If they pursue you, calmly encourage them to turn their attention to a favorite toy or self soothe on a chew bone. (Notice how many times I typed the word "calmly"?)

Pay attention to what level of play or petting was happening right before crazy happened. 

If you can avoid "going there" by taking breaks, you can keep your dog from revving to the point of no return.  Play games with toys, not your hands.  Observe dog body language.  Is your dog enjoying the game as much as you are?  When you play, think peaks and valleys, stops and starts.  Take lots of breaks during play to help your dog learn to moderate their excitement. 


Dogs need help learning how to calm themselves and recognize by example what to do when they feel themselves winding up.  Avoid lashing out and getting angry.  It will only escalate the situation. Do what you want THEM to do.  Control your own emotions.  Be more calm.  


Don't escalate the situation.  Dominating your dog physically might suppress the behavior for the moment, but next time, he may be more prepared to defend himself.  Being attacked by his person will destroy his trust in you.  He cowers and rolls on his back because he fears what might happen, not because he's sorry.  It's a plea for mercy.  "Don't hurt me."  Avoidance is not "respect." 


When things go terribly wrong.

Some dogs get so frustrated and out of control that they get angry.  They lash out and grab clothes, your arms or legs.  I have seen dogs lunge and bite very sensitive body parts.  A time-out does not teach your dog anything.  But sometimes it is the safest option and can give them a chance to regroup and both of you time to calm down.  Get the help of a professional trainer to help you with some techniques and skills to help you and your dog build a better relationship.  We have trainers who offer private behavior consulting. We are happy to be able to point you in the right direction.  You will find their bios and contact information here:  BEHAVIOR CONSULTS & PRIVATE LESSONS.  You may contact them directly and they will fill you in on their individual rates and availability and you can schedule directly with them.

Safety first!  Monitor all interactions between children and dogs.  Both need guidance to be successful.  They need your help to become good friends.

This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:

© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People - - 

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