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Donna's Dog Training
CALMING GAMES FOR A HYPERACTIVE DOG
Over-excitement can be a problem if you can’t get your hyperactive dog to settle down. These 3 games help by rewarding relaxed behavior.
Identifying a hyperactive dog is pretty easy. He wiggles around a lot, is easily distracted and has a really hard time settling down even in quiet environments. Some hyper dogs become so excited they’ll drool, pant, whine and bark, especially in new situations. Basically, these dogs seem to have unlimited energy.
First of all, understand that occasional over-excitement is totally normal. Most canines get excessively exuberant at times. But it may not be appropriate in many circumstances and can turn into an issue if the dog is unable to bring his excitement levels down.
Understanding what works for your hyperactive dog
Daily exercise is a help for hyperactivity, and I highly recommend at least two 20-30 minute walks every day, but it’s not the magic cure. If you focus solely on daily exercise, you usually end up with a very fit dog that is still to settle down on his own.
Same thing applies to supplying an endless number of food-stuffed toys for mental stimulation. One or two of these a day is good, but unless the dog learns to settle, he or she will plow through the puzzles like a seasoned chess player, and still bounce off the walls.
So while physical and mental stimulation are vital components in dealing with hyperactivity, so is teaching your dog how to settle on his/her own.
Play these calming games
Start with lots of really yummy pea-sized treats. Hide treat stashes in many locations throughout your home, such as inside an end table next to your favorite chair, by the front and back doors to reward calm greetings, and so forth. Hyperactive dogs are usually lean, but if weight is an issue, choose low-fat treats like bits of apple or carrot, and break rewards into tiny portions.
When playing the following calming games, refrain from making fast movements or rapid high-pitched sounds, which can easily excite dogs. Instead, move slowly, speak softly, and take deep breaths — it’s very calming for both of you.
- Game 1: Rest pays
People usually breathe a sigh of relief and refuse to move once their excited dog finally settles down — they’re scared to awaken the beast! A better response, when your dog is lying quietly next to your feet, is to reward this behavior. It’s much easier to reward calm behavior while it’s happening, then to convince an excited dog to lie down calmly and stay there.
As your dog is quietly lying at your feet, slowly and lightly stroke him with your hand. Each stroke should take one to two seconds depending on your dog’s size. Now slowly reach for a treat, and place next to or in your dog’s mouth. The goal is to reward good behavior without disturbing it.
You can reward as often as you like; just make sure your dog continues to lie quietly. You’ll know you’ve overdone it if he stands up and wags. If this happens, ignore him and wait until he lies back down. Reward him again once he has settled.
Dogs learn quickly that lying down makes treats appear, so you will more than likely notice an increase in quiet behavior!
- Game 2: Leave it
Teaching dogs to ignore something they want is extremely valuable. In this game, your dog learns to control his behavior in order to get the treat.
Hold a treat in your closed hand, and place your hand right next to your dog’s mouth. At first, he/she will try to get the treat out of your hand by licking it. The moment your dog moves away from your hand (stops licking, turns his nose away), open your hand and give him the treat.
After a few sessions, you’ll notice him sitting still and refusing to touch your treat hand. He has learned that ignoring your hand makes the treat appear. Always reward him by giving him the treat.
- Game 3: Read aloud
You’ve probably heard about programs aimed at enhancing children’s reading abilities by having them read to shelter dogs. Not only do these programs improve a child’s reading skills, they also teach the dog how to calm himself. What a great outcome for both participants!
Using this knowledge, try reading to your own dog. Leash him/her with a six-foot lead; it’s important he/her stays with you. Now find a nice comfy spot and read aloud for 15 minutes.
At first, your dog will probably pace, whine and have a hard time settling, but just ignore him/her and continue reading in a soothing, even tone. Usually after ten or so minutes, most dogs learn to control their restless behavior by settling down. Ideally, reading to your dog 15 minutes every day will provide quicker responses, but once or twice a week works too. Don’t forget to reward him when he quiets down!
The takeaway message is to reward calm behavior when it happens rather than trying to make your dog calm down when he’s being hyperactive. You don’t want to discourage him from being excited and happy when the situation warrants it, of course, but by teaching your dog that quiet behavior results in a reward, he’ll learn to quiet down more quickly and easily.