Canine Behavior/Hyper active dog
Hello, I have a 1 year old lab/rottweiler mix. She is well behaved and extremely smart. She has a lot of energy which we release with bike rides, games of fetch, playing with other dogs, and many more activities. My issue with her is that she does not know how to stop. Just like most labs, she has compulsive behavior over food, balls, and exercise. Even after hours of physically demanding activity, she still wants more. I want to be able to take her to social places, such as sporting activities, community bbq's etc. When I do take her, she continues to want to run and does not know how to settle her self down. Even if I exercise her for an extended period of time prior, she still gets overly excited and does not behave appropriately.
I guess my question is how do I teach my dog how to calm herself down?
Thanks for your time
Crystal & my dog Sophia
Thank you for your question. Sometimes over arousal as you describe (inability to settle) can actually be an indication of anxiety. I have seen many overly aroused dogs calm into wonderfully settled, but still fully engaged dogs with the use of a Thunder Shirt. These are readily available at major pet stores and many mom-and-pop stores now.
They work in a similar way to weighted vests used with Autistic people. The shirt creates a subtle, but constant external stimulation which allows the brain to process other external stimuli without becoming overwhelmed by it.
I was extremely skeptical of this product before I saw it in action at a conference several years ago. We were working with shelter dogs and one was so frightened, she refused to come into the large space where we were working - hiding behind her handler. Another dog (the one I was working with) was so overly excited and aroused that he was literally bouncing off the pregnant belly of my partner. He did not stop moving for the first 10 minutes we were with him, refusing treats offered by hand or dropped on the ground in front of him, unable to focus long enough to do simple skills he already knew.
Someone declared "let's get a Thunder Shirt on that one! And him too." referring to these two dogs. I thought, "Yeah. Let's do that. I'd like to see if this thing really does anything." Much to my surprise, within 10 minutes of putting it on, the terrified dog had led her handler into the room and was focused and working. The over aroused dog I was working with had stopped bouncing off my partner, was making eye contact, sitting on request, coming when called, taking treats and was all around focused and functional. I was sold. Basically it can help dogs at either end of the extreme of anxiety (shut down or unable to focus - too hyper) and help bring them to a middle ground place.
Now, it's only about 85% effective in that roughly 85 out of every 100 dogs who wear the shirt will show a visible decrease in anxiety, while others will have no discernible anxiety reduction. And, of course, there are somethings that will just overshadow the help of the Thunder Shirt. Example: one of my dogs is very sound sensitive and is clearly comforted by the Thunder Shirt. He will actually request to wear it on occasion. But, the other day we had someone in the house using a nail gun and the loud pop of the gun, without warning, caused him to tremble like a leaf, hiding in a bathroom, even with his shirt on (I held him in my lap until the nasty nail gun monster was finished).
Anyway, the Thunder Shirt may be helpful to you with your dog, especially for highly arousing public activities.
A couple things to take note of: The effect of the shirt lasts between 30-90 minutes, depending on the dog and how quickly they habituate to wearing it. If it's on for a few hours, it won't harm the dog, but the effect wore off after 90 minutes at the outside. The shirt is not meant to be worn 24/7. Instead, put it on 5-10 minutes before the activity and take it off 5-10 minutes after the activity. Taking it off for several hours will help reestablish the effect if you put it back on later in the same day.
Put it on for normal, every day activities as well. If it only ever goes on just before a specific activity, he will come to understand that the shirt MEANS that activity and then his excitement/anxiety of it may outweigh the comfort/settling the shirt can provide.
Other things to add to the repertoire...
You can try bringing stuffed Kongs (filled with some of his regular food as well as some tasty treats, using a soft dog-safe binding ingredient to hold it all together). Freezing it makes the whole thing take longer, though I usually encourage leaving a half-inch of space free so you can put something fresh in the top to get him engaged immediately. I often call a stuffed Kong (or stuffed Marrow Bone or Bully Stick or Antler) a sit-quiet-and-color activity as most dogs will happily lay down and enjoy those items until they're empty, giving you 10-90 minutes of calm, depending on how long it takes him to devour the edible parts.
You can also work with him using Dr. Karen Overall's Relaxation protocols. it's a 15-day protocol. I've provided the link below to the mp3s. The instructions are quite clear - simply do what the voice tells you (e.g. Sit for 10 seconds while clapping your hands and jogging in place). She keeps the time and will tell you "time" when it's up. I use low value treats such as the dog's regular kibble as reward for each skill during the session. I also encourage the dog to get up so we can 're-set' to a new skill the next time I tell him Sit.
Do Day 1 until you can do the whole thing with the dog remaining calm and relaxed, then move on to Day 2. If you're trying to do one of the skills and your dog pops up or otherwise disengages, pause the recording, reset your dog and try again, only lowering the difficulty. If the instruction was "take 2 steps backward and return" and your dog pops up as you take the 2nd step, then try again, but use a shorter stride by half, so you're only going half as far, but still as much movement. Then build up to being able to take full strides (or more volume or larger movements - depending on the instruction). When you can do the whole exercise for that day, using full strides, volume, movements, etc, then move on to the next day.
You can also modify the exercises to work outside and in public places, though I strongly encourage you to work through all 15 days IN your house where the distraction is lower before you start working in higher distraction places. And when you do start working outside, start in the lowest distraction area possible such as your back yard or an empty part of the park, and build up to where little things are happening (traffic at a distance) and then more and more difficulty. If you put him in too high a distraction too soon, you'll set him up to fail and we want to set him up to succeed by building on successes in less difficult areas before we ask more of him.
All 15 days of the protocol are available on mp3 here:
Good luck. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist