Over-excitement in dogs can lead to behavior challenges. The causes of over-excitement are varied. Seeing prey like squirrels, bunnies, mice can cause over-excitement. Dogs and people can overexcite or just being off lead, hearing noises and sniffing the smells. Dogs are sensory animals and rely on their senses for survival. They can have little impulse control.
Impulse control is a learned behavior needing proper instruction and guidance from their favorite human. A bit
of time, consistency and positive expectation is what is needed to keep a dog from becoming an overexcited, hard to manage menace to society. Below are seven over-excitement behaviors and what to do to prevent and manage them. The perfect and positive formulas to help Fido make good decision.
Excitement seeing dogs or people
Tool. A tool needed is a clicker It has a double click, click sound and is easily held in the hand. The purpose of the clicker is to mark the behavior wanted with a short, clear, crisp sound . The sound of the clicker never changes
but the tone of our voice does, meaning it can fill with emotion. After the dog hears the click, click then the dog is rewarded for doing the right behaviors. The sound doesn’t vary and has a certain meaning making its operator worth listening to.
Ask yourself, how do you want the dog to act around other dogs or people? Do you want them to sit, to just look and walk by or to look to you attentively. Whatever it is can be accomplished by marking the behavior at the time it occurs.
Let the praise and the treats flow as the dog’s motivation. Bad behaviors do not get attention nor rewards. Scientifically speaking this is a +R (positive reinforcement) technique with a -P (a punishment that is not harsh, it doesn’t add punishment devices, harsh tones, but instead, simply “removes or takes away” social contact and reward). The goal is to prevent the dog from getting all worked up, meaning over-barking, jumping up on you or other people, racing around the house and jumping on counters. When a dog is in an overexcited state, they are not in a learning mode. As teacher and educator the learning process falls on human shoulders.
Technique. Now that you know what you want the dog to do, let’s take a look at three techniques.
Teach dog to sit to meet and greet people while on lead. Use sit or down as an impulse control and relaxation posture. The key to using sit as impulse control is teaching the dog sitting on your left to look back to you attentively. Click and treat every time the dog finds your eyes. Practice with and without sits. Then practice with a person, first a familiar person or dog, then a strange person or dog. The final key is to develop a cue to release your dog with the reward being to meet the person or dog. I use “say hell-o”, but you could use “go visit”, “go”, “say hi” or any other creative phrase. Practice and consistency will make this perfect.
Is walking problematic because every time the dog sees another dog they go crazy? Do you react to the situation by tightening up your body and pulling on the lead warning the dog with a “no” and “leave it”? To change the dog’s behavior it will be necessary to change human habits and knee jerk reactions. Why? The dog becomes more tense with each warning, each jerk, each pull, each negative tone of the voice and they are learning to react every time they see another dog. In effect, these responses train the dog to become over-excited, even unruly. Just the smell and the sight of a dog builds the tension because the dog sees and feels the worry all the way down the leash.
Change this process and the dog’s responses change. Depending on how big a problem this is for the dog, either seek the services of a qualified positive reward-based behavior trainer or behaviorist.
Three techniques. Here are three techniques to use with proper distance and short durations of exposure to a stimuli or trigger.
Set it up. Proper distance is defined as below dog’s threshold, the point at which they do not react but can focus and be attentive. Duration to start is minutes starting with five, increasing to 10 for each contact with a trigger. This keeps the dog successful.
Redirect attention. As a dog or person appears at a distance, position the dog so they can see. The key is to only allow a calm look for a count of two. When saying two in your mind our out loud, put a fistful of treats at the dog’s nose level. Make sure the treats are more motivational than the act of responding to the dog or person, such as cooked chicken, liver or beef. Simultaneous take a step or two back. This will turn the dog’s head and body away from the dog yet allows you to see the approach and adjust distance as needed. Repeat and make it fun for the dog to turn away. If a reaction happens, a bark, a lunge, immediately walk in opposite direction or to side and give a cue like “let’s party” or “snacks” and start over at an appropriate distance.
See the dog game. Use the clicker for this game. As a person or dog come into view do one of two things, either click for calm looking and treat when the dog’s head turns away, or click for looking calmly and drop treats on the ground to lower the dog’s head and keep them busy. Make it fun and add a cue as you click or before you click, such as “check it out!” or “surprise!” or “snacks” all said with a happy game tone. Seeing people and dogs becomes a fun game to play and takes any nervousness, anxiety away from the dog.
Open and closed bar. This is simple and fun. The bar opens when a dog appears and you feed until the dog moves away. The bar closes as the dog passes. This keeps the dog focused on the sense of taste and makes the passing dog fun. No dog, no fun, no treats.
For people, where actions cannot be controlled, or children rush up to your dog, it is best to abort any interaction at all. However, if you catch it early enough and get the treats out when the dog is calm you can start giving treats for calm behavior, possibly allow the person to toss the dog a treat or two or ask the dog to “go visit” as the person hands out a treat and the dog returns to you for more treats. This keeps the dog’s paws on the
ground and mannerly to the person. It also keeps them safe because the dog decides how long to interact with the stranger without confrontation. Remember, one person or dog can ruin a dog’s behavior.
Following are six more behaviors an over-excited dog might display.
Jumping on visitors
Danger zones are created in doorways simply due to lack of knowledge when training a dog. Over-excitement at the doorway encourages rushing and pushing past to see who’s there or worse bolting out the door, jumping up, biting at heels, even growling and snapping. This means danger and a stranger coming onto the territory. It should be discouraged in a positive fashion. All this over excitement is caused by the dog’s confusion as to what is wanted at the door. So again, ask what behavior it is you want exhibited at the door and train it.
Teach the dog to go to their mat far away from the door. This means teaching several behaviors – go – a distance behavior, plus down, and stay. Train dog that knocking, or doorbell ringing equals the cue to do these behaviors. Desensitizing the doorway makes for calm entries, calm dogs, and calm owners. This is the ultimate and ideal goal for the dog.
In the meantime, put up a baby gate, use an x-pen, or attach a lead and train a sit. The key with lead training is
the dog is not allowed to greet the visitor, nor get ahead of you until you release them with a “say hell-o”. Greeting visitors becomes a treat.
The visitor should be instructed how to act and tell them the dog is in training. Have treats near the door and when the visitor comes in they can take a treat and toss it up and over the dog’s back. This makes the dog turn around and away from the visitor and entry is a snap. Keep moving into the house and don’t make a big deal about the dog until they have calmed enough for introductions. Allowing attention seeking or acknowledging saying hell-o without a cue develops a dog who becomes annoying and pushy.
Counter surfing and over excitement in the house
Usually counter surfing and over excitability in the home is due to a lack of supervision or allowing the dog to have the run of the household before they are ready to do so. Working slowly into each room is advised as the dog learns the rules, the boundaries and the guidelines of the household. However, if bad behaviors are already occurring there are steps to take to help alleviate the challenges.
Baby gates teach the dog boundaries until they learn off as an impulse control.
Teach the off cue by using the clicker to mark standing on the floor. Carry a pouch of treats and when your dog is standing click and treat. Name this posture “off”. What you want to establish is that all good things come from you and not the counter. You are also establishing a cue which means to keep all four paws on the floor.
Most people make the mistake of pushing the dog down and then saying off, but to the dog the cue is said when they’ve already jumped up on the person or the counter and off starts to mean jump up. Establish what off means, by making sure the dog is on the floor in the first place.
Have dog drag a leash. The leash serves as a reminder to the dog and allows you to kindly move the dog away, behind a baby gate or into a sit while they are learning what you want them to do.
Racing away off lead, no response to recalls
Exercise is important but so are off leash manners. Depending on the age of the dog off leash etiquette can be taught to a puppy or taught using a drag line.
Teaching a dog three important skills are necessary to off lead reliability – attention, recall and loose leash walking. These skills should be taught as a game and be highly rewarding to accomplish. This way you will have no trouble starting to help the dog generalize these skills in various environments.
Teach dog to mirror your body movements by attaching a lead or a long line and racing away in the opposite direction, treat the dog when he catches up to you. You can also just step backwards, go sideways and reward for your dog moving with you. This is called mirroring. A dog who mirrors is attentive to where you are and is easier to redirect. It is also a fun game for the dog and physically taxing.
Attention seeking – the dog who jumps on YOU
It is endearing that your dog loves to see you come home. However, it can also be hazardous. A dog who jumps on you at the door can do damage. There are several ways to handle this incident free.
Treat toss to redirect attention. Have treats in the car or just outside the entry. Enter the house and take a handful of treats, toss them up and over dog’s back so they have to turn away from your entry. Say hi to your dog and keep moving through and past them. Then wait for them to quiet down considerably by taking your attention away from them. Return your attention only when the dog has been quiet for several minutes. The key then is to call them over and interact. This reverses the process of attention seeking from the dog to you and does many other things to include helping to prevent separation anxiety, showing the dog they will get attention from you and don’t have to beg for it, keeping the doorways from becoming danger zones and still making your homecoming something to look forward to. Make this a routine
Barking to alert, or when an animal is in the yard is normal. Over-barking, however, is caused by boredom, lack of prevention and management or because it works to create drama.
There are many ways to stop over-barking. My three-bark rule is one way, or train a dog to speak/bark and then not cue it.
Prevent and manage troublesome areas like doorways, windows and traffic spots. Keeping a dog busy with a Kong, an appropriate bone or toy redirects attention away from barking.
Some breeds are born to dig. Still, too much digging is caused by boredom or lack of supervision.
Prepare a spot where the dog can dig, such as a sandbox. This is a way to prevent digging in garden areas.
Supervision is key to discouraging digging. Supervised play, interactions, training makes it easy to redirect attention to you and what is going on besides digging up the yard.
Overexcited behavior in a dog can be frustrating, but worth the effort of prevention, management, redirecting and training.