He cries in the car. He is obsessed with his tennis ball. He whines if we’re visiting someone’s house and he’s feeling nervous. If we visit his favorite parks, he drools excessively and starts looking for a stick immediately. If we visit my parents, all his training seems to be forgotten as he pushes through the door knocking people out of his way.
This is not normal dog behavior and needs to be corrected. And unfortunately, this probably sounds like normal behavior to a lot of people because so many of our dogs act like this. Here are some things I’ve done or plan on starting with my dog to help him chill out. I hope you give some of these a try, too.
1. Walk my dog.
I’ve said it many times, but walking my dog is so important. I notice a huge difference in Ace’s energy levels if he’s had a walk. He is a different dog, depending on if he’s been cooped up or if he’s been able to run. I know it’s not an excuse for a dog to misbehave just because she hasn’t had enough exercise. But the less pent-up energy a dog has, the easier it will be to train her and encourage good behavior.
2. Before heading out the door, make sure your dog is calm.
I always tell Ace to sit before we go for a walk or go outside for any reason. I also make sure to go through the door before him, but I don’t think this is absolutely necessary. The point is to avoid having a dog that barges and pulls through the door. If a dog is calm at the start of a walk or a drive to the park, it will be easier for her to maintain that energy level. Ace learned really quickly that if he didn’t sit before going out the door, then we simply did not go. If your dog is acting overly excited and anxious when you pick up the leash, then go back and read or watch TV until she is calm. Try making her sit our lie down for a few minutes after you put her leash on.
3. Don’t talk to your dog to get her more excited.
I’ve made the mistake of saying things in a high-pitched, excited voice, like “Are we going to the park?” or “Are you ready, Ace?” All this does is encourage his unwanted behavior, because it puts him in a state of mind where he’s drooling, whining and pacing. If we are in the car, he is guaranteed to start whining if I talk to him that way. It’s best to just ignore a dog. Going to the park is exciting enough for a dog, and she knows where she’s going. You don’t need to tell her 10 times.
4. Enforce rules no matter where you are.
My mutt seems to forget everything as soon as we leave home. He sits calmly before a walk at home, but anywhere else, he pulls, whines and won’t stay when told. This is where I need to practice enforcing my rules. I have been too lenient when we are traveling or at a friend’s house. It’s difficult, because when I’m visiting people, they don’t want to sit around and wait for my dog to relax. And I like bringing my dog everywhere, so he has learned he doesn’t have to listen to me when we’re not at home.
5. Don’t try to vocally comfort your anxious dog.
Saying “It’s OK” or “You’re a good dog” when your dog is nervous and whining only rewards the dog for that behavior. In most cases, it’s more effective to just ignore the behavior.
6. Don’t reward your dog in any way until she is calm.
I am not going to give Ace anything he wants unless he is calm. Try rewarding calm behavior with your dog by giving her food or a treat after she sits and waits patiently. Give her a toy only when she’s not barking, pacing and being annoying. And don’t let her out of the car at the park until she is calm. This is a big one for Ace and I. From now on, I am going to wait in the car at the park and not let Ace out until he is calm. I will probably end up sitting in the car for 20 minutes reading a book.
7. Purchase a Gentle Leader.
Ace immediately goes into a calm state of mind when I put his Gentle Leader on him. He knows he has to behave with it on. For a hyper or excited dog, I really recommend you try this. With the Gentle Leader on, Ace is less likely to whine in the car or pull on a walk. He is still able to do these things, he just doesn’t. He is in a different state of mind while wearing it. My goal is to get him to act calm with or without it.
8. Give your dog a job to do.
Dog’s get bored easily if we don’t give them enough to challenge their minds, on top of physical exercise. Try taking your dog to obedience class, agility class or buy her a dog backpack. Or if she’s a retriever like my mutt, let her carry something in her mouth during a walk. All of these things will help her drain excess energy.
9. Make sure you’re consistent.
Consistency is the most important. My dog needs to know I am in charge at all times. If I require Ace to sit before going outside when it’s just us home but not when my boyfriend comes over, then Ace learns I’m not always serious and he can sometimes do whatever he wants. If I don’t want Ace to chase a ball in the house, then I can’t allow it one day and be angry at him the next. The same goes with any unwanted behavior. It’s easier not to enforce the rules all the time, but that is why so many dogs misbehave.
10. Practice all of the above.
A goal of mine is to take Ace to many new places such as PetSmart, different parks and new parts of the neighborhood so that in all of these places he can practice calm behavior. No matter what your dog needs work on, you can easily set up mock situations and practice one step at a time. If your dog goes nuts when guests vist, then practice having her sit by the door or in a spot in the corner of the room while you ring the doorbell. Once she has that down, then try it with a friend who already knows you’re weird. If your dog can’t stop barking at people who walk by the yard, then start by having her sit and stay calmly on a leash by the window as people walk by. Then progress to being outside with her as she sits and stays on a leash.
These are just a few examples, but there are many more. And remember each dog is different and will respond better to different techniques. What are some successful ways you have tried to get your hyper dog to mellow out? I will be willing to try new ideas.