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1/18/13

Why is my dog so hyper?

Hi, I’ve had my cocker spaniel since he was about seven weeks old and he has been consistently…hyper. It seems that he has boundless energy. He goes for long walks in the late afternoons and plays all night. However, he won’t calm down unless we put him in a crate. I hate having to put him away, but he never stops moving or destroying property (which he only does when we aren’t looking). I’m not sure what the issue could be. I haven’t gotten him altered because I got into an argument with his other parent about whether or not to do it (I’m in favor, he is not) and I’m thinking this is part of the problem. Is it normal for a cocker spaniel to be so hyper active? Thanks – T.T.

Dear T.T.,

Some of the most common behavioral reasons that people give for admitting their dogs to the Houston SPCA are related to the dog’s energy level. “Too much energy,” “too active for children,” “too active indoors,” are some of the reasons for admission. T.T., I hope that your question reaches some of the people who are considering bringing their pets to the shelter for these reasons, so that they can learn that there are so many things that can be done to change “hyperactive” dogs into agreeable household companions.

With breeds as popular as cocker spaniels, it’s almost a moot point to ask whether hyperactivity is ‘normal,’ since these dogs are so widely bred for characteristics that are not closely related to behavior. Dogs that are bred for behavior patterns, the way border collies were largely bred for their ability to herd sheep, rather than for their coat color or size, display more consistent behavior patterns. Cockers are seldom bred as steady gun dogs anymore, rather they are bred to conform to the standard of what a cocker spaniel should look like. This means that their behavior patterns are less consistent than those of dogs who are primarily bred for a certain set of behaviors. What it comes down to is that some cockers can be very energetic, where others tend to be rather sedentary.

You asked about whether neutering your dog can reduce his annoying behaviors and, the answer is a tentative yes. There are many behaviors associated with the drive of intact male dogs to find a mate. Restlessness, destructive behavior, vocalization, and aggression are some of them. Oftentimes, neutering a dog can result in the lessening of such behaviors, but this really depends on the extent to which the behaviors are hormone-related. For behaviors associated with hormones, you can expect behavior changes to take place by about two weeks after castration surgery. For behaviors that are not related to reproductive hormones, castration can have little effect. Whether your dog’s behaviors are learned or not, neutering is still the best recommendation, since it has the added benefit of preventing future health concerns, such as testicular cancer. If you’re thinking about breeding your dog, please think again, taking into consideration the sheer volume of unwanted, purebred cocker spaniels that are relinquished to shelters and rescue groups each year.

My question for you, T.T. is: What is your dog’s reason for living? In the wild, 90% of a dog’s waking hours are spent searching for food. If you give your dog his food for free (or even if you ask him to sit-stay, then give him his whole ration of food), you are pretty much depriving him of his reason for living for the rest of the day. If you give your dog a free bowl of food every day, then what happens to all that energy that was originally meant for finding food? This extra energy might be useful for dogs that have jobs, like agility, flyball, or search and rescue dogs; but dogs without jobs find their own release for this energy, often in ways that annoy their human families!

What this all comes down to is that dogs need something to do, and walks are seldom enough. Dogs do not have to go to the office, can’t use the internet, read books, watch T.V., or play on a video game console. A large responsibility of being a dog caregiver is to provide them with adequate enrichment. Enrichment doesn’t have to be a huge time investment on your part. Here are some tips:

·First of all, make sure that your dog works for every piece of dog kibble he gets. He can earn his kibble by training with you or by working on a food dispensing toy. Try buying several types of food dispensing toys and switch them up for variety.

·Don’t take the same long walk every day, but change your routes and incorporate fun training sessions into your walk. Walk at different speeds, engage your dog, and have a good time, yourself.

·Try one or two (or more) weekly trips to the dog park if your dog is friendly, or invest in some days at a reputable doggie daycare center (you definitely would want to consider neutering your dog, in this case).

·Teach your dog some indoor games that you can easily play while watching T.V. or reading. I like to teach dogs tug and fetch, which I can easily play while brushing my teeth and getting ready for work in the morning. Tug can turn into a great reward for following commands, if you make sure to ask your dog to sit, down, roll over, etc., before each brief tug session.

Good luck with your exuberant pup and don’t hesitate to call us at the Houston SPCA Animal Behavior and Training Department for more tips: 713-869-7722, ext.190.
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