There is a big misconception about the necessity of exercise for dogs. While daily exercise is important for all dogs, it’s very rarely the “fix” we are hoping for when dealing with problem behaviors.
One of the most common things I hear is, “My dog is just hyper,” and people are not wrong at all in saying this, but what they may not know, is WHY their dog is hyper.
Sometimes we have high drive dogs (with a lot of energy) and sometimes we have overly playful puppies (with a lot of energy), but that doesn’t happen as often as we think. Hyperactivity is often an expression of a stronger underlying issue.
Some dogs are constantly moving. They play with toys, pace around the house, bark at the windows, bounce in and out of the dog door, chew on bones, pant constantly, etc., but they never really settle unless it’s time to sleep at night. That’s a red flag to me. A dog that never stays still, or can’t stay still without physical touch or restraint, is likely uncomfortable sitting still, and that discomfort is my concern.
A great way to diagnose a hyper dog is by asking them to be still. The longer we ask them to remain stationary, the more the problem energy will build inside. Without motion, the dog cannot expel the problem energy, and we can see it bubble to the surface. This might be from fear, anxiety, or frustration (the roots of almost all problem dogs).
I recently trained a highly anxious dog in our board-and-train rehabilitation program. When the owners signed up for training, they didn’t know what they were dealing with. They simply knew the dog seemed way more active than it should be.
I showed them an exercise dealing with motion vs. stillness. I took the dog that was pacing and panting heavily, and we walked down the block. He pulled and scanned (which is typical for a dog with little training and not a big concern), but when I stopped and had him hold still, he wasn’t just panting and scanning. He was whining and barking. When the motion of walking was taken away, he had no more outlets to funnel his stress through, and we saw an outpouring of anxiety. Once I started walking again, the whining and barking stopped. This response leads people to believe they must constantly keep their dogs in motion.
However, you cannot drain anxious or fearful energy. All the toys, exercise, and stimulation in the world will not cure the illness. And you cannot soothe anxious or fearful energy. All of the praise attention, love, and affection in the world will not cure the illness. They will simply mask the symptoms.
The ONLY cure is to show the dog that there are no more outlets. That the energy will not be fixed until they address it and work through it.
Sounds tough, huh? It is. Rehab is tough. I equate stillness to therapy. If you and your significant other sign up for couple’s counseling, no therapist is going to break out the beer and shoot the breeze with you. They are going to make you address things you might not want to address, because they know that if they help you find the source of the problem, they can fix it.
No dog should have to live its life in constant stress. No dog should spend its days filled with fear, anxiety, or frustration. They deserve better, and sometimes that better state of mind takes work on our part.
So, if you feel your dog is hyper or overly energetic or anxious or fearful, do not immediately start with more toys and exercise. Teach your dog to be calm and work through that energy. You’ll be amazed by the results.
As always, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions concerning dog behavior, psychology, or training.
Stephanie Vichinsky is the owner/head trainer of United K9, LLC in Post Falls. 208-964-4806.