Help Your Hyper Pup Calm Down
Whether your dog is over excited by guests in the house or seems too bored to engage with you, your dog’s arousal level plays a key role in training. The term “arousal” refers to how excited your dog is in reaction to a thing or an event - this can include a wide range of physiological reactions from sleeping to bouncing off the walls! Owners often struggle with the latter; how do you keep your dog from relentlessly jumping on guests, barking like a maniac at the mailman or endlessly running along your fence line?
At Happy Dog's we start by educating our owners on arousal, provide strategies to manage their dog's reactions and teach owners how to train and reinforce their dog for being relaxed.
Understanding the Range of Excitement
For our dogs to behave like we want when new things or situations occur they first need to be in an appropriate state of arousal. It’s our job, as responsible dog owners, to help our dogs with their arousal response. To do this we need to know three things; what different levels of arousal look like, what factors impact your dogs arousal and what behaviors we can teach to manage arousal.
Just like in humans, arousal in dogs begins as a physiological response. Their brain reacts to the thing or situation by releasing hormones into the body; this causes an increase in their heart rate and breathing along with other behaviors that we can observe. For example, a dog that is calm or trying to calm down may yawn, play bow or sniff. On the other hand, a dog that is over aroused may begin giving a hard stare, nipping or displaying excessive friendliness. When our dog is over aroused they have trouble paying attention, recalling behaviors from their memory and controlling their impulses. This feeling is similar to what you might experience when overwhelmed by taking a hard exam or when giving a speech. You can probably imagine how challenging it would be for your dog to behave ideally while over aroused. Even when our dog is trained well, being in a situation where they become over aroused will degrade the quality of their good behaviors.
There are several situational factors and characteristics about your dog that impact their arousal level. Your dog’s familiarity with a situation, person or event will impact their arousal level. For example, your new puppy might not be used to guests in the house and get over excited when a friend comes over.
The difficulty of the situation will also impact your dog’s ability to respond appropriately. One friend coming to visit is a much easier situation for your dog to handle than your twelve relatives coming over for Thanksgiving. A more difficult situation makes it harder for your dog to stay calm or calm back down after getting excited.
The level of your dog’s training comes into play as well. Behaviors, like staying on a place bed or greeting politely, can help your dog manage their arousal when they have been trained extensively. One lesson of sit and stay simply won’t hold up in a difficult or unfamiliar situation.
While genetics and your dog’s propensity to be anxious play a role in arousal too, we can control for situational factors and teach behaviors that will help your dog manage their arousal. Before our dog encounters a situation that is over arousing we want to set our dog up for success by helping them calm down or stay calm.
Strategies for Arousal Management
1. Prevent Rehearsal
Dogs do what’s rewarding; it doesn’t matter to your dog whether that’s receiving a treat for sitting or barking at strangers to make them go away. In both situations, a positive outcome reinforces their behavior. While training your dog through arousal management issues, it is important that we prevent them from being rewarded for the behaviors we want to re-train. When your dog becomes over aroused, be mindful of what, where and who is there. This will help you start to understand your dog’s “triggers”, aka what causes them to become over aroused in the first place. Our first objective is to prevent our dog from encountering these triggers when we aren’t training. For example, if your dog goes bonkers for the blender, and we’re trying to teach them to be calm in the house, you need to either not use the blender or put your dog in another room where they cannot react to the blender. Letting them react to the blender will undermine your training progress and can create blurred criteria for your dog - is it or is it not okay to bark in the house?
2. Play More
If your dog is bored, they may look to the environment to create their own excitement. This is a recipe for disaster for owners looking to decrease their dogs’ arousal levels! Now, play doesn’t just mean tiring your dog out with a run or game of fetch… in fact, Happy Dog’s Head Trainer Piper warns her clients not to treat over-arousal issues with more exercise. The fitter your dog is, the more exercise they’ll need to be satisfied in the future. Luckily, there are other ways to play with our pup that can satisfy their mental, physical and social needs. You can read more about ways to play with your pup in our last article, All About Playing with Your Pup!
3. Capture Calmness
By being ready to reward your dog when they settle down on their own you can reinforce your pup for choosing to relax. While this sounds simple, you’ll need to be patient and thoughtful about when your dog can succeed at this game. Hoping to see your dog relax as the garbage truck rolls by, kids run to the bus stop and your neighbor’s dog barks through the fence is unrealistic. Start by practicing settling in a quiet environment where your dog is likely able to relax on their own after a few minutes. Once your dog is fully relaxed - laying down on their own, relaxed facial muscles and disengaged from you - then you can place a reward between their paws. Then repeat, by waiting for your dog to fully relax again. With continued practice capturing calmness can help your dog be more relaxed in other situations too!
Connect with a Trainer at Happy Dog's Training
While the strategies above can help you and your dog begin to work through arousal management issues, this training process requires you to understand subtle changes in your dog’s body language, be aware of triggers in the environment and have a consistent training plan. For best results, you’ll want to work with a trainer or behavior consultant. Here at Happy Dog’s Training we offer one-on-one training packages and group classes specifically for dogs that are over-aroused. You can learn more about our services by exploring our Training Page or booking a free phone consultation here: Schedule Appointment