I’ve heard it before, “he’s just so HYPER!” exclaims the exasperated owner who has found herself with a dog that’s just a little “over-the-top.”  Usually this is a classic case of mismatch–the owner bought a weimeraner because she couldn’t resist the adorable face, droopy ears, and unusual color.  Lo and behold, weims have intense exercise needs that most people can’t deal with, who knew? The same goes for most other sporting breeds I run into, with the exception of the lazy show-bred labs and goldens that most people are suited for (one activity level/intelligence level fits all, unless you’re me and you like your pups over-the-top).  But once in a while dog professionals run into dogs who legitimately have a hyperactivity disorder (the most extreme of which is referred to as hyperkinesis in dogs and ADHD in humans).  One of my “special children,” is one of these dogs.  He is textbook-hyper, exhibiting all of the classic symptoms (excessive attention-seeking, low tolerance for frustration resulting in vocal and “mouthy” outbursts, and high impusivity being at the top of the list).  He also has some of the environmental history that is thought to lead to this disorder, with the big one being a history of unpredictable/uncontrollable punishment, which was occuring due to some very traditional dog rearing advice given to his owners by his breeders.  This dog is also eating a diet rich in carbohydrates and chemical additives, which is akin to feeding a child with ADHD Fruit Loops and Mountain Dew for breakfast. 

So what do we do for these kids? Well currently there are some veterinary behaviorists experimenting with stimulant drugs (like Ritalin) and having success.  Apart from the drug route (which is not a route I usually feel comfortable taking for several reasons, but that’s another blog entirely) my first recommendation is usually a diet change.  Most commercial dog foods are high in carbs, generally low (we are talking about animals that are primarily carniverous) in protein.  They also usually include ugly chemical additives like the one in my clients’ dog’s food which is an anti-caking agent found in cosmetics and pesticides.  Yep, that could be in your dog’s food! A lot of popular diets also include artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Yikes! These things could all be contributing to a dog’s unusual behavior.  A diet rich in protein, low in carbs, and full of “real” food-source vitamins is best, whether your dog is “normal” or not.  Probably the safest way to feed your dog would be to do some research and learn to make his food yourself, be it home-cooked or raw, but since most folks aren’t willing to put forth that kind of time and effort, at least feed an all-natural dog food, and READ THE INGREDIENTS.  If there’s something on there you don’t understand, type it into a search engine. You might be surprised at what you are feeding your furry pal.  Look up your dog’s food on www.dogfoodanalysis.com to find a great breakdown of that hard-to-understand ingredient list, and if you think your dog’s behavior is a little over-the-top, or under the weather, try something new!

Besides nutrition, these special dogs need to live in a calm environment with calm, collected humans.  Yelling at or(gasp) physically reprimanding these kids is even more detrimental to their mental well-being than it is to dogs without abnormalities.  These kids need even more impulse-control work (which is the basis of everything I do with my clients) than most dogs.  They need to be working for all meals, and they need their exercise needs to be “just right” (it is easy to over-exercise these kids, believe it or not).  They need their lives to be full of consistent, fair expectations.  That is no different from all dogs, but most people budge on some rules, and lack consistency in some area with their dogs leading to no huge consequences–not so with owners of hyperactive dogs! These folks have got to be 100% consistent, 100% of the time if they want to maintain sanity in their homes. 

Nutrition, consistency, and maintaining a calm attitude around these special dogs will improve their home lives, but engaging in an activity where they are allowed to get some ya-yas out like Agility is also helpful.  Training methods must be positive though! Engaging in “obedience” training will not help these kids if the methods make use of any kind of positive punishment or negative reinforcement.  Better to engage in positive ways to teach these kids self-control and fun shaping games.  Susan Garrett’s book Shaping Success is an excellent resource for dealing with “over-the-top” dogs in strictly positive ways. 

I am grateful for the extreme dogs in my life because they make me a better dog trainer, and teach me to keep my cool when situations get, well, hairy.  Be grateful for your “special children” too, they came to you for a reason, so try to learn from them.