We have all heard that the key to helping a dog with behaviour problems is exercise, but in many cases I disagree with this, in fact I wrote an article about it here. (“Why exercise may not be the answer to your dog problems“)
Now many people will disagree with me here but considering I see a LOT of dogs with behaviour problems and many of those are being exercised a lot and STILL have problems, so therefore exercise is not the answer to all problems.
As I said in my previous article, that does not mean that dogs need no exercise or that exercise does not fulfil any needs, it certainly does, but it can fail miserably as a cure.
Another problem that many don’t think about is whether high levels of exercise and activity can actually increase problem behaviours.
When a dog has low thresholds to high energy behaviours, this means they go into high levels of energy very with little stimulation, giving them tons of exercise and activity can raise their fitness and increase their need for even more exercise.
This in turn can cause the dog to live in an energetic state primed by the expectation of exercise each time they have contact with their owners.
The circle continues when the owner see’s the dog behaving in a hyper active state and feel the dog needs a walk or a run to relax. Dogs should be able to relax on their own as they should understand that not every moment is about being “up”.
I have consulted with many owners who have dogs like this, that are either going flat out or they are anxious because they do not now “how” to relax unless they are exhausted.
The ability to exhaust them becomes more elusive the fitter they get. Imagine not being able to sleep un less you go for a 15-kilometre run each night (every) before bed.
Life with a pet dog should have a balance of energy / calm behaviours and some dogs with high levels of energy genetically can really benefit from learning how to be calm.
Some dogs that compete in dog sports need to learn training systems that develop drive so they can perform at their best, so it is not that strange of an idea that some dogs need to be taught how to be calm.
They may not just learn this on their own and if the owner does not teach them, they can end up with a Hyper Active Disorder. A dog that lacks the ability to regulate their energy and feels anxious or nervous when they are not pounding energy into something.
The “off” switch
People will often joke about the dog not having an off switch. I personally feel it is better to teach the dog the “on” switch and if I don’t switch my dog “on”, then by default they are calm.
This means the “off” switch is the “on” switch.
When I want my dogs to work or perform a high energy task, I switch them on, which I train with my Training in Drive System.
When I don’t provide this priming trigger, they are not expecting rewards for high energy behaviours so don’t offer those.
Rather than be hyper vigilant and run around trying to calm your dog down whenever he or she becomes energetic inappropriately, good management strategies like crate training can really help a dog learn to chill out.
Hyper active dogs should not be thrown in a crate and locked in either, they could injure themselves trying to break out in panic or frustration, but instead conditioned to enjoy crate time.
Imagine a dog sitting in your kitchen that hears a noise and bursts into a flurry of barking and running towards the sound outside.
The running towards the sound to investigate becomes impossible from the crate and will eventually label the sound is irrelevant to a dog that cannot investigate.
This enables you to prevent the rehearsal of the running, investigating behaviour.
The alternative is a dog sitting around wondering if at any moment their may be a sound they need to react to. Primed, anxious, alert and not relaxed.
When training your dog, you may be providing rewards that reward energy and create energy. For example, if your dog is bursting to get into the park for a run and you let your dog off leash in that mind set, the dog will maintain that high energy or increase it due to the manner it was reinforced.
If your dog was walked into the park on a loose leash and given a down cue that he had to maintain for 10 minutes, this dog would learn to walk calmly into the park.
Loose Leash Walking, crate training, place training etc can all help a dog learn through training to relax.
Routine creates expectations, so if every day you come home and take your dog out for 30 minutes ball play, one day when you don’t come home on time or choose not to go out for your 30 minutes of ball play can impact your dog in a negative way.
Your dog expects the positive reinforcement schedule that happens every day. Today you withdraw this rewarding opportunity, this can be experienced by the dog as Negative Punishment.
This can see some sensitive dogs become upset, worried or anxious that they have done something to cause the reward to be withheld.
Setting expectations you can meet the majority of the time is going to be more settling for your dog that sporadic changes.
If I see a dog I feel has hyper active disorder, this would be the root cause of some behaviour problems that may present themselves in the form of anxiety, aggression, nervousness, escaping the home, destructiveness, barking / howling and many other behaviours that may not lead you to believe the dog is actually hyper active.
You may be convinced your dog has separation anxiety, dependencies etc but in fact this is only the symptom of a deeper problem.
This is why it is very important to seek the help of an “experienced” behaviour specialist who has successfully rehabilitated this type of issue many times before.
The longer these behaviours are used by the dog to resolve its stress, the harder it will be to rehabilitate the dog that is using the behaviour problems as his or her stress management.
It is not healthy for a dog to live in a hyper active state, but of course high levels of energy and excitement may also be normal some of the time, it is a balance that is most important in many dogs lives.
Treatment / Therapy
Many dog owners are prescribed medication to curb these dogs’ behaviour, and to be quite honest, a SMALL percentage of dogs do benefit from this course of action.
But imagine being born a dog that has been developed as a working dog breed, hunting dog, herding dog or similar and the levels of energy you were genetically enabled with are now being treated with medication.
There is nothing technically wrong with you except you don’t really fit into the home you are in, you are not sick, you don’t have a chemical imbalance and you don’t need medication.
There ARE some dogs that benefit from medication, perhaps they are elderly and have been in these behaviour patterns so long they cannot change them, perhaps there is a chemical imbalance, but in my experience this is a very small percentage.
If I walked into consultation and the first step was to medicate my dog for a behaviour problem before any hands on therapy was attempted, I would certainly looking for a second opinion.
If the behaviourist, trainer, vet or consultant does not handle my dog personally, I also would be looking elsewhere.
But that like the rest of this article are my opinion.
I feel that an accurate assessment is the first and one of the most important steps in the rehab process. Once the diagnosis has been established I feel that a behaviour modification program designed specifically for the dog in question should be designed and implemented.
This should include:-
- Teaching the correct behaviours, reinforcing and solidifying them.
- A management plan to prevent unlimited rehearsal of the problem behaviour.
- Controlled exposure to the stimulus that triggers the behaviour for desensitisation purposes.
- Accurate measurement of results.
Each one of these could be taught and established by your behaviourist if he or she is experienced and qualified or they may have a trainer they work with or refer to that can help you with these.
This is why you need to be working with the right people who will ensure that your dog is learning the correct elements of the program to a level that will help with behaviour modification and therapy.
Often certain elements or the complete diet your feeding your dog could be contributing to your dogs behaviour.
Very high protein diets, commercial diets that contain certain types of protein or preservatives may be part of the problem, this is one of the reasons that we ask so many questions when consulting with dog owners, as we take a holistic approach to the problem and consider all avenues.
We feed dogs in our rehab programs a grain free raw diet with ideal protein levels for the desired outcome, and we feed the correct volume of food also for the dogs needs, thus resolving any concern we have for a dietary influence.
The role of board and rehab at K9Pro
We get many people asking if they need to bring theior dog to us to stay with us to be rehabilitated. The answer is “it depends”.
Sometimes although the problem with the dog is not that serious (to us), the owner could be time poor, inexperienced, overwhelmed, frightened or lost so in those cases separating the dog from the owner gives everyone a well needed break.
Other times the problem with the dog is dangerous or so severe that a consistant program needs to be supplied daily to get some results in these dogs.
Our facility is designed to manage the most extreme dogs efficiently and control the all aspects of their life so they are not rehearsing any of the problem behaviours whilst we teach new ones.
A dog just arrived today as I finish this post that is a Shar Pei cross named Bruce. He is a very troubled young man that is very fearful, reacts with aggression and will not eat food from any person.
He will thrive here though because I will develop some relationship with him and set him small challenges just outside of his comfort zone and as he acheives them his confidence will develop.
Fearful dogs are often aggressive so being an aggression specialist means that I am highly experienced in dealing with fearful dogs, whether they are aggressive or not.
Remember aggression is just a symptom of another problem, which could be hyper active disorder…
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