A dog that’s spinning in circles, jumping up and down, or barking and yipping is not a happy dog. These are all signs of over-excitement. The dog has excess energy, and the only way her brain knows how to deal with it is to work it off physically.
Unfortunately, people often interpret these signs as happiness. Many also tend to think that it’s cute when a dog acts like this, and wind up unknowingly encouraging the behavior. Curb your dog’s excitement and you’ll be preventing misbehaviors in the future, including aggression.
An excited dog is not happy. A calm dog is. Here are six steps to take to get your dog from being constantly over-excited to be calm, submissive, and happy.
- Don’t encourage excitement
The most important thing to remember when your dog approaches you with excitement is that what you do will determine whether such behavior becomes more or less frequent. The worst thing you can do is give affection or attention to an excited dog. This is just telling him that you like what he is doing. He’ll learn that being excited gets a reward, so he’ll keep doing it.The best way to react to an excited dog is to ignore her. Use no touch, no talk, no eye contact. If she tries to jump on you, turn the other way or push her back down.
- Encourage calm behavior
This is the flip side of the first tip. When your dog is in a calm, submissive state, then you can give affection and attention, which will reinforce that state. If your dog is treat motivated, then reward his behavior when he is calm.Through a combination of ignoring excited behavior and rewarding calm behavior, you will help your dog to naturally and instinctively move into the calmer state .
- Wear your dog out
Of course, it’s easier to keep your dog from being over-excited if she doesn’t have the energy to do it in the first place, which is why the walk is so important. It provides directed exercise and channels your dog’s excess energy while draining it.Just letting your dog out in the yard to run around and do her business is not the right kind of exercise. In fact, this kind of activity can often leave her more excited when it’s over and not less. Likewise, the purpose of the walk is not just so your dog can do her business and come home. It mimics the movement of the pack on a mission together to find food, water, and shelter. This helps your dog stay connected to her primal instincts, stay focused on moving forward, and drain her excess energy.
The return home — where the food, water, and shelter are — becomes the reward for going on the excursion with the pack. By bringing your dog home with excess energy drained through exercise, she will associate her feeling of calm with this reward.
- Provide an outlet — with limitations
Keeping your dog’s mind stimulated can also help reduce excess energy. This is when playtime comes in. Things like playing fetch, having your dog search for a hidden treat, or running him through an obstacle course are all good ways to stimulate his mind and drain his energy.The key here is that you control the length and intensity of the activity. That’s where “limitations” come in. If your dog is getting too excited, then the game ends. This is a gentle sort of negative reinforcement. While rewarding calm behavior tells your dog, “When I settle down I get a treat,” creating limitations tells your dog, “If I get too crazy, the treat goes away.”
- Engage their nose
Since a dog’s primary sense organ is her nose, capturing her sense of smell can have a calming effect. Scents like lavender and vanilla can help calm your dog down, especially if you associate them with times when the dog is calm — like having a scented air freshener near her bed.Be sure that your dog doesn’t have any allergies to particular scents and ask your veterinarian for recommendations on the scents that work best at calming dogs down.
- Calm yourself
Most importantly, your dog cannot be calm if you aren’t, so you need to check your own energy. When you have to correct your dog, how do you do it? Can you stop their unwanted behavior with just a nudge or a quiet word, or do you tend to shout “No” at him over and over?If you’re in the second category, then you’re contributing to your dog’s excitement. The only time it’s necessary to correct a dog with a loud sound is to snap them out of a dangerous action; for example, if he’s about to run into traffic. But you should only need that one short, sharp sound to distract your dog and get his attention.
Here’s an image to keep in mind: two soldiers in the woods. They’ve come to a clearing and see the enemy ahead. One of them starts to move forward. How does the other soldier stop this? Not by yelling. You’ve probably already pictured the move in your mind — an arm across the chest or a hand on the shoulder, without saying a word.
Dogs are hunters, so they have an instinctive understanding of this kind of correction. If the group came up on a deer in a clearing and the Pack Leader barked to tell them to stop, the deer would be long gone and none of them would eat. The leaders stop the pack with nothing but their energy and body language.
If your dog is naturally high-energy and excitable, it can take a while to see results with these techniques. The important part is that you remain consistent in using them and don’t give up. Chances are that your dog didn’t become a hyperactive mess overnight, so you’re not going to undo it overnight. But you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll start to see a change once you commit. Consistency is the key to success.
Is your dog overexcited or cool and collected? What tricks have you used to restore that calm and submissive energy? Let us know in the comments.