Help! My dog has too much energy.
Updated: Mar 2
An overly energetic dog is not in need of more freedom to "run their energy out." In most cases it is precisely that freedom which contributes to the energy problem. How does enabling them to run more wildly about help to reduce wild running? This is a behavior we want to reduce, not increase through freedom.
What is energy anyway? Among other things, it is non-compartmentalized thoughts and feelings (such as curiosity and novelty-seeking) being expressed without an ability to turn it off. Excessive energy is often an attention deficit issue whereby the dog lacks the proper internal ability, or discipline, to properly regulate themselves. This behavior is a brain issue, not necessarily just a physical exercise problem.
There can be several proper responses:
1. The leash
Set some parental boundaries. This is the most common solution for most dogs. Even if they apparently resist being controlled, this is not an indication that you are doing something wrong. Quite the opposite. Dogs will often disagree when a parent wants to set boundaries. If they resist change, this probably means you are doing something right. Changing patterns of behavior involves a certain amount of emotional discomfort, just as when giving structure to a child. If the dog throws a temper tantrum -- good! It means you are well on your way to a breakthrough in attaining good behavior. Want to learn more about tantrums? Research extinction burst in psychology.
2. A Walk
Target energetic times with a walk to exercise the brain, not just the body. Many young dogs experience excessive energy in the mornings after breakfast, and in the evenings around dinner time. They are often well-rested and a mound of calories are available to burn. By the way, that is the "energy" most people speak of. But even in this case, if calories are available to burn, what organ in the body decides when, where, and how to burn them? The brain. If muscle memory alone is dictating policy in your dog's body, then patterns of behavior might never change.
Want to really tire your dog's brain? Take them on a different route each walk. And give them space to smell and process the world. Or challenge their mind and work on mechanical precision of "heel" during the walk.
3. Fetch & Games
Play a great game of fetch. Remember, this game should have rules: stay, get it, come here, drop it, and leave it. These are the 5 rules of fetch. More on this topic here. You might also consider brain games at your local pet store designed to challenge your dog's problem-solving abilities. But watch out! These critical thinking abilities can sometimes be used against you.
Dogs, like children, can become "wired and tired" if they don't get enough sleep. Maybe it's time for a nap. Sleep is critical to good behavior and a healthy brain. Dogs should receive no less than 12-14 hours of sleep per day. Is your dog sleep deprived? When in doubt, destimulate them with a good nap. It will help them, plus it will give you a break from the full-time job of being a great parent. No guilt!
As always, if you have seemingly insurmountable challenges with your dog's behavior, contact a qualified behaviorist with Three Dimensional Dog.
Three Dimensional Dog is an in-home canine behavior and consultancy company serving the Greater Birmingham area. We can be reached at 205-563-8383 or visit www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com.