There is a trend going on in the world of rescue dogs at the moment and it’s a worrying one: rescue organisations are full of hyperactive “crazy” dogs! It’s when the dog’s family have come to the end of their tether with a dog who is so hyper and does not seem to have an “off switch”, they can’t leave the dog on it’s own, but they can’t take the dog anywhere due to it’s boisterous and uncontrollable behaviour, and it is exhausting them.
I’m wondering whether this is happening more at the moment because of hype and frenzy around everyone having to have a dog, whether or not the home environment and lifestyle is appropriate. There is a belief (exacerbated by social media?) that a dog must “fit in” with family life, yet it’s a pretty laid back dog who can cope with our increasingly stressful lifestyles.
I am seeing the fall out from people taking certain dog training methods to the extreme – where it is encouraged to keep the dog busy as much as possible because this is going to enrich their lives… This means “enrichment” games, training games, licky mats, chewy bones, dog toys everywhere in case they get bored, 3 walks a day or daycare 5 times a week… It’s an attitude that stems from fear: “I must stop them from being bored or they will wreck the house/bark incessantly/be aggressive”!!!
Here’s the thing: the more a dog is kept active by us, the more active he gets used to being and the less he is able to find his own “off switch”.
Dogs are not naturally hyperactive. They really aren’t. Not even Jack Russells, Springer Spaniels, Boxers (and all the other breeds who have a reputation for being mad). No predators are. It’s in their DNA to use energy when there’s a good reason to, and rest at other times. Given the opportunity, dogs are all able to find their own “off switch” perfectly well, but we humans need to get out of their way!
I can tell you where the “off switch” is:
It’s in OUR eye contact (because dogs use and understand eye contact differently to humans, and if we flood them with eye contact they become hyper.)
It’s in OUR attention towards them (because attention is a major way dogs communicate with each other, and if we flood them with attention, they become hyper.)
It’s in OUR environment and our lifestyles (because if we start our days rushing around getting ready for work or kids for school and we involve our dogs in this, they will soak up this energy until they are hyper.)
It’s in OUR misunderstanding of what dogs need (they need to feel safe and this happens over time, and with calm, consistent communication by us, in a way they understand. If they don’t feel safe they will be anxious, and likely, hyper.)
If we are getting overwhelmed by the anxious/hyper behaviour our dogs are showing, it’s us who have missed something in the way we interact with them. Our dogs are intelligent, and a different species. If we treat them like children, or living teddy bears, or amateur emotional support dogs, their behaviour will deteriorate and they will become hyperactive and/or hyper sensitive.
Let’s use the off switch for ourselves and give our dogs a break. If we really love dogs, we need to learn their language, learn about their their needs, and interact with them in a way that respects their species.
There are numerous ways to go about learning this. But to begin with you could join this facebook group: Calmer Canine Cooperative (https://www.facebook.com/groups/calmercaninescooperative). It’s run for free by people like me, whose passion is to help the canine species be better understood and help caring humans achieve the best relationship possible.