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Treatment for Hyper and Nervous Dogs

Get information about treatment for hyper and nervous dogs.

It is important to allow your dog to get the exercise it needs. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
It is important to allow your dog to get the exercise it needs.

Dogs are well known for being energetic and outgoing. These personable canine qualities are the traits that make many dog owners value their pets' companionship so highly. But more is not always better; some dogs, it seems, have limitless energy—so much so that it appears to distort their personalities, making them nervous and high strung. This kind of behavior can become destructive to the household and irritating to the owner. Worse yet, the owner may begin to suspect that the dog is either unhappy or a nervous wreck.

This is a difficult situation for any dog owner to handle. It's natural for owners to wonder: Is this just how my dog is? Is this its natural personality? Is it a behavioral problem I can train it to overcome, or could it be a sign of a deeper medical problem? Where dog behavior is concerned, there are no clear-cut answers. But there are a number of questions to consider, and a number of remedies and treatments that may help.

Is the dog hyperactive or just hyper?

The first thing to do is to think carefully about the dog's personality. To say that the dog is hyper is to say very little—hyper is a broad and poorly defined term that means different things to different people. Dog trainers use a number of more precise terms to describe dog behavior that could also fit under the hyper umbrella. For example:

Reactive: Reactive dogs are excitable. They're easily startled; they overreact to loud noises; they have a hard time controlling themselves around unfamiliar people or in new situations. They often may tremble from excitement or fear. They may explode with barking at the slightest provocation. It may seem like anything can set them off, or they may only overreact in certain predictable situations.

Hyperactive

Many trainers reserve the term hyperactive for dogs that have some kind of neurological or genetic disorder. (Sometimes the term hyperkinetic is used instead.) According to this school of thought, a truly hyperactive dog has obvious and severe problems like the inability to sit still or pay attention, perhaps with chattering teeth or a tongue that hangs out even when the dog is at rest.

High Energy

Some dogs just have a lot of energy, either because they're not getting enough exercise or because they're simply a high-energy dog. Some breeds generally have higher energy levels than others, in part depending on the job the dog was originally bred to perform. Dogs from hunting breeds, for example, are more likely to have some of the stamina and energy that would've served their distant ancestors on the trail.

Treatment for Hyper and Nervous Dogs

Here are some starting places for treating a hyper dog:

Exercise

Both high-energy and reactive dogs can benefit from increased exercise.

Training

Training can help a reactive dog control its response to stimulation, while it can provide a high-energy dog with an outlet for expending some of that extra enthusiasm.

Diet

Some dog trainers believe that diet is a major influence on dog behavior. Not all dog food is created equal; some low-quality foods are heavily laced with salt, sugar and preservatives, for example. Look for non-behavioral signs that indicate a poor diet, such as loose, lightly colored stools, a dry coat or other skin problems. High-quality food doesn't necessarily mean the food that's most expensive at the grocery store. In fact, most grocery stores do not stock the best food. Talk to a veterinarian or a dog's breeder for recommendations. Some trainers also have reported great success with a diet based on people food.

Treatment for Hyperactive Dogs

Dogs that are truly hyperactive rather than just high-energy or reactive often respond poorly to training. In fact, since this condition has its roots in the dog's neurological function, some people consider truly hyperactive dogs to be essentially untrainable. In these cases, medication may give some relief. Intuition suggests that tranquilizers would help the hyperactive dog, but in fact this is not the case. Drugs that stimulate the central nervous system are actually much more useful for helping truly hyperactive dogs slow down.

For more information on treating hyperactive dogs, check out the dog behavior tip sheet from The Humane Society of the United States.

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