Dealing with a hyperactive dog
If you live with a young adult dog, you may have noticed that he gets somewhat blurry at times. Young dogs can be very active pets; add to this the factor of size and perhaps obedience skills that need polish, and you may find yourself roommates with a canine Tasmanian devil. Some dogs seize every available opportunity to run, jump, bark, pull on their leads, and generally act like they have fleas beneath their bonnets. In a moment of exhaustion, you might naturally wonder whether your dog is normal or whether he suffers from some canine version of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is certainly a frequently diagnosed disorder in children – but is it as likely to affect dogs?
True hyperactivity, or hyperkinesis, does occur in dogs but is a relatively uncommon condition. Hyperkinetic dogs usually appear abnormal, even frantic, and will not stop their frenetic behaviour until they collapse with exhaustion. Panting and restless, their heart rates run high as they move endlessly. However, because it can be hard to tell the difference between an affected dog and one who is simply unruly – or, for that matter, a dog with an obsessive-compulsive movement disorder such as tail-chasing – veterinarians may recommend a test trial with stimulant medication. While normal dogs will show no response or an increase in activity level, biologically hyperkinetic dogs will respond by slowing down. Whether your veterinarian suggests inpatient testing with an amphetamine-like drug or a trial period with methylphenidate (Ritalin®) or other therapeutic drug, such testing can help determine whether your dog would benefit from medication.
The great majority of hyperactive dogs, however, are perfectly normal – even if they are a little difficult to live with. Unruliness, poorly controlled behaviour, resistance to obedience training, excessive barking and jumping are behaviours that can be managed with persistence and obedience training. If your dog is difficult to control, take advantage of local dog-training clubs, perhaps working individually with a trainer to trouble-shoot any problems that might develop. It is doubly important to take the skills learned in obedience class and apply them to your dog’s everyday circumstances – at home, in the car and at the park. Schedule active, aerobic exercise into your dog’s daily routine; even a brisk game of fetch can do wonders (and, hey, you get to stand still for a change).
Life with a hyperactive dog can be challenging, but rising up to that challenge with consistent training, exercise, play, and plenty of rewards will almost certainly result in a well-behaved pet – and a physically fit human companion.