Why Is My Dog So Excitable?
This is something we hear and see a lot of isn’t it. A dog bouncing around at the end of a lead or jumping up at the person who is holding on to them looking fed up. This excitement is usually directly linked to the dog’s state of arousal. Arousal though is a sign that something is amiss with the dog – something is not quite right and rather than stop the behaviour without asking any questions, our first job is to understand the dog.
Arousal itself is a perfectly normal response to something that makes the dog feel different. For example, there may be a squirrel in the distance, the dog’s tail and head goes up because the presence of the furry has made them a bit instinctive and excited. Or they might see another dog on a walk and feel excited thus jumping around desperate to meet the other dog.
Every single dog is different. They all have dog “stuff” just as we have people “stuff” but dogs are also individuals. So, they naturally have individual responses and needs just as you and I do.
The way that a dog feels is linked to their internal or their external environment. There is nothing else.
- Internal means everything from health to emotion, stress to fear.
- External means the space around them and whatever is filling it then reaching their brain and body through their senses.
Often the external and internal environment work together. The dog might see and smell a specific walking area where something happened to them, and that information pops into their brain and triggers the same emotional state they were in when the initial event occurred. So, a dog who was attacked might be scared on walks. Or a dog who heard a horrible smoke alarm in a house might pause at the front door of that house.
Dogs remember the things that were directly associated with a potential threat more than they do other things. In fact, we all do – because survival is the most important thing – we have all evolved to survive.
So, we know that arousal is normal, but what about over-arousal, and what is over arousal anyway?
Over arousal means that the dog has gone passed the point of being able to calm themselves and is becoming frantic. Frantic behaviour is built on an emotional state. The dog is in a situation they can’t stay calm in. It’s a situation usually of overwhelm.
Arousal Levels Are Based on The Individual
Some dogs cope better in some scenarios. Most dogs cope well somewhere, even if it’s when they are in bed, and the world is quiet. Some dogs cope at home but not out in the world and some cope better with other dogs whilst other’s work themselves into a frenzy just by getting a whiff of another dog.
The key here is to work on the dog’s resilience and ability to cope in general and work on calmness as part of everyday life. We can work on that in two ways:
- Noticing when our dogs are starting to look a little frantic and recognising patterns of when they become over-excited and can’t calm down. This means working on your dog watching skills.
- Taking control if their environments by making positive changes and moving out of high excitement areas altogether then reintroducing them gradually when the dog can cope.
We simply can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting our dog to suddenly one day cope with it. We also can’t stop meeting their needs just because we find their behaviour difficult. We must help them to cope and tweak their lives and activities until they can.
When a dog gets over excited it’s important to look at ourselves and whether we are causing that response. Are we acting excitedly towards them and getting them all fired up? Are we blaming them and dragging them away from a member of their own species rather than allowing them to watch at a distance and gather the information they want to gather? Are we moving fast and talking loud, are we allowing kids to run around them screaming?
When helping our dogs to lean towards calmness we must be calm too, they smell our emotional states. When we want them to practice impulse control, we must practice impulse control too. When we want our dogs to get used to something in the environment and not act up when they see it, we must give them chance to gather the information they need by watching, safely from a comfortable distance.
Behaviour is information, so what is your dog telling you today?
I can help you understand your dog and change their responses, meet their natural needs and have a great relationship.