An Extremely Excited German Shepherd Learns to Calm Down and Listen

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 27, 2015

Athena (German Shepherd)

Athena is a one-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd in Fullerton California who gets over excited when people come over and pulls like crazy on walks. She also has developed a habit as a fence jumper and destroyer of furniture and other things.

When I first met Athena she was in her kennel as her owner could not control her when guests arrive. As soon as she saw me, her energy went way up and she started to get anxious; whining, barking and pawing at the kennel door.

I stood in front of the kennel and waited for her to settle down before I reached to open the door. It took about a minute before she relaxed enough for me to reach for the kennel door. However as soon as I started to reach for it, Athena started to get excited again so I withdrew my arm and waited again. I kept proceeding this way, step by step until I was able to open the door while she remained relaxed.

But once the door was open, I stood directing in front of the opening to block her from exiting. By consistently only allowing the dog to exit the kennel in a calm state of mind, we can help the dog learn that the only way to get what she wants (freedom from the kennel) is by being calm.

However her calmness was short lived. About 30 seconds after exiting the kennel her energy level shot up again. She started to circle around us, barking, pawing at her owner and wrestling with the family’s other dog a beautiful Malamute.

I waited to see if this was just a passing burst of energy, but after a minute it was clear it wasn’t stopping any time soon so I placed her on a leash and stood on it about 2 feet away from her collar. I call this a dog time out and I apply it whenever a dog gets so excited it can’t control itself. If ever there was a dog that met that description, it was Athena.

Athena disagreed with the restriction of the leash and let loose with a flurry of energy to try to get free. Now I am 6-1 and weigh … (Well, more than I should. Lets call it over 220 pounds) and I had difficulty staying on top of the leash. But I stayed with it and a few moments later, Athena calmed down again.

I sat down to discuss the situation with her guardian. My first question was how much exercise the dog was getting. Their owner said due to her excited rambunctious nature, she wasn’t walking the dog as much as she liked. Most of Athena’s exercise came from running and wrestling with their other dog. While a dog can certainly burn energy when playing with another dog, its not a constructive form of exercise.

However when most dogs play together, they are pretty physical. If this is the dog’s only way to release its energy, it can develop some unwanted habits such as playing or being physical that way with their guardians. That was absolutely the case here. Making matters worse, her guardian had resorted to pulling and pushing Athena away when she was doing something wrong. Not only is this method ineffective when dealing with a near 100 lb dog, the dog often misinterprets it as play.

I showed her guardian new ways of communicating and disagreeing with Athena without physically touching her. These methods are far more effective as they mirror the communication methods dogs use with one another. Additionally, they can help the dog learn that physically moving or controlling a human is not kosher.

Next I went through a few basic exercises to help the dog learn to come, develop more respect for her guardian, practice self restraint and introduce the concept of boundaries. I suggested that Athena’s guardian practice them daily with the other members of her family over the next few week or two. Development of these skills will be a crucial part of Athena learning to listen to and respect the humans in her family.

While Athena lacks some manners, obedience skills and social graces, her primary issue is being a high energy dog that is not getting the exercise she needs. I went through some different exercises and activities that her family can use to burn her excess energy in a constructive way that also helps develop her respect for them.

We attempted to take both dogs out for a walk, but it quickly become apparent that while their Malamute was a much better behaved dog, she had some behavioral issues too. When both dogs are together, it was almost impossible to get them settled down for a walk. While guardians with multiple dogs prefer to walk them together, I suggested we put the Malamute back inside so we could facilitate a successful walk with Athena.

Once we were down to one dog, it was easier to get Athena to calm down, but she was still pretty challenging. After a few moments, it was clear she still had way too much energy so I put on some running shoes and took her for a quick jog. 15 minutes later, we tried again with much better success. By the end of the walk, Athena’s owner was able to get her to walk at a heel without pulling on the leash.

By the end of the session, Athena was listening better, following commands and corrections better and much calmer. It will be extremely important that her guardian’s start taking her out for daily walks and utilize other more constructive forms of exercise to drain her excess energy so that she is better able to listen to them and control herself.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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