Free Tips to Get a High Energy Dog to Settle Down and Listen

Stafford (right) is a one-year-old Beagle / Pit Bull mix who was recently adopted into a home as a new companion for ten-year-old Labrador / Husky mix Jack in Los Angeles. Their guardian set up a dog behavior training session to stop Stafford from getting over excited.

Because it was a beautiful day in so cal, the door was open and the dogs saw me as I walked up to the house. It didn’t take long to see that Stafford aka Staff, was a bit of a rascal when the door opened.

While Jack barked out an alarm, Staff was perched in a prestigious position up on the back of the couch. He didn’t stay there long. As soon as I opened the door, he jumped down onto the floor to jump up on me.

As a dog behaviorist, I learned a long time ago that when a dog jumps up on a guest who just arrived, they are often trying to claim them or let them know they are in charge. While that can be part of Staff’s behavior, its also possible it is just an abundance of energy, a constant theme for this high energy dog. Later in the appointment I would show the guardian how to claim the door using body language and movement.

When I sat down with the dogs and their guardian, Staff was all over, jumping up on the couch, the humans, the other dog Jack, then circling back around to jump on them all over again. This is clearly a high energy dog.

I pulled out a leash and showed his guardian how to give him a leash time out. Staff objected and tried to wiggle away for a few moments, but once he realized that wasn’t working, he eventually calmed down and laid on the floor at my feet.

I stressed how important it will be for his guardian to increase his daily exercise. Most dogs need a good 45 minutes of energy a day. But high energy dogs like Staff need a lot more. If they don’t get it, it absolutely impacts their behavior and that was the case here. Whenever possible, its best to exercise a really high energy dog early in the day.

I recommended that the guardian pick up a dog packpack as this makes the walk a better work out for the dog while also giving them a job.

While walks are a great way to demonstrate leadership if you train and ask your dog to walk in a heel, they aren’t the best way to burn off excess energy. Most dogs will stop and sniff and go where their nose takes them. While this is stimulating, its not going to burn off as much excess energy as other activities like the fetch.

Later in the session, I showed the guardian my preferred way to exercise a higher energy dog like Staff. I like to call this dog skiing.

It only took 15 minutes or so, but this dog skiing exercise really did the trick. Staff laid down as soon as we got back inside and once he recovered, he was much easier to work with. He listened better, showed respect for personal space and wasn’t so pushy with Jack.

I recommend that the guardian repeat this activity as she likes to skate. I also recommended a dog walker and occasional dog day care (regular dog day care would be highly advisable for the next year until Staff settles down), especially on days when company will be coming over. While playing with Jack is good for him to a point, Staff needs to find dogs that are at his maturity and energy level. This will burn off excess energy much more efficiently while also stimulating him mentally.

Solving social problems and sharpening social skills are under appreciated behaviors that are not emphasized enough for many dog guardians. Making sure Staff has regular play dates where he can unleash his excess energy and get that mental stimulation will help in multiple ways.

One thing I always try to do with my clients is show them ways to help a dog develop self control in recurring daily activities. A great example of this is letting an excited dog out of the kennel.

By waiting for the dog to calm down before he gets out of the kennel, his guardian can help communicate to him that calm balanced energy is rewarded and crazy high energy is not the way to get what you want.

Asking Staff to sit and wait before throwing the ball when playing fetch (another great way to burn off excess energy), wait for permission to eat food waiting in his bowl, waiting at the door for permission to go out and sit politely in front of a human for attention will gradually have an impact on his behavior with the humans and dog he lives with.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Increase Staff’s daily exercise by at least 50% with a big portion done early in the day.
  • Play fetch or dog ski with Staff before taking him on a walk (after giving him a 15 minute recovery period).
  • Get a dog back pack and add in some bottles of water or other weight to make his walks more productive.
  • Start an exercise journal and document all of the exercise Staff gets daily for a week or two. Add in a daily grade and then vary the activities until the right combination is identified.
  • Enroll Staff in a dog day care at least once a week (preferably more) or on days when company will be in the house.
  • Incorporate rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently to help the dogs start to adopt more of a follower’s mindset.
  • Stop petting Staff when he is over excited.
  • Start petting Staff (and Jack) with a Purpose.
  • Give Staff a leash time out any time he gets over excited; unless he hasn’t been properly exercised that day. If that is the case, take him out for a game of fetch or some dog skiing.
  • Intercede when Jack shows he is not interested in playing with Staff and Staff isn’t getting the message. If possible, take him out for a few minutes of fetch.
  • Avoid saying “its ok” to Jack when he is upset or distressed to avoid making “its ok” a command to get upset.
  • Get some appropriate chew items (bullysticks, antlers, nylabones, water buffalo horns, etc) and separate the dogs so they can chew on their own once a day.
  • Get a bunch of sticks (1-6 feet in length) and leave them in the back yard so the dogs have things to chew on / play with there.
  • Add temporary fencing (two fence widths high, overlapping in the middle and use zip ties to secure it to posts every 18 inches) so its 7-8 feet high to stop Staff from jumping over the wall in the back of the yard.
  • Use passive training to say the command word and pet the dogs any time they engage in a desired behavior like sitting, coming or laying down.
  • Use the Escalating Consequences to disagree with unwanted actions or behaviors.
  • Make sure to reward or correct the dogs within 3 seconds in order for them to understand what is desired or unwanted.
  • Get into a habit of letting Staff out of the kennel in the structured way demonstrated in the above video.
  • Remove on piece of furniture from the living room to give the dogs more room to move around and not feel confined.
  • Add structure to meal time; human eating first, Jack next and Staff last. Dump any remaining food once the dog walks away but leave the empty bowl on the floor.
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