Teaching an Over Excited Yellow Lab to Calm Himself Down

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 19, 2014

JackJack is a two-year-old yellow lab male with an incredibly high energy level that was causing a number of behavioral problems.

At this point I’ve worked with close to 1,000 dogs with all sorts of behavioral issues. While they are never aggressive, just about every client who’s told me that if I can’t fix their problem they’re getting rid of the dog, all had labradors.

I could instantly tell that Jack was in the top 10 of the highest energy level dogs I’ve ever worked with. Pent-up energy is the cause of many behavioral issues, so before getting into the session I took him outside for a quick game of fetch. It took about 15 minutes to toss the ball over little over 40 times. On the 41st throw, Jack retrieved the ball but only made it halfway back before plopping down to take a quick rest.

Now that his excess energy had been used up, I took him inside to start the session. But once we got inside Jack started to revert to some of the common behaviors that were driving his owners crazy; pacing around, jumping up, playing too rough with their other dog, etc.

I pulled out a leash and attached it to Jack’s collar then stepped on it about 2 feet away from his head, leaving just enough room for him to stand or sit next to me without any tension on the leash. After about five minutes, Jack finally settled down a little bit and sat down on the floor next to me. As soon as he, did I pushed my foot that was standing on the leash closer to the dog to take the tension off of the leash. A couple minutes later Jack laid down next to me. He was calmer, but I wouldn’t say he was calm.

I advised his owner to repeat this leash timeout every single time the Jack’s energy level started to spiral out of control. I also advised them to stop and pause whenever possible when Jack’s energy level got too high. Because Jack has been engaging in this overexcited behavior for two years it’s going to take longer for his owners to recondition him into a calmer frame of mind, but it absolutely can be done.

Next I went through a couple of leadership and focus exercises in an attempt to add some positive reinforcement and structure to Jack’s day-to-day life. However in each one it was extremely difficult for me to achieve the end results I was looking for. I always try to come up with techniques and exercises that are simple for my clients to repeat and it was clear that none of these were practical in Jack’s situation.

Because they use a kennel, I decided to use that to go through an exercise that will hopefully help Jack understand that the only way that he can move forward is by returning to a calmer state.

I tossed a high-value treat into Jack’s kennel and followed quietly behind him after he walked into it. I stopped just outside of the kennel door but left the door open as I was blocking the exit with my legs. After jack turned around and saw I was blocking, I paused for a moment before taking one deliberate step backwards away from the kennel. As soon as I did this, Jack started to move forward to exit the kennel. To block him, I immediately moved towards the kennel doorway which caused Jack to stop then back up inside of the kennel again.

I had to repeat this stepping forward and back process several times before Jack understood that I was communicating that he was not to exit the kennel without my permission. Once this was the case, I took a second deliberate step backwards before pausing and waiting for Jack’s reaction. Every time he stayed inside the kennel I paused and then took another step backwards away from it. Every time he started to exit the kennel, I quickly rushed towards the kennel door to get him to back himself inside of it. This back and forth went on for about 10 minutes before Jack stopped trying to exit the kennel on his own accord. At that point I was ready to move onto the next step.

I continued to move backwards away from the kennel one step at a time while pausing in between each step. Once I was about 15 feet away from the kennel I stopped and remained in position with my hips and shoulders facing the kennel and Jack. The instant that Jack sat down, I took a deliberate step backwards again to communicate that sitting was what I wanted. Jack remained sitting for another 10 minutes or so before he finally laid down inside the kennel. As soon as he did I took a knee and gave the recall command to communicate that he could exit the kennel.

This entire process took over a half an hour which is one of the longest times I’ve ever seen a dog need to calm down and relax. Thankfully the technique worked and Jack’s energy level was considerably lower when he finally laid down.

I suggested that his owners repeat this process several times a day to help communicate to Jack that he’s only able to move forward when he’s calm. As he practices this process, he should start calming down and laying down faster. This will also have an impact on his excitement and energy level. The more his owners do this, the calmer the dog should become in and outside of the kennel.

I suggested that his owners stop letting him out of the kennel when they return home unless Jack was equally calm. Prior to my session as soon as they approached Jack’s kennel door, his energy level started to increased to the point where he was almost unable to control himself. If you let a dog exit the kennel when it’s energy level is that high, they’re going to maintain that energy level which will make it difficult for the dog to listen and easy for it to get into trouble.

Because his overexcited energy and activity to go on unabated for so long it is going to take a little bit of time before Jack learns to calibrate his energy level to one that is acceptable for his owners. But by pausing as soon as his energy spikes and waiting until he is calm before moving forward, Jack will start to adopt a calmer demeanor all the time.

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