the Gold Coast's premier dog trainers
“I couldn’t possibly stop taking my dog to the dog park every day, they’d be out of control!”
The above is a common worry that trainers hear when we suggest to owners that their dog could benefit from a little less dog park time. Many owners of hyperactive and excitable dogs use the dog park to burn off their dog’s energy, so that the dog is more manageable.
While the extreme playtime common to most dog parks will certainly tire out a dog, it is also one of the things that often exacerbates or even CAUSES hyperactivity. Here are some of the potential effects of frequent dog park time:
A dog engaging in over-the-top play will be experiencing physiological stress. Living things react in almost the same way to extreme excitement as extreme fear. Whenever a dog is stressed, their body releases stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones are designed to do things like increase the heart rate and blood pressure, and ensure the body’s cells are fuelled with energy.
After a stressful event, it takes time for the dog’s hormone levels to return to normal; it can be as long as a whole week. Deep, restful sleep is a very important part of this process, and a dog who isn’t sleeping well will take longer to recover.
In addition, stress hormones are cumulative, meaning that if a dog has another stressful event before it has recovered from the previous one, the overall levels will be even higher.
This means that many dog park attendees are stuck in a cycle of ever increasing stress hormones, as their bodies don’t return to normal levels in between dog park visits.
Using physical exhaustion as a method of reducing behavioural problems is not sustainable in the long term, because as a dog gets more and more accustomed to exercise, they require more and more physical activity to wear them out. Many owners of hyperactive dogs accidentally create canine athletes by forever increasing the amount of high energy exercise the dog receives (like dog park time) in an effort to tire out their dog.
Eventually the owner can’t keep up with the amount of exercise that the dog needs to be exhausted, and the behavioural problems like hyperactivity return.
Dogs who are dog park regulars often struggle in situations where they can’t approach other dogs to greet them whenever they like. They’re used to seeing another dog, and immediately being free to go up and say hello. If this isn’t balanced out by experiences where they learn that they’re NOT allowed to meet another dog, they usually struggle to succeed with behaviours like walking nicely on leash past another dog, or coming when called away from playtime.
The pattern of “I see a dog then I get to meet it!” is one of the common causes of frustration-based reactivity, when dogs bark and lunge at other dogs on leash because they’re hyper-motivated to greet them.
So, how DO you help a hyperactive dog besides exhausting them physically? A big part of the answer is balanced enrichment. Providing a variety of productive outlets for their energy, like thinking and problem-solving games, learning new skills through positive reinforcement training, new sensory experiences like going on a sniffing adventure, carefully considered social experiences, and varied physical exercise.
Physical exercise IS important, but it shouldn’t be your one-step plan to solving your dog’s behavioural problems.