You've adopted a dog without a complete understanding what you were getting yourself into. Maybe you did the research and adopted a breed that was supposed to be more mellow, but you got the exception to the rule. Whatever the reason, now you're in the position to understand hyperactive dogs and how to deal with your pooch who just won't calm down.
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Luckily, hyperactivity in dogs is a well-researched and understood subject and there are several scientifically proven ways to help your dog calm down. I'll discuss all of the proven methods to deal with hyperactive dogs and how you can easily do that.
Hyperactivity in dogs
Hyperactivity in dogs (sometimes referred to by scientists as hyperkinesis in dogs, and by pet owners as ADHD in dogs) is characterized by several factors, either isolated instances or a combination of:
Hyperactive dogs are emotionally aroused by all stimuli and remain at a high level of arousal even after removal of the stimuli (Luescher, 1993). Restlessness, constant non-stop movement and panting, frantic abnormal behavior (e.g. the dog chasing his own tail) and unfocused eyes are other very common superficial symptoms of dog hyperactivity.
Interestingly, studies found that hyperactive dogs are often more likely to be of lower body weight, and when decreasing the dog's weight, he's likely to become more hyperactive (McGreevy et al. 2013).
Dealing with hyperactive dogs takes a good understanding of this condition to accurately address the problem. For example, age is a factor – if you're working with a puppy, you'll need to give him more time than when dealing with an adult dog. Most puppies seem to have endless amounts of energy, but as they mature they will likely settle down (Stone et al. 2016). Some breeds, however, continue to stay hyper well into their adult years.
It's important to note that “puppy tests” for behavioral issues are seldom accurate. This is because studies found how hyperactive dogs in their early age may not be hyperactive as they age, and most personality disorders in dogs, including hyperactivity, are not accurate indicators of subsequent behavior in older dogs (Fratkin et al. 2013).
Owner report studies found that most working breeds are the least likely to be among of hyperactive dogs, though there are exceptions (Tonoike et al. 2015; Lit et al. 2010). This makes sense for owners who put working breeds to work as opposed to neglecting their needs. Other reports found that the most hyperactive dog breeds tend to be:
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Border Collie
- English Pointer
- Labrador Retriever
Many breeds have been tested for hypeactivity, both AKC-recognized and non-AKC-recognized breeds; however, the studies lack consistency and there doesn't seem to be any convincing evidence how specific breeds are genetically predisposed to suffer from hyperactivity (aside from a few known breeds, like Jack Russell Terrier).
Why you must address hyperactivity issue
For example, reports show how hyperactive dogs are very likely to express impulsive behavior (Riemer et al. 2014; Wright et al. 2012). Similar to ADHD in humans, impulsivity in dogs is caused by poor hormonal regulation in the body, and for the most part due to low levels of dopamine and serotonin. This resulted in close correlation between canine aggression and impulsivity in dogs, and studies have confirmed how impulsive and hyperactive dogs are more likely to be aggressive (Amat et al. 2009; Peremans et al. 2003).
Other than aggression, hyperactivitiy in dogs is the cause of many other serious behavioral problems. In fact, it's one of the main reasons why pet owners give up on their dogs. Research demonstrated that impulsive and hyperactive dogs are significantly more likely to be relinquished by pet owners due to a variety of said behavioral problems caused by this condition (Salman et al. 2010; Stephen et al. 2007; Kobelt et al. 2003).
If you're now trying to deal with hyperactive dogs in your household, there are many things that you can do to make the situation easier to handle and possibly even solve the whole problem altogether. Of course, if you're really concerned about your dog's well-being, you should speak with your veterinarian as well as canine behaviorist.
8 Evidence-based Ways to Deal with Hyperactive Dogs
1 Amend Your Dog's Diet
Protein is crucial in a dog's diet because it contains the amino acids to build muscles and tissues. However, too much protein in the diet can provide a source of excess energy, especially if your dog is consuming more energy than he is expending (Young, 1991). Since dog owners are more likely to focus on feeding meat to their dogs, it's easy to overestimate the amounts and overfeed the dog, particularly on a homemade diet.
There is research that found correlation between high protein diets and aggression in dogs stemming from hyperactive behavior (DeNapoli et al. 2000). This study included 11 dogs with dominance aggression, 11 dogs with territorial aggression and 11 hyperactive dogs. High protein and low protein diets were compared for each group of dogs. It was shown that adding tryptophan to the dog's diet, or decreasing protein levels in the diet helps with reducing aggression and hyperactivity in dogs.
Why more protein = aggression and hyperactivity in dogs?
A potential reason for the link between high protein diets and aggressive behavior is due to ammonia concentrations in the blood. Ammonia is a waste-product of protein metabolism, and the presence of ammonia is an indication of a lower digestible protein (Foster et al. 1938; Gibson et al. 1976).
Furthermore, according to this Orijen White Paper (PDF), when dogs were fed diets containing highly digestible and concentrated proteins, there was less aggression and hyperactivity exhibited by the dogs than those fed low quality proteins.
In summary, amending your dog's diet can help to decrease hyperactivity and aggression. To get the most out of your dog’s diet:
- Feed your dog the correct daily allowances for his/her weight to make sure that energy intake does not exceed what is required, even if it's coming from protein;
- Ensure that the ingredients are easily digested and metabolized by your dog;
- Prioritize high quality protein sources, preferably animal-based;
- Feed dog food that is appropriate to your dog’s age and activity level.
According to the above study, you can also try to prioritize food sources that are higher in tryptophan. Make sure they are safe for dogs and non-toxic. Some of the dog-friendly foods that are high to moderate in tryptophan are poultry (turkey in particular) and different red meats, cottage cheese, buckwheat, eggs, yogurt, fish and pumpkin seeds.
Additionally, researchers also found that ketogenic diet for dogs can help with hyperactivity disorder and other similar symptoms of ADHD in dogs (Packer et al. 2016). This study found correlation between epilepsy and hyperactive dogs, and the ketogenic medium chain triglyceride diet (MCTD) helped to relieve many of the ADHD-like symptoms in dogs. That said, it's important to discuss this with your vet before you put your dog on a keto diet like this. Keto diet for dogs may help with hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms, but it might have detrimental effects for your pooch in other areas.
2 Thyroid Treatments
This paper (PDF) and several mentioned studies within it found thyroid dysfunction in animals to be associated with a number of clinical signs, including an erratic temperament, periods of hyperactivity, and anxiety. Other signs include moodiness, general ADHD like and compulsive behavior, and irritability (Bezzola, 2002).
This is not surprising, because hypothyroidism has been associated with a number of cases of ADHD in people, and children in particular (Rovet et al. 1996). For example, children with high levels of thyroid hormones exhibited a high level of distractibility and had lower attention span. Similarly, rats with hypothyroidism exhibited abnormal behaviors, such as higher levels of locomotion behavior and a lower rate of correct avoidance responses, an indication of ADHD.
Available thyroid treatments for dogs
There are several thyroid treatments for dogs that have been proven effective for dogs with hyperthyroidism, which is closely associated with hyperactive dogs. You will need to discuss this with your veterinarian to find the most appropriate treatment.
For example, thyroxin (or Levothyroxine) is a possible drug to help hyperactive dogs by treating hyperthyroidism (if that is the actual cause of ADHD like behavior in your pooch). In some studies, treatment with thyroxin was able to suppress the production of thyroid hormones in Beagle dogs with hypothyroidism (Panciera et al. 1990). A number of different thyroxin brands are available, including levothroid, levoxyl, synthroid, tirosint and unithroid.
Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants that are used to treat ADHD in dogs and humans. These drugs are most popular for people with various conditions, but were previously used to successfully help hyperactive dogs too. Obviously do not give your pet amphetamines without prior consultation with a veterinarian.
In one study, Beagle dogs that were given a dose of 0.2 mg/kg of amphetamines (in the form of dextroamphetamine) were observed to determine behavioral and physiological changes, such as body temperature, heart rate, and motor activity. Oral amphetamines resulted in a calming down effect, as seen with a decrease in motor activity, with a greater than 15% reduction in heart rate (Stiles et al. 2011).
The reason why amphetamines may work in treating ADHD in dogs even though they are considered stimulants is because they are stimulating and increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine (Hodgkins et al. 2012). And as the above mentioned studies showed, these are two of the main contributors in hyperactive dogs. Thus, giving your dog amphetamines may improve the transmission and receipt of messages within the dog's brain and calm the dog down.
4 L-tyrosine Supplementation
Tyrosine is a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine in the dog's brain, and abnormalities in dopamine neurotransmission is believed to be involved in symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in dogs, including inattention and impulsivity as I've mentioned discussing above studies with hyperactive dogs.
Further evidence suggests that ADHD is associated with fronto-cortical dysfunction, an area of the brain that is rich in dopamine (Genro et al. 2014). Previous research tentatively suggested that the D4 dopamine receptor gene, the dopamine transporter gene, and the D2 receptor gene are directly involved in the clinical symptoms of ADHD (Faraone et al. 1998).
For example, Roborovskii hamsters are characterized by low levels of dopamine in the brain and high levels of locomotor activity (an indication of hyperactivity disorder) compared to other species of hamsters. In this one experiment, chronic supplementation of L-tyrosine decreased locomotor activity of the Roborovskii hamsters in the home cage (Hodgkins et al. 2012). In addition, tyrosine increased the turnover rates of dopamine and norepinephrine and decreased the serotonin turnover rate in the brain.
Even more studies with animals on how the role that L-tyrosine plays in alleviating hyperactivity is available. “Manic” activity, such as hyperactivity and repetitive movements involving the whole body in rodents was blocked with treatment with alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine (Davies et al. 1976). This shows that L-tyrosine supplementation is a viable treatment for hyperactivity and likely have similar effects on hyperactive dogs.
Exercise should be the first of the tools in treating hyperactive dogs. Plenty of exercising can get rid of any pent up energy and alleviate boredom in your dog, as well as provide a wealth of health benefits. While there are no studies directly correlating studies of exercising and relief for ADHD in dogs, there are several mentioned above that imply this to be the case. Moreover, studies on 8-12 year old children showed that maximal treadmill walking decreased motor impersistence and eye blink rate, indicators of ADHD behavior (Tantillo et al. 2002).
In an animal model, treadmill exercise improved symptoms of hyperactivity disorder, including an improvement in spatial learning memory (Kim et al. 2011). In ADHD rats that exercised, there was an increase in the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which are implicated in alleviating ADHD symptoms.
Another study provides evidence that treadmill exercise reduces the symptoms of ADHD by reducing the cell loss of Purkinje cells and astrocytes in the cerebellum. Purkinje cells are important for dogs, as they regulate and coordinate motor movements.
With everything we know today about exercising and hyperactive dogs, it's safe to claim that exerting energy will likely relieve symptoms of dogs ADHD and calm your pooch. Exercise can also help to utilize extra calories and energy from the diet. Other than taking your dog for long walks, some other good exercises to incorporate for hyperactive dogs include running, swimming, and Frisbee.
6 Playing Classical Music
Classical music can have a calming effect for hyperactive dogs as demonstrated in several studies and discussed in more detail in Mary's article on calming dogs (Meade et al. 2016). Playing music is likely to reduce heart rate variability in your dog. In mice, music treatment was able to decrease anxiety states and may provide an effective therapeutic effect of anxiety (Wen-Jing et al. 2009).
According to Institute of Education Sciences, in children, those who were exposed to classical music in the background during study sessions lead to a better recall for sounds and names, and better focus and attention [source]. The similar effects were discussing this this article on calming music for dogs, with some great examples of what to play.
In rats, Mozart music was shown to lead to an increase in dopamine synthesis in the brain, which leads to a reduction in blood pressure (Akiyama et al. 2011). More specifically, music with higher frequency sounds, such as 4k-16k Hz, resulted in greater dopamine synthesis compared to low frequency sounds, which is likely to calm down the animal.
As noted earlier, abnormalities in the dopaminergic system is implicated in ADHD and is likely to be one of the key causes of ADHD in dogs. In hyperactive dogs, in addition to affecting neurotransmitters in their brain, musical stimuli in animal models has autonomic and neurochemical effects and may also modify synaptic plasticity (Rickard et al. 2005). Classical music can also help with relaxation and increase quiet time for the dog.
In contrast and not really surprisingly, heavy metal music encourages dogs to spend more time barking, as has been demonstrated in one study (Wells et al. 2002).
Testosterone is likely to be one of the major contributors in hyperactive dogs. Studies have long concluded how male dogs are typically more hyperactive and aggressive than females. There is a lot of data on this and too much to plow through for this article. For example, a statistic on dog-bite fatalities between 1989 and 1994 shows that 19 of 20 deaths involved an unneutered dog (Sacks et al. 1996).
Unneutered puppies and kittens appear to be more aggressive and hyperactive compared to neutered animals (Lieberman, 1987). This is because unneutered animals still have testicles, which can continue to produce high concentrations of testosterone. Testosterone production can lead to higher levels of aggression and behavior problems in animals, including mounting and roaming.
Studies on testosterone show that increased levels of testosterone can stimulate parts of the brain that are involved in threat-processing and aggressive behavior. To be more specific, in hyperactive dogs, intermale aggression and fighting was decreased with castration or progestagen treatment (Knol et al. 2011). In another study with chimpanzees, increased levels of aggression was seen during times when testosterone levels were high (Muller et al. 2004).
8 Teach Hyperactive Dogs New Tricks
Learning a new trick can help to calm your dog’s nerves, as well as challenge hyperactive dogs mentally. This is because occupying your pet's brain with a new challenge is likely to concentrate his energy on that task rather than expend it in other ways. Learning new dog training tricks can help your dog remain focused on a task, as well as help build a common language and trust between master and his/her dog.
Studies on dogs show that playing games and learning new tricks reduced behavioral issues, including anxiety, whining, and aggression. Training a dog can help to set boundaries for your Fido, including what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. For example, trick training can help control a dog that may bark or jump too much.
While some may dismiss hyperactive dogs, often saying that “it is just a dog being a dog”, the truth of the matter is that this may result in the development of other unwanted behaviors and could also be a sign of other underlying health problems.
Learning how to detect and act upon hyperactive dogs is key not only to deter the dog from exhibiting undesirable actions such as being aggressive and potentially dangerous, but also to ensure that the dogs' physical and mental health are maintained.