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How to calm an overstimulated dog?
Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about the fact that your dog can get overstimulated?
If not, you’re not alone! Most dog owners think that a hyper dog needs more action. And while this is a good approach, it can also backfire!
An overstimulated dog usually doesn’t really feel himself anymore. He’s zooming around like crazy, biting or chewing things or becoming vocal. This is no healthy state of mind for a dog, and neither is it for you. This is why it’s very important to know how to calm an overstimulated dog.
Can a dog get overstimulated?
Oh yes, he can!
I’ll get to the reasons in a second. But let’s first look at what overstimulation in dogs means.
What is an overstimulated dog?
Dogs, and pretty much every other animal, have sensory receptors. These react to a stimulus by sending information through their nerve endings to the central nervous system. A dog possesses sensory receptors for hearing, seeing, sensing, tasting and smelling.
These reactions are vital for a dogs survival. Not only in the wild, but also in our urban world. Just imagine a dog that doesn’t react to your voice, a car approaching, other dogs etc. He would pretty much become like a doll or a stuffed animal.
Okay, so some stimulation is good. However, if there are so many stimuli around a dog that his sensory receptors have to react on a constant basis, it’s getting too much.
The dog’s reaction to too many stimuli at once is overstimulation. The dog feels overwhelmed and shows all kind or unwanted behavior (see below).
Why do dogs get overstimulated?
Our domesticated, urban life has tons of stimuli!
You don’t even need to leave the house. Even inside there are a whole lot of things going on. Just think about all the noises, smells and moving objects of a normal day at home…
Once you step out to the street, there’s a ton more, like cars, bicycles, people, birds, cats, flying leaves etc.
For a dog, that isn’t used to it, this is totally overwhelming! His sensory receptors work at max speed and yet, he still can’t get everything in.
Dog overstimulation can also happen through our actions. Some dog owners try to provide constant action for their pup. While the intention is certainly good, dogs don’t need action 24/7. In fact, normal dogs sleep and relax for an average of 18 hours per day, 12-14 hours of those in deep sleep! If they get less than that, then they become overtired, which is pretty much the same as overstimulated. There’s just too much going on and they can’t process everything.
The main problem is that an overtired/overstimulated dog can have the same symptoms as a bored dog. So, while you think he needs more entertainment, he actually needs less!
What does an overstimulated dog look like?
An overstimulated dog is generally always alert!
It’s very difficult for an overstimulated dog to relax because he literally can’t ignore the stimuli.
For that reason, he’s usually very tense and has a lot of adrenaline flowing through his body. This can then lead to unwanted behaviors, such as:
- leash aggression
- uncontrolled zoomies
- stress signals, such as lip licking, pacing, panting, sneezing, yawning
How do I know whether my dog is bored of overstimulated?
Oh well, this is a very difficult question.
The easiest way to answer it is to think about a number of things.
1. What breed is your dog?
Some breeds need significantly more exercise than others. If you’re walking a border collie for 30 minutes on a leash per day, I can assure you that his hyper behavior is caused by boredom!
Here’s a list of the most active dog breeds who need more than a few daily leash-walks.
2. How much exercise does he get?
Does het get enough physical exercise? For small breed active dogs I recommend 2 30-minute walks and one 1-hour off-leash walk per day. Additionally I recommend to do some kind of dog sport on a regular basis, such as Agility. This helps to also keep him engaged mentally.
Large breed active dogs might need more than that.
A good way to find out how much exercise your pup really needs is to track his daily schedule. Download my free puppy schedule planner to track your pup’s activity and sleep hours on a daily basis.
3. What kind of exercise does he get?
Only walks on a leash won’t be enough for most dogs to keep them happily relaxed. All dogs should also get some mental exercise every now and then.
But attention: By mental exercise I don’t mean leaving a dozen toys around for your dog to play with the whole day! This is exactly what leads to overstimulation. How should he be able to sleep when there’s all that fun lying in front of his nose?
In case you’re wondering if your dog is smart enough for mental exercises, click here.
How much does he sleep?
This is probably the most important indicator.
Does your dog sleep throughout the day? If not, then he’s most likely overstimulated.
Even the most active dogs need to rest and sleep for some time throughout the day. So, if your dog isn’t resting or sleeping for at least a couple of hours per day (additionally to the night), then it’s most likely not boredom that’s causing his behavior.
By answering those questions, you should be able to tell if your dog is bored or overstimulated.
What’s the difference between an overstimulated and an over excited dog?
Over excitement is one possible reaction to overstimulation.
However, over excitement usually happens as a response to certain triggers. It’s mostly because the dog is very happy about something or very impatient.
An over excited dog can usually calm himself down, even if it takes a while. While the over excitement also happens as a response to a stimulus, he’s not overwhelmed by a whole lot of stimuli. It’s just that one thing that triggers it.
If you think your dog might be over excited for other reasons than overstimulation, then check out my guide on how to calm an over excited dog quickly.
What’s the difference between an overstimulated and a hyperactive dog?
Hyperactivity is sort of the next stage after over excitement. If an over excited dog can’t calm down and stays in a state of high arousal, then he’s hyperactive.
Hyperactivity is a common result of overstimulation. If a dog doesn’t learn how to ignore certain stimuli or how to calm himself down, then it looks like he’s always ready for some action!
If your pup is hyper all the time, here are 8 things you can do.
What makes a dog get overstimulated?
As I’ve said earlier, dogs that didn’t learn to ignore stimuli, get overwhelmed by them.
There are 2 possible outcomes: your dog is overwhelmed by all the things going on and is basically hyperactive all the time.
Or he only gets overstimulated by certain specific things. The most common stimuli in that case are: other dogs, people or traffic.
Dog overstimulated by other dogs
Other dogs are one of the most common reasons for some dogs’ extreme reactions.
For some dogs the sight, smell or sound of other dogs can get them into a high state of arousal immediately. This can have various reasons. But the thing that they all have in common is that your dog is overwhelmed!
This is a great video showing you how to get a dog used to other dogs in small steps:
Dog overstimulated by (lots of) people
People can be another reason for overstimulation in dogs.
Some dogs get overstimulated by large crowds of people. For a dog this is like an explosion of sounds, movements and noises which can easily be overwhelming.
Other dogs are simply overstimulated by strangers. This is especially common with strangers who want to pet the dog on the head or behave in a way that is threatening for the dog.
Most kind-tempered dogs don’t know how to react to that and start getting antsy or getting all hyped up. The not so kind ones might go straight into fight mode and might even bite!
Dog overstimulated by traffic
Traffic is a whole lot of movement. Especially hunting breeds are genetically programmed to look out for moving things and chase them.
In our modern world, there are so many moving things, though. So, dogs who didn’t learn to ignore them, can quickly get overstimulated, trying to chase every car, scooter or bike.
How to calm an overstimulated dog?
Now that you know, where overstimulation in dogs comes from, let’s look at the solutions.
Socialize your puppy
The best thing to solve the problem is actually prevention.
By socializing a puppy early on, your dog will get used to stimuli. This means he learns to relax, even when there’s a lot going on.
This is a good explanation. However, make sure not to overdo it. Young puppies shouldn’t have more than a couple minutes of action and socialization at a time before they get to rest again.
Here’s a rule of thumb how to handle active times with puppies.
Make sure he has enough physical and mental exercise
You need to find a good balance between enough exercise and overstimulating him.
A dog needs physical and mental exercise on a daily basis. What he doesn’t need is constant games and action throughout the whole day!
However, it’s much easier for dogs to relax when they’re tired. So, make sure to walk your dog enough (for my Miniature Baloo 2 30-minutes walks and 1-hour off-leash walk per day works best). Additionally, you should also provide some mental stimulation, such as puzzles, scent games or teaching new tricks. Here’s a list of 21 ideas for fun things to do with your dog at home, in case you’re not sure what to do.
As I’ve mentioned before, not all breeds are the same. Herding and hunting dogs in particular need a lot more exercise than other breeds. So, for those dogs, the 2 on-leash and 1 off-leash walks approach might not work. This even goes for some small breed dogs.
Mental stimulation can also be a wonderful training tool if used correctly. Check out Braintrainingfordogs to learn how to train your dog to be the best dog he can be by using mental stimulation! Or have a look at Dogpackr’s review first to see if it’s a fit for you and your dog!
Get him used to the stimuli very slowly
If it’s just that 1 particular thing that gets him all excited, then it’s best to get him used to it slowly.
You can pretty much adapt the concept shown in the video concerning dogs overstimulated by other dogs.
First, wear your dog out before you approach the stimulus. Then, make sure you keep enough distance to it that your dog can still focus on you. Get him to focus on you with treats or a toy and practice some simple obedience or tricks.
Once this works fine, slowly approach the stimulus and repeat the process. Make sure to make the experience as positive as possible. Being close to the stimulus, ignoring it and instead focusing on you should be the best thing your dog experiences all day.
Condition calm behavior
Another great way to assist the point I just talked about is to condition calm behavior. If your dog learns to be calm and to calm himself down even when there are things happening around him, then he’ll soon be able to apply it in different situations.
Here’s how you can do that:
Stay calm in stressful situations
One last very important point: you need to stay calm in stressful situations!
Your dog can feel your emotional state. And if you’re stressed, guess what, your pooch is gonna get even more stressed!
So, if you know that your dog gets overstimulated by cars, try your best to stay calm around them. Think of it more as a chance to practice. This means you get a chance to have an amazing experience with your dog. So, keep that in mind and work towards it!
Overstimulation in dogs happens because a dog is exposed to many stimuli and gets overwhelmed.
In our urban world, the stimuli are abundant. However, dogs are very adaptable, if they learn how to deal with things.
The best ways how to calm an overstimulated dog are:
- Puppy socialization
- Enough physical and mental exercise
- Slowly getting him used to the stimuli
- Conditioning calm behavior
- Staying calm yourself.