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Kind Corner: How to walk your over-excited dog

dog training advice by AnimalKind accredited trainers-banner

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Over-excitement in dogs is quite common, and for some guardians, it might make walks a little challenging.

AnimalKind-accredited trainer Lynn Gagnon of Stoked Dogs shares today some helpful tips for walking your over-excited dog.

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What causes a dog to be over-excited on walks and what to do about it

Is your dog jumping around on leash, incapable of paying attention, pulling in different directions and just generally looking a bit wired while you’re out on walks? If so, your dog might be over-excited. If your dog is over-excited on a walk, it’s important to first understand why.

Several factors can contribute to over-excitement in dogs, including anxiety, not enough exercise, too much exercise, and sometimes the wrong kind of exercise.

It’s also important to understand that genetics can be a significant factor in how your dog behaves on walks.

tug a war close up dog

What causes a dog to be over-excited on walks

For generations, we’ve mostly bred dogs to do specific jobs, selecting behaviours and qualities like picking up the scent of animal tracks, paying attention to movement in the environment, physical endurance, etc.

Selective breeding helped us develop the perfect hunting companions, ratting dogs, herders, guardians and more.

Today, however, dogs are less likely to live the lives they were bred for and more likely to be in a single-family home in an urban environment. But behavioural traits that are part of your dog’s genetics are not just cute novelty behaviours. They are often behaviours your dog is driven to accomplish, and for guardians, providing outlets for the behaviours is an inherent part of meeting your dog’s needs.

Often, over-stimulation comes from not having their needs met. This can be through things like not getting enough exercise, not having enough opportunities to sniff and smell their world, not having an outlet to try and control chaos as so many herding dogs do. The tasks your dog was bred for (and this can apply to mutts too – they still hold many genetically driven behaviours), are often a part of meeting their needs and not something that can be ignored.

As a professional dog trainer, I have seen countless dogs getting over-excited on walks. Sometimes, it is due to anxiety and often in those cases, it’s a matter of changing the environment and having a conversation with a veterinarian about managing the dog’s anxiety before we can help the dog achieve a more relaxed state on walks.

hand holding leash brown dog on trail

How do you walk a dog who gets over-excited on walks?

If you think your dog is anxious and their anxiety is driving how over-stimulated they get, seek help from a professional dog trainer and your veterinarian. Signs of anxiety include behaviours like tail tucked when you’re outside, ears pinned back, stiffer body language, pacing and wanting to pull back to home.

If you think your dog is simply over-stimulated and not anxious, the best thing to do is to try and change the environment, go to a calmer environment to help set your dog up for success, and start walking them on a longer leash (a leash over the standard 6 ft).

Here is why: A calmer environment coupled with a longer leash will allow them to explore, sniff, and let loose a bit more than a restricted 6 ft leash in a highly over-stimulating environment.

It might seem counterintuitive, but giving your dog more space and time will help to calm their nervous system. Personally, with dogs like this, I will use a 25-35 ft long line and walk at their pace to let them get what they are looking for from their environment.

dog with harness looking up

What if you can’t change the environment for your dog’s walk or use a longer leash?

Sometimes it’s not always possible to go elsewhere or to put your dog on a longer leash. If that is the case, here are some tips:

  1. Changing the time of day or duration of your walk
    If you can’t change the physical environment, try changing the time of day or duration of the walk. Sometimes we walk our dogs at the worst time for them, when it’s especially crowded, noisy and over stimulating. If you have to take your dog out during those times, go for a shorter period of time.
  2. Use treats for a sniff break
    If your dog is starting to act too over-excited, find a patch of grass, grab a handful of small but high-value treats and scatter them into the grass for your dog to sniff and eat. Sniffing helps to lower the heart rate and provides your dog an outlet for normal behaviour that we’re often suppressing. I use a scatter sniff like this when training high arousal skills like recall which can get dogs over-excited. It’s a great tool to help dogs calm down. If they don’t eat the treats, they are either not good enough treats or your dog is too stressed, which means you should end the walk.
  3. Take a break from fetching during walks
    If part of your walk routine involves throwing a ball for your ball-obsessed dog, you might want to take a break from ball throwing. Fetch can cause over-stimulation in some dogs (be aware that in others, it can help). Modify this part of their routine and see what happens.

Finally, teaching your dog some loose-leash walking skills will ultimately help them focus more on you and less on what is over-stimulating them, but you still need to understand first why your dog is behaving the way they are.

If there are underlying needs that aren’t being met or anxiety issues that are untreated, both of you will get frustrated.

If you think your dog is over-excited on walks, it’s time to face the issue and try some of the solutions outlined above. It might take some trial and error to find what works for your dog but it’s far better to work on it so that walks can become enjoyable for both of you.

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