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San Diego Humane Society

Adopting: Excitable Dogs

Many dogs have trouble controlling their impulses and are easily aroused or excited, resulting in behaviors such as jumping, mouthing, grabbing and barking among others. When bringing home a dog who has poor impulse control, it is extremely important to devise a plan to set up your environment and respond appropriately and consistently to teach your dog different, desirable behaviors.

Every interaction is a training opportunity for dogs who are easily aroused and have poor impulse control, and behavior changes take time and practice! Also every member of your household must be implementing the same plan, consistently, while interacting with your new dog in order for this to be effective.

Body Language

Dogs use body language and behavior to communicate. It is important that you are able to notice and interpret changes to your dog’s body language and behavior, by observing their eyes, ears, face, body and tail.

Body language and behaviors that may indicate arousal, include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Ears pushed forward
  • Stiff or tight and wagging tails
  • Heavy or fast breathing
  • Flushed or pink/red skin
  • Salivation
  • Jumping and pulling
  • Mouthing, grabbing and mounting

Triggers

Typically, specific stimuli (people, places, things or events) will contribute to a dog becoming aroused and excited. These stimuli vary from dog to dog and can generally be referred to as triggers. Common triggers for arousal include sudden events, movements, the sight of other dogs, people or playing.

When multiple triggers occur within a short period of time, arousal and excitement can increase rapidly or suddenly; this is referred to as trigger stacking. The more triggers that occur or appear, the more difficult it will be for your dog to manage their impulses and offer other behaviors.

Always avoid putting your dog in a situation in which trigger stacking can occur and do not expect your dog to successfully offer other behaviors if trigger stacking occurs. When in this situation, take the action to reduce and remove triggers from your dog’s environment.

How to Help Your Dog

Doggy Proofing

Set your dog up for success by creating an environment that will help you manage and mitigate triggers for aroused and impulsive behaviors. “Doggy proof” your living space by removing any objects you do not want the dog to engage with. Any items you do not wish for your dog to access, including food, should be stowed away in a place your dog is unable to access (think high cupboards and cabinets). If your dog is successful at finding and chewing or eating any inappropriate items, this behavior will be reinforced, and your dog will get better at it.

Safe Space and Confinement

Provide your dog with an appropriate and safe space to rest by offering bedding and blankets. Lead your dog here when you are unable to directly supervise them to manage their behavior. A safe space can be a laundry room, a hallway, a room sectioned off with a baby gate or an area created by an ex-pen. Also, consider closing doors to keep your dog sectioned off to smaller areas of your home and to limit the amount of trouble that they can get into without our supervision.

Your dog’s safe space should also be where they receive meals and enrichment (toys, puzzle feeders, bones, chews, etc.). Feed your dog with a slow feeder or puzzle feeder to engage their mind in an activity. If your dog begins to jump on you, mouth you or shows any behaviors that you cannot redirect, use the safe space as a “babysitter” so they are not practicing these behaviors.

Your Behavior

Be conscious of the way your behavior influences your dog’s behavior. When your dog becomes aroused, remain calm while interacting with them. Do not attempt to wrestle or engage your dog in play with your hands, arms or legs and avoid rough petting. The more calm and relaxed you remain, the more likely your dog will be to offer calm and desirable behaviors.

Remove Triggers from the Environment

Create space between your dog and their triggers. Cross the street on walks to avoid passing people, dogs or other triggers in close proximity or tight spaces. Place your dog into their safe space at home when guests visit or during “busier” or more active times in your day, like when the household is in the kitchen preparing a meal.

Use a Dragging Leash

Attach a light nylon leash to your dog’s collar and allow them to drag it around. If your dog needs to be redirected, pick up the leash and guide or move them as needed.

Play and Redirections

If your dog begins showing aroused and impulsive behaviors such as mouthing or jumping during play, redirect them to using toys and reward them by playing with them with toys. If you are unable to redirect your dog to playing with toys, then stop play immediately. Always avoid playing with your dog using your hands, arms or legs as a toy, as this type of play will lead to an increase in jumping, mouthing and grabbing or other impulsive behaviors.

Physical Exercise

Take your dog on walks or runs. Use appropriate walking equipment, such as a front-clipping harness, to discourage pulling. Play ball or tug with your dog, following the guidance under the “Play and Redirections” section above. If your dog is friendly with other dogs, schedule play sessions with familiar dogs.

Training

Train or teach the behaviors you want to see. Use positive reinforcement training to teach your dog “sit,” “down” and “go to bed.” Repetition is key: The more you and your dog practice a behavior, the more you will see of it. Practice working on training appropriate behaviors for a dedicated 10-15 minutes a day and throughout the day when offering food, treats, toys or access to other spaces (think opening the back or front door).

How to Interact

Reinforce or reward the behaviors you would like to see again and ignore the behaviors that you don’t. It is crucially important that everyone who is interacting with your dog is able to recognize and reinforce behaviors that are appropriate and ignore behaviors that are not. Consider the following questions when considering your dog's behavior and getting all household members on the same page:

  • Is the dog allowed on furniture?
  • Is the dog allowed on beds?
  • Can the dog lay with you on the couch?
  • Can the dog give you kisses?
  • How do you play with the dog?
  • Who feeds the dog, and how?

Do Not Reinforce Jumping or Mouthing

Dogs can generalize behaviors. This means that you cannot expect your dog to be allowed to jump up on you or mouth you during play without your dog thinking that this is okay to do when greeting your guests. If a behavior is reinforced by one person, it is possible that your dog tries it with another.

Be Discerning Interactions

Always wait for your dog to offer appropriate behaviors such as standing, sitting or lying down before offering treats, food or beginning play. Behaviors that occur before treats, food or play will be reinforced.

Use Functional Rewards

Things like meals, walks, moving through doorways and playing ball are all reinforcing or rewarding. Prior to beginning these activities, ask your dog to offer you a behavior. Cue your dog to sit and wait before giving them dinner. Wait for your dog to offer eye contact or sit before throwing a ball. Every interaction is a training opportunity.

Ignore Inappropriate Behaviors

When your dog begins jumping, mouthing and grabbing, or displays other aroused and impulsive behaviors, it is important to withdraw your attention to avoid reinforcing this behavior. Stand up straight, cross your arms and turn away from your dog momentarily. If your dog chooses to offer a different, appropriate behavior after you remove your attention, you can reinforce this by reengaging with them.

If your dog continues displaying aroused and impulsive behaviors, remove yourself entirely by moving into another room or guiding the dog into their safe space. Leave the dog in a short “timeout” for about 45-60 seconds, then allow them back out. Do not leave your dog in “timeout” for extended periods of time longer than 1-2 minutes unless you are performing an activity in which you cannot actively manage their behavior. Over time and with consistency, your dog will learn that the aroused and impulsive behaviors result in withdrawn attention or short timeouts.

Never Punish

Aversive punishment that involves yelling, striking, collar jerking or other forms of intimidation often results in unpleasant or negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress and frustration. These forms of punishment damage the human-animal bond and are often an ineffective way of communicating and reducing inappropriate behaviors.

San Diego Humane Society does not recommend the use of intimidation or other tactics that result in unpleasant or negative emotions to punish behaviors.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

Behavior Helpline

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-299-7012, ext. 2398. 

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