As pet owners, we only want the best for our pets, so we give them the best. But how do we treat hyperactive dogs? Do we give them the right food and the best exercise to help reduce and utilize that high energy? Today, Doug Pointer shares some insights on working with your dog to help utilize the energy they possess. He also shares some insights on what to feed your dogs to help reduce the high-level energy of hyped-up dogs. So if you have super active dogs, you better not miss this episode with Doug to help you work your dogs out!
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Work It! Work It Good!
I’m the owner of the Business Better Dog Behavior Now, located here in Central Virginia. I’ve been helping people and helping dogs for the past 25 years. I often say I train people, I train dogs. I help people and I help dogs. I specialize in canine behavior problems. I always tell folks I’ve yet to see a canine behavior problem that didn’t have a huge human component to it.
That’s why I say I help people and I help dogs or I train people and I train dogs. I have my clients say to me all the time, “You are training us at the same time that you are working with the dog.” I go, “Yeah.” I had a client. I said to her, “Jack, if I can work with your dog and get your dog to walk politely on a leash and get your dog to be happy with other people, it doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to be able to do it.”
My job is to show you how to do that, and many times, when I work with aggressive dogs, dogs who are reactive to people or want to come to get me, I use myself as the bait. I work with changing the dog’s way of perceiving the situation, changing the dog’s association, with me being the bad guy to make it more fun for the dog. We try to show the dog that the presence of a stranger means good stuff is going to happen. We’re not trying to correct the behavior. That’s the wrong strategy. I am sorry. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me on that, but it’s not the right strategy.
I’ll give you an example. This past weekend, the client that I’m speaking with had a female Rottweiler who doesn’t like people. She acts like she doesn’t like people. She’s afraid. That was apparent when she brought her out to see me. I work with a strategy called Engage Disengage. Also, a lady named Suzanne Clothier invented a thing called Treat/Retreat. It has to do with teaching the dog that when I’m in front of the dog, I never approach a dog that’s got reactive tendencies dead on or walk straight at the dog. I don’t do that simply because that’s confrontational to a dog. I walk and I show my side to the dog, and I don’t walk directly at it. I do a curve.
Engage Disengage Strategy
If you see dogs approach each other, they curve. The curve lessens the tension. There’s a great trainer. I believe she’s in Denmark, Turid Rugaas. I’ll do an episode on some of the stuff that she teaches that’s cool. One of the things she has is a calming signal protocol and talking about the signals dogs use to create calm and try to reduce tension. One of those is the curve. When dogs approach each other, they normally approach on a curve. That’s what I will do when I have a scenario where the dog is reactive to people. I’m not going to approach you directly on. It’s confrontational.If you see dogs approach each other, they curve. The curve lessens the tension. Click To Tweet
With this client, her dog saw me and went nuts. She had her on a leash, thankfully. We have control, so we don’t need to worry about that. We can ignore that behavior, but I did my routine where I use marker and clicker training in doing dog obedience and solving behavior problems in dogs, working with aggressive dogs, and working with dogs that are fearful. I still use marker training with fearful dogs. For dogs with separation anxiety, I do not use a clicker for that, but for everything else, I use a clicker or verbal markers, just depending.
Sometimes a clicking noise makes a dog a little uneasy. If that’s the case, I use a verbal marker. If you want to know what that’s all about, I have two references for you. Go back to my episode called The Magic of Markers and read that and then go get a book. It’s a tiny little book. You can read it in a day or two. It’s called Don’t Shoot the Dog. It’s by Karen Pryor. She’s the one who introduced clicker and marker training to the world at large. It’s a great read and hopefully, it’ll get you motivated to get involved in this type of thing, but this is what I use.
For this particular dog, when she brought her out and she saw me and she went nuts, I was standing sideways to the dog. I have to tell you that I was too close to the dog. I was probably 30 feet away from the dog and that was too close. It put too much pressure on her for the situation, but in order for me to work on the first exercise, I had to be close enough to be able to toss her a food treat and toss it accurately.
I waited for the dog to stop barking. When she stopped barking, I marked it. I clicked and tossed her food treat. I wanted to work my way out of that exercise because it was apparent I was too close. We worked in that regard for a bit and I had her take her back into her house and bring her out again. We worked at a much greater distance.
This time, my client was doing the clicking and treating so that I could be at a greater distance and take the pressure off the dog. We were doing an exercise at that time called Engage-Disengage. Whenever her dog would look at me before she had a chance to bark, my client would click and the dog would get a food treat from my client. The dog would look at me, my client would click. The dog would look at my client to get the food treat.
What we did was we began to change the association. We worked and I gradually moved closer without putting any pressure on the dog. Once the dog was focused on that exercise and was looking at me and not having any reaction whatsoever, I backed away. Her being under control and her being calm got me to walk away, not her barking at me. That’s what generally happens with dogs that bark at people. They go ballistic and people walk away, which rewards the barking.
What I wanted to do was twofold. I wanted to change her association with me. When she sees me, the good stuff is going to happen. She’s going to get a click and a treat. While that’s happening, I’m going to walk away. Being calm and having fun, getting clicks and treats makes me go away, not barking at me. By the time we got to the end of the session, my client was bringing her dog out. We would work for 4 or 5 minutes and then take the dog back inside and come back and we would talk and go over what we did.
She’d then bring her dog back out again. We worked for another 4 or 5 minutes and we did that 5 or 6 times. By the time we got to the end of the session, when she was bringing her dog out, the dog was wagging her tail. I said to my client afterwards, “Did you notice how excited she was to come outside?” She went, “Yes, she’s in the house in her crate, wiggling and wagging wanting to get out outside as quickly as possible.”
We had started to change the association. We did not correct her behavior. That’s what my client tried before. When she barked at somebody, my client would yell at her and I said, “That’s making it worse.” She got a puzzled look on her face. I said, “Think about it for a second. If the appearance of another person, which she was already nervous about, creates a negative response from you, then she starts to associate bad things and feelings with the sight of another person.”
When she sees people, it’s going to get worse and worse and worse because the bad stuff is going to happen. I’m going to get yelled at. I don’t like those people. My client began to see it. I said, “It’s akin to negative associations that we have as people.” She went, “What do you mean?” I said, “Have you ever had a good meal, and maybe 10, 15, 20 minutes later, you get food poisoning? You never want to eat that food again.” She went, “Ah.” I went, “That’s a negative association. That’s what you’ve been doing to your dog.” What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to change that association.
Let me say something that’s going to be controversial to some people, but you have to understand this. Correcting the behavior, thinking that it is going to make the dog stop doing the behavior and not want to be reactive to people, is humanizing the dog. It’s thinking that the dog is going to understand what that means. Your dog is an animal. Your dog learns by association. If the presence of another person means painful things are going to happen, then your dog is not going to like other people. That’s what we have to change.Your dog learns by association. If the presence of another person means painful things will happen, then your dog will not like other people. Click To Tweet
Dogs Learn By Association
I don’t care what you’ve heard or from whom you’ve heard it, that’s the science. Corrections for stuff like this don’t work. They make it worse. A large part of my business is coming behind a scenario where the dogs have “been corrected.” The behavior’s been stopped in the instant because it’s been corrected, but the aftermath does not bode for anything good because the dog’s association hasn’t been changed.
I had a client say to me, “I can stop him from going off barking at other dogs by correcting it.” I went, “Yes, you can. In an instant, you can stop. You pop him with the leash and cause him pain and punishment, but you don’t change how he feels about the other dog. If you weren’t there, he would go get that other dog.” He couldn’t argue with me.
By the way, this particular client had a German Shepherd. He had another working breed like my client’s Rottweiler. He had come from a protection training environment where that’s what they taught him. If the dog doesn’t behave right, pop him with the leash and correct him. Even explaining it to that guy with the logic that I use, he could not deny that. He said, “You’re right.” I said, “We’re going to change his association,” which we successfully did.
I mentioned him in a previous show, a German Shepherd named Luke. It’s a great dog who is now far less reactive around other dogs. They’ve even brought a new dog into the house and he gets along with her swimmingly. That’s what I was showing my client this weekend, is that we’ve got to change your dog’s association to the site of people that she doesn’t know.
That’s what I do. As I said, I use the marker and clicker training for that. I use positive reinforcement training to help change the dog’s association or how the dog learns. Let me just say one other thing before I discuss what I wanted to discuss with you in this session. This is not a TV show. This is real life. This is not produced. I will tell you, I had a lady who wanted me to do a TV show on her network. I said, “No. It’s not going to work because if you do this properly, you don’t see dramatic results right away. That’s what people on TV want to see. They want to see something stop immediately.” Because of the immediacy of TV, everything’s got to be done quickly.
You can get results immediately with corrections but can’t do them long-term. You don’t have success. You can turn around and go back and follow scenarios of dogs that have been corrected and dogs have been punished for this behavior. No matter how elegant the punishment appears, it looks like it stopped at the moment. You can go back long term and you can find that it doesn’t work over the long term. It makes things worse.
Those are the clients that I get. I will tell you when you’re doing this correctly, it does not happen quickly. If it happens quickly, you’ve had to do something bad to the dog to get a result quickly. That’s not what we want to do. We want to make this a positive experience for the dog so that the dog has fun behaving and does not have punishment as part of his or her reality. I will keep pounding that as I do this show.
There’ll be people who tell me that I’m wrong. Science shows that I’m not wrong. We will keep pounding that idea until we start to make a change in the way people think about training and working with behavior problems with their dogs. One thing that I wanted to bring up for you during this session is the idea of working with your dog. The idea of putting your dog to work and giving your dog a job.
I want to tell you about an extreme situation. A client of mine has a great dog. He’s a 90-pound Pit Bull. That’s a huge Pit Bull. I have a feeling he’s got maybe some American Bulldog in him, but the rescue organization said he was a Pit Bull. He’s big. Pit Bulls are normally between 20 and 65 pounds if they’re purebred. He might be just a huge Pit Bull, but he is a cool dog. His name is Patrick.
Here’s why I got hired. Patrick is on all kinds of medications because of his hyperactivity. His owner told me that Patrick would routinely do the zoomies inside the house. A 90-pound zoomies, imagine that and that he was way wired up all the time. When I first went and met them, his eyes were bugged out. You could see he was hyped up to the max. Whenever anyone would get near him, he wouldn’t try to bite anybody. That’s not what the problem was. He was very friendly, but a 90-pound dog jumping on you because he’s so excited to see you does not make people comfortable.
He would not stop jumping on people. He would not stop with his wired-up behavior. If you interacted with him, it got him more and more and more excited. A 90-pound dog who’s got that over-the-top mentality is a little much to deal with. We began to work, but before we got to work, I asked my client, “What do you feed Patrick?” She told me about the food that she gave him. I’m not going to say the name of the brand because I don’t want to impugn anybody.
She told me the name of the food that she gave him. I said, “I can tell you that that’s part of your problem because of the meat ingredient and that food is chicken.” She said, “Yeah. What’s the problem with that?” I said, “Chicken in dry dog food is thermogenic.” One of my vets is a holistic vet. She is the one who told me this. It is not coming from me. In the business that I’m in, in the training business, lots of people pontificate about things of which they have absolutely no knowledge. It’s some old wives’ tale, something they grew up with, or something they heard. They’ll spout off about it like it’s the real deal.
Chicken In Dried Dog Food Is Thermogenic
This is the real deal. It came from a holistic veterinarian. There’s science behind this. I’m going to try to get her as a guest on the show so we can have a lengthy discussion about this, but what she told me is that chicken in dry dog food is thermogenic. It means it creates heat. It winds up the metabolism and it hypes up your dog. When I told her this, she went, “I’ve never heard that.” She’s a vet tech, by the way. She said, “I’ve never heard this.”Chicken in dry dog food is thermogenic, creating heat, warming up the metabolism, and exciting your dog. Click To Tweet
I said, “I’m not making this up. This comes from a holistic veterinarian, so you may want to switch his food.” She said, “What should I switch to?” This vet told me that fish is a much better source of protein in dry dog food. Also, stay away from dry dog foods that have corn, wheat, or soy as ingredients. They can hype dogs up as well. She decided that she was going to change to a fish-based food with healthy greens, not corn, wheat, soy, barley, oats, and things like that. I said, “Take a week to switch it because you don’t want to upset his stomach.”
Being a vet tech, I knew that she understood that, but sometimes it helps to reiterate things so somebody doesn’t forget. She said, “Yeah. I know how to do that.” You probably won’t start seeing a difference in his energy level for a couple of weeks. It’ll take two weeks and then it won’t be that he doesn’t have energy. It’ll be that he’s not exhibiting the energy all the time and you’ll see him settle down a whole lot quicker and we should be able to see him focus. He couldn’t focus at all. He had no focus in him whatsoever. The light switch was on and he was moving. There was nothing that could get him focused on anything. I said, “That should begin to change, and I’m hoping we can get him off the medication.”
He’s on medication. I can’t remember what it is. It’s for anxiety. He is also on 1,200 milligrams of gabapentin a day. We’ve probably done four sessions. It was the 2nd or 3rd session when I asked my client, “Have you completely switched his food?” “Yes.” “How long has he been on the new food?” “It’s been a couple of weeks.” “Are you seeing a difference?” She looked at me and said, “Yes. I never thought I would see it, but he’s settling down in the house a whole lot easier.”
They leave the gate on the crate open. She said, but when he goes in his crate, he’ll lay down and I can give him a reinforcing pet to say, “This is kind of what I want you to do.” A little pet and he doesn’t get up. Normally, he would get up and fly out of the crate and still lying there. I said, “We are starting to get a foothold.” From the chemical perspective, I’m hoping we’re going to be able to get him off the drug or have reduced the gabapentin.
The last time I spoke to them, they had it taken down to 600 milligrams a day. I think by the time we meet in the next session, I’m hoping they’ll have gotten him off that completely and we can start thinking about taking him off the other drug. These were prescribed by an excellent behavioral vet here in this area. I got no problem with that, but the food was something that we had to get switched up.
Once we got that switched, we got that foundation, then we started to have a little bit of a foothold in trying to get him to settle down as a life stance. Here is the other thing that I did with him, which is what I want you to think about. If you have a dog like this that’s hyped up. If you have a dog that’s always on the move, always eyes bugging out and running around with all kinds of energy. It doesn’t seem to be able to let that go, first of all, I want you to take a look at the food that you feed. If you’re feeding food has got chicken as a meat source, I want you to think about changing that to food with fish as a meat source. Also, make sure there’s no corn, wheat, or soy in this food.
I fall on the side of staying away from grain-free foods. I’ve been given to understand that the issues with grain-free foods were something about an ingredient that had come from a suspect area and it wasn’t the grain-free stuff that was causing the cardiac problems but I want to land on the side of safety, so I don’t feed grain-free to my dog. As I mentioned before, I feed food with fish as a meat source with healthy grains like barley and oats.
If you got that thing going on with your dog, I want you to think about switching the food to fish-based with healthy grains. Take a week to get it switched out. Don’t switch it right away or you’re going to have a problem. There’s going to be an upset stomach and you’re not going to like me. I think I told you in an episode about the guy who pulled up to me at a stoplight and told me his German shepherd was hyped up. Can I help him?
I got my car wrapped with my business information on it. We talked for a while and I told him about the food and then the light turned green and I had to go one way. He had to go another. I never got the chance to say, “Take a week to switch that.” He got my phone number off my car because it’s right there. He called me a couple of weeks later and said, “I’m not happy with you.” I said, “You switched the food right away and the dog’s stomach was upset.” He went, “How did you know?” I said, “I remembered when we pulled away, I hadn’t had a chance to tell you that. You need to change it gradually.”
What I always say is to take at least a week. You can take longer if you’d like. For three days, one-quarter of the new food with three-quarters of your old food, whatever measure you feed your dog at each meal. For three days, half and half. For three days, three-quarters of the new food, one-quarter of the old food. By then, your dog should be acclimated to the new food so that it doesn’t upset his or her stomach. We get that into place. We’re then going to start to see a little bit of a difference in your dog’s behavior in terms of energy level.
Again, it’s going to take two weeks and it’s not going to be so radical that your dog goes from bouncing off the walls to laying in a hammock. What most of my clients notice anyway is that their dog doesn’t exhibit that high level of energy all the time and will settle down a whole lot quicker. I know when I switched my dog, it was an evening I was sitting around watching TV. My dog was curled up on her dog bed and she wasn’t hopping up and jumping around as often as she normally would.
“I wonder if she’s okay.” I went, “It’s the food.” The food has been switched. Her energy level is much more manageable. She still has the energy she needs to have to do her work and she loves to do her work, her obedience, and she loves to do her scent work. She has the energy, plenty of energy, to do that. It’s just that it cuts off a whole lot quicker and her focus is better. I want you to switch that. I want you to change that if you’ve got a dog that’s hyped up. I want you to think about giving your dog a job.
Let me tell you why. This is what I told my client with Patrick. I said, “We’re going to teach him to do some scent work and we’re going to start with the simplest exercise that we can start with for scent work.” It’s one that I told you about. We took Patrick out and let him watch us toss food treats in the grass. He went to go find the food treats. The reason why he went to go find them is he saw them. They were 3 feet in front of his face down in the grass and he went to go find them.
When he found them, I tossed some more and he went to go find them. Once he understood that exercise, he knew that the food treats were in the yard. We then started putting a queue on it. Every time he put his head down to go and get the food treats, we would say, “Search.” I can’t remember exactly what they were saying. He was beginning to pair up his nose down looking for food treats in the grass with the word search.
Once he understood that, and the reason it was easy for him to understand it is because every time they did it, they would be standing in front of him. He could see them toss the food treats in the yard, and then they began to toss them farther and farther away. He’d have to go farther to get them, but he still saw them toss the food treats. Once he got that down and understood what that was, they could go out into the yard and toss food treats without him there and bring him out and give him his cue.
One of the things that helped prompt him for that is if they were throwing the food treats in their backyard, they might put a pile of food treats right there at the bottom of their steps so that he would understand what this is. There’s food there. His nose goes down and there’s food there. They say search and he goes into the backyard to find food treats. I asked them to work with him on that every day. They adjusted his food so that he wasn’t getting too much food as a result.
After several weeks of that, we had another session. I said, “How’s he doing with the searching?” She said, “He’s loving it and it’s taken some of his energy as well.” I said, “It’s going to work another bit of magic here. I’m going to show you.” While they had him in the house, I arranged the food treats on their front porch, down their steps, and into their yard. By the way, I tossed a lot of them out there. I said, “I want you to bring him out and give him his cue as he puts his nose down.”
As soon as he stepped out the front door of their house, there were food treats on his stoop. He went down the steps getting food treats and he went across the sidewalk getting food treats and into the grass searching for food treats. While he was searching for food treats, I got out of my car and walked around him. Much to the surprise of my client, he never even lifted his head to look at me. He had his head down working and I was close to him. At one point, I was 2 or 3 feet away from him.
When we got done with that session, my client went, “That was unbelievable. You were right next to him and he never even looked at you.” I went, “He was working.” All that energy is many times indicative of a dog who’s got the drive to work. If you don’t work with a working dog, you will literally have problems. Every time I’ve met with them since, we have upped the ante. This past session I did I said, “We’re going to up the ante. I’m going to come up onto your front porch.”
That was the thing that would get him hyped up with people the most is when they came in onto the porch or into the house. I said, “I’m going to come up onto the porch with you and I want you to have him down on one end of the porch and I will walk up on the other end of the porch.” When he looks at me, I don’t want you to correct him. I don’t want you to say a word. He was on a leash.
I said, “Let him look at me.” When he turns around and looks back at you, I want you to click and treat him. By the time we got done with that session, he was seated in front of his owner getting clicks and treats. I was standing 5 feet from him. He never looked at me because he was working. Are we finished with Patrick? No. I have sessions regularly set up with him. We’re going to work it so that I can come into the house and he’ll focus on his owners, not me, but this is the start.
This is the dog that would run zoomies around the house, bounce off the walls, bounce and jump on people. Never were they able to get control over him and he was seated in a polite fashion in front of his owner, focused on her while she clicked and treated while I got closer and closer. I got 5 feet from him and he never looked at me. When we got done, I said to my client, “Do you see where I’m going with this? He’s a working dog. If you don’t work with him, we’re going to have problems.” She said, “Yes.”
One other bit that is probably and maybe we could say this is the icing on top of it is that she sent me a video of him lying in his crate sound asleep while the whole family watched TV. It never would’ve happened before like that. It is a pleasure to work under the circumstances like that and begin to see the result. I’m hoping that we can continue the progress of removing him or removing the drugs and the medication from his system and continue to have him get more and more settled and work more and more. That work is satisfying for him. He’s a happy boy after he’s done his work and he’s a more relaxed boy.
If you’ve got a dog like that, I want you to consider the idea of switching the food and giving your dog a little job to do that. That scent work is something that’s good. It’s very simple for you. You don’t have to go through a lot of training to do it. If you read the previous blog, you’ll get the basics of how to start doing that scent work with your dog. I even give you the name of the book it comes from if you want to buy it.
At any rate, I hope this has been helpful for you this evening. I do positive reinforcement. I do marker and clicker training. I work with dogs with behavior problems, aggressive dogs, fearful dogs, dogs with separation anxiety, and dogs that are hyped up. Again, it’s been my pleasure to speak with you and I will talk with you next time.