If your canine companion is tightly wound, wired, has no desire (ever) to settle down, relax, regroup, you probably refer to him as being hyperactive or suffering from ADHD. But even though the term is widely used in our society today, the actual clinical syndrome of hyperactivity is rare in canines.
It's probably more accurate to label most dogs who are hyperactive as hyperkinetic. These dogs don't ever seem to get used to the normal sights, sounds, and smells of their environment. They overreact to ordinary stimuli in their everyday lives. They seem unable to rest, no matter how quiet the surroundings or comfy the bedding.
Clinically Hyperactive/Hyperkinetic Dogs are Rare
Veterinarians generally agree that most symptoms of hyperactivity as described by the dogs' owners, upon closer inspection, are the result of breed characteristics, conditioned behavior, lack of appropriate physical and mental stimulation, or a combination.
In clinical cases of hyperkinesis, the dogs are usually 3 years old or older (well past the age of boundless puppy energy) and haven't learned to settle down. These dogs typically have increased heart and respiratory rates, poor body condition, reactivity, and agitation. They are emotionally aroused by routine stimuli and often stay in a state of arousal long after the stimuli is removed.
These are the poor dogs who react every single morning to the sound of the blender being turned on. Or when the kids run up or down the stairs to the second floor -- no matter how many times a day that happens. Or at the sound of the garbage truck at the curb twice a week, every week.
Abnormal Behavior... or Annoying Behavior?
There's a big and important difference between canine behavior that is abnormal and behavior that is actually normal given the dog's circumstances, but undesirable.
Your veterinarian or animal behavior specialist will need a detailed description of your dog's unwanted behaviors, how often she performs them, and to what degree or intensity.
He'll also need to know about how much physical and mental activity your pet gets on a daily basis, including exercise, social interaction, playtime and exploration. You'll also be asked how you and other family members respond to your dog's undesirable behaviors.
All these factors will have bearing on a dog's behavior, including whether the pet is alone much of the time, isn't getting adequate exercise, isn't obedience trained, has been conditioned through owners' responses to use physical activity to get attention, or is punished for bad behavior rather than rewarded for good behavior.
If, for example, you notice your dog is much easier to be around after he's spent an hour out back playing with your children, you can reasonably assume the social interaction and physical energy he expended playing with the kids has a positive effect on his behavior.
Diagnosis of Hyperkinesis
In order to diagnose true clinical hyperkinesis in a dog, a number of other potential causes for the unwanted behavior must be ruled out as well. These include:
If any of these problems exist, they must be addressed first. If all potential root causes for hyperactive behavior are ruled out, the traditional method for diagnosing hyperkinesis is to observe the dog in a hospital setting.
What to Do If Your Dog Seems Hyperactive
Since only a very small percentage of dogs are clinically hyperkinetic, I recommend you evaluate your dog's lifestyle from every angle as a first step.
• Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise.
• Provide mental stimulation with puzzles, treat-release toys, hikes and other outdoor activities that appeal to your dog's natural instincts.
• Focus on desired behaviors your dog performs rather than on what you don't want him to do. Dogs respond to positive reinforcement behavior modification, which does not include punishment.
• Enroll your dog in an obedience class or an activity that helps him focus, such as K9 nose work.
• Feed your dog a balanced, species-appropriate diet to avoid food intolerances or allergies. Food sensitivity can contribute to restless, hyperkinetic behavior, not to mention less than optimal health.
Once you feel sure the lifestyle you're providing your pet gives him plenty of outlets for physical activity and mental stimulation, if your furry buddy is still hyperactive more often than not, I recommend making an appointment with your vet.
It's important at this point to investigate potential underlying physical or emotional causes for your dog's unwanted behavior.
Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.
Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.
By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.
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