With so many physiological similarities between our dogs and ourselves, it’s fair to wonder if they suffer from the same mental illnesses that people do. Canine mental health is a field we don’t yet know a great deal about, but researchers today are making new discoveries.
For example, dogs are known to suffer from anxiety and they respond well to similar anti-anxiety medications to those prescribed for people. A 2011 paper found that higher than normal levels of two specific hormones in Bull Terriers were associated with compulsive tail-chasing behaviors. These two hormones are also increased in children with autism spectrum disorders so perhaps there is a biological similarity between these two conditions.
What about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD? This condition makes life challenging for many children and their families. Some dogs seem to have similar symptoms of being constantly on the move and finding it hard to settle, and even being easily distracted during training. These dogs are tiring and frustrating to their pet parents.
While this particular condition has not been researched in dogs, it’s thought that it is rare. Those dogs that are particularly hyperactive are much more likely to be anxious, bored or attention seeking. There may also be a breed influence, with active working breeds needing to be active and engaged.
If your pooch is always restless and on the go, here are some suggestions that may make a difference.
Increase exercise. Just as we do, dogs get a “runner’s high” after a tough exercise session and this can make them feel more calm and relaxed. You will need to get your dog’s heart rate up to see this effect, a gentle stroll just isn’t going to do the job. Take them for a run or a fast walk and see if that helps.
Give your dog some work to do, particularly if that’s what they were bred for. Herding breeds – such as German Shepherds and Border Collies - thrive on learning how to move ducks and sheep, and a short training session can expend physical and mental energy. Even if your pet is not a breed that is known for their athleticism and activity level, you can still tire them out with trick training and obedience exercises.
You can teach your dog to calm down and to settle on their mat or in their crate. It can take time to do this, but it is quicker if you use reward-based training techniques. Be careful not to reward accidentally those behaviors you don’t want, for example, by patting them when they demand attention from you. If you are struggling with this, a good trainer who is experienced in working with active dogs can help you out.
Some dogs are active and edgy because they have anxiety. If you’ve tried these suggestions with no improvement in your pooch’s behavior, then it may be time for a visit to your vet. Anxiety is not pleasant for your dog and there are ways of managing it so they feel better and are happier.
It is hard work sharing your life with a dog that does not have an “off switch”. Many of the techniques suggested to manage them will not just help with their behavior, but will also enhance the bond you share – after all, you are enjoying outings and fun activities together. It’s well worth putting in the time and effort to reduce your frustration and improve your relationship with your canine best friend.