Several strategies to train, live with a high-energy dog
Special to the Bonanza
TRUCKEE, Calif. — I recently met with a new client and her 1-year-old lab, Sasha. Sasha came into the home as a puppy and was extremely high energy from the very beginning.
Telling herself that Sasha would grow out of it had gotten my client through the last year, but unfortunately, things were not improving.
Sasha entertains herself by stealing any object she can find and then zooms around the living room in the hopes of being chased.
They have taught her the “Down” cue, but she immediately jumps right back up. Outside, she chases critters, butterflies, and sometimes her own tail.
Some dogs are born calm, but more often it takes work to teach young dogs to control their impulses and settle down.
Young dogs usually do start to calm down between 1 and 2 years of age, but you can take steps to help things along.
First off, a tired dog is a good dog. Always tailor exercise to meet your dog’s physical capabilities, but for a young energetic dog like Sasha, it will take some real work to tire her.
Some dogs are fine with one good long walk each day, but high-energy dogs may need three good tongue wagging exercise/play sessions. Leash walks are just a warm-up for an energetic dog!
Biking is a very efficient way to wear out a dog, but be careful about having them run for too long on pavement until their pads toughen up.
It’s also advisable to consult your veterinarian about how far your dog should run. Labs like Sasha are prone to joint problems later in life, and you don’t want to contribute to future issues.
In the summer, swimming is a great alternative that is easier on the joints. In summer or winter, hike to the top of a hill and throw a ball down it. Running up and down a hill is hard work.
Mental stimulation can also be exhausting. There are many puzzle games for dogs on the market, or you can create your own search game by hiding kibble, treats or toys around the house for your dog to find.
The second step in creating a calm dog is management. Dogs like Sasha who steal things in an effort to start a good game of chase are usually rewarded when you try to retrieve your sock or underwear.
Management means controlling the environment to minimize the occurrence of the behavior. Clothes, shoes and toys must be picked up.
If the dog does get ahold of something, go get a treat and trade her then put the item up where she can’t get it.
Crates, tethers and baby gates are also useful when trying to manage an energetic young dog.
Lastly, you need to develop a method of communication with your dog, and positive reinforcement-based training is hands-down the best way to do this.
In PR training, we use a concept called a reward-marker to tell the dog they have done something good and will be rewarded for it.
A clicker is one type of reward marker that is especially effective. Using a clicker, you can mark any behavior you want the dog to repeat, including moments of calm.
The biggest challenge with a high-energy dog is that the instant you try to praise or reward her, she’s up and bouncing around again.
By using a clicker, you can click the instant of calm and then deliver the reward. A good basic manners class will teach you the fundamentals of using a clicker.
Carla Brown, CPDT, is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog in Truckee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.