Dealing with your hyperactive dog

About six years ago we brought home an adorable, sleepy, five-week old puppy. We knew it was too early for her to leave her mother, but the dam had stopped feeding the pups and walked away. She was done with them, so the humans took over.

At that tender age, Kaylee was sleepy, darling and sweet. She’s still darling and sweet, but rarely do her batteries run down. We describe her as having two speeds – full and off. And off isn’t often.

If your dog is like Kaylee, whether because it’s an active, fun-loving puppy, or because it’s “not quite wired right” like ours, you need strategies for coping. You need a peaceful household where everyone knows the rules and plays fair.

We get dogs for many reasons; primary among those reasons are companionship and fun. If your dog is constantly harassing you to “play,” the probability is that neither of you are having much fun. It may even have gotten to the point that you don’t look forward to going home and spending time with your dog.

You can change the situation, if you’ll commit just a few minutes a day and your patience. Things won’t change overnight, but over the course of just a few days your life will improve. In a few weeks, you may have the canine companion you hoped for.

The first step is to realize that you are the boss in your household. Not your dog. You decide when to play. And you decide how long playtime will be. It’s important to schedule a daily play time. It doesn’t have to be long – ten minutes will do. As long as during that time, all you do is play with your dog. That’s it. Just play.

As a first step: remove your dog’s favorite toy. The one he constantly obsesses about and brings everywhere he goes. Put it up on a shelf. Kaylee’s obsession is her little latex soccer ball. Other toys are fine, she’ll carry them around, but her special toy is that particular ball. (To avoid complete meltdown, we do have a couple spares on hand. No toy lasts forever.)

Next: get a brand new kitchen timer, with a ring or a beep that doesn’t sound like any other timer in the house. This is your dog’s timer – he’ll recognize it very quickly.

To start playtime, ask your dog if she wants to play, get her timer, set it for however many minutes you choose, then get her special toy and start playtime. Let her recognize the ritual. Dogs love routine and quickly adjust to new ones.

For as long as the timer’s running – have fun with your dog. Tug, toss, wrestle – play intensely and focus on your dog. When the timer’s bell goes off – stop immediately. Tell your dog “that’s it!” show him the timer and turn it off. Then say “let’s go get a drink” and walk over to his water bowl. When he drops his toy, replace it on the shelf. It doesn’t come down until the next session.

If you need to “trade” a treat for the toy – do so. You’re not rigorously training your dog to perform a task – you’re teaching him the house rules so that everyone can relax and enjoy your time together.

We always take Kaylee out for a quick “potty break” after a play session – it’s another part of our routine. She knows what to expect. When she comes back in the house, she finds a place to lie down. Sometimes she finds a chewie toy, sometimes she just lies down. She doesn’t ever really relax, but she’s now a dog we can live with.

Dogs love ritual and routine. When you got your dog, chances are you pictured yourself at home, dog by your feet, relaxing and enjoying life. You can still make that happen, every evening, if you establish that routine for your dog.