Eat, Sleep, Exercise, Repeat – Dealing with excitable dogs!

Eat, Sleep, Exercise, Repeat – Dealing with excitable dogs!

Guest Blog: Emma Johnston, LostTrail Sled Dogs and Speak Dog Behaviour Consultant

As a Behaviourist I have had the pleasure of working with a variety of dogs with a range of issues over the last 14 years.

However, I’m often contacted or referred to from other professionals to work with dogs who struggle with high arousal/excitability levels.

This I’m sure this has something to do with my personal life, where I have the privilege of living with 12 working Siberian Huskies who I compete in sled dog races with and show at events such as Crufts.

A common topic with high arousal dogs is the dog lacking the ability to switch off, being overly energetic, demanding, and even destructive. This behaviour can occur both inside the home, outside the home, or both and can be understandably exhausting for the humans.

High energy can occur for many reasons, genetics, excitement, anxiety, conflict, and environmental factors to name but a few.

Dogs who appear overly busy, can be easy for a guardian to dismiss as normal, especially if the dog is a certain breed, from working lines, or are a certain age, cue the requests to neuter, because that will calm them down right? (often not true).

Whilst these factors without doubt can influence a dogs energy levels, sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to get to the truth, we need to make the invisible, visible!!

To achieve respite, an off switch, five minutes peace, it's not uncommon to think we need to increase the dog’s exercise levels.

It’s an understandable tactic, but is it the right one?

One reason that’s very often missed, overlooked and just not even considered is a dog might exhibit high arousal/energy levels because they are in PAIN!

I have worked with numerous dogs over the years where keeping busy was a coping mechanism, because anything less than being physically exhausted meant they would only have the pain to focus on.

Being busy offers a distraction, and no one is more surprised by this than the guardian, why would they suspect pain when the dog is so active and sometimes not showing any obvious physical signs?

However, it’s important to know that high energy activities create amongst other chemicals and hormones, adrenaline.

When adrenaline is used as a coping mechanism, you can create adrenaline junkies, the dog gets caught in a loop of needing it to mask the pain, without it they don’t know what to do with themselves and this is where other undesirable behaviours might creep in.

The human can get caught in a cycle of increasing their exercise in an attempt to tire the dog out, but in the end it's often the human that feels exhausted.

For some dogs their sleep patterns can be reduced, with them being acutely aware or sensitive to every sound and movement around them. They can be light sleepers; this can also be easy to miss for those that are asked to go into a crate for rest. For others they may not stop until burn out happens later into the evening!

The detriment the lack of good deep sleep has on the mammalian brain is well documented.

Learning, memory, tolerance, and decision-making being just a few of the things that can suffer.

There are numerous things we can do support our dogs, but being aware and working with ethical and reputable team of professionals is paramount.

With various avenues to explore when looking at a dog that is pain, each dog’s experiences with pain will be unique to them, so what is required to help them is also a journey that needs to be fully explored.

How you exercise your dog, and how you fulfil their needs when exercise is reduced, what home adaptions can you make, physio, veterinary treatment, weight management, diet, even what groomer you use all has an impact, it takes a village.

What we do know is that the body seeks homeostasis, balance, and if the body is in pain the brain is reacting and doing something about it.

As a dog guardian, a couple of my older dogs struggled with pain, it was more noticeable with them, sleeping more ( yes it can go the other way too), lameness, and sound sensitivities were noticeable and so my personal choices was a multimodule approach that included the addition of CBD, which for 2 of my dogs has been a very successful part of their individual pain management journey.

Ensuring the quality of the product was paramount to me and after doing my research and hearing people speaking highly about their experiences with this product, I decided to talk to the CanniFamily.

Our discussion was fascinating and during our conversation we covered many topics including how to administer the product most effectively. I was advised to give it with fatty foods to help its absorption, as a raw feeder this was not a problem and my dogs have never had an issue with taking the product in their food.

As with many things, giving it time and not expecting to see change quickly was important to remember and knowing what to look for, we sometimes miss so many subtle changes because we personally are focused on something specific.

As with most things, CBD is not a magic wand, or miracle cure, I’ve yet to see anything live up to that claim, but personally, as a dog guardian, I can say that it continues to be a valued and integral part of my dog’s pain management plan.

 I know that pain isn’t always easy to spot, it doesn’t always fit into a box, it can be hard to diagnose, and it can be even harder to treat.

The first and most important step though is recognising possible pain, and this isn’t always initially found through obvious physically anomalies.

Questioning is key and being aware of all the options available so you can make an informed choice for your individual dog is something we have the power to do.

LostTrail Sled Dogs

Speak Dog Behaviour Consultant

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