Do you sometimes wonder if your dog suffers from ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactive disorder)? Although this term is often bandied about, hyperactivity is actually very rare in canines.
According to Clinician’s Brief, a publication of the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC), “hyperactivity” is defined as “over-activity, attention deficits, impulsivity, high testing physiologic parameters with a paradoxical calming response to amphetamines.”
In layman’s terms, dogs suffering from hyperactivity don’t seem to ever get used to the normal sights, sounds, and smells of their environment. They overreact (hyper-act) to ordinary stimuli and are unable to rest, no matter how quiet the surroundings or comfy the bed.
Veterinarians generally agree that the symptoms most often described by owners concerned that their dog suffers from hyperactivity are actually the normal result of breed characteristics, conditioned behavior, lack of appropriate physical and mental stimulation, or a combination of these factors.
A clinically diagnosed hyperactive dog is usually 3 years or older; has increased heart and respiratory rates, poor body condition scores, reactivity, and agitation. They are emotionally aroused by routine stimuli and often stay aroused long after the stimulus is removed.
There is a big difference between abnormal canine behavior and undesirable, normal behavior. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine explains that “It is important to determine whether the dog’s need for activity, social interaction, mental stimulation and environmental enrichment are being met on a daily basis. In some cases the environment is not providing for the pet’s needs and the hyperactivity is an attempt to fulfill those needs.”
For instance, if your dog’s “hyperactivity” is reduced after playing for an hour you can reasonably assume that this type of interaction is needed on a regular basis. If your dog were truly hyperactive, you would see no difference in his behavior following such interaction.
To diagnose hyperactivity in a dog other causes for the unwanted behavior have to be ruled out, such as conditioning; phobias and anxiety disorders; territorialism; hyperthyroidism, allergies or other medical conditions; and cognitive decline.
Since only a very small percentage of dogs are ever clinically diagnosed as hyperactive, it is best to start by asking these questions:
• Does my dog get plenty of exercise?
• Do I provide mental stimulation, such as puzzles, treat-release toys, hikes and other outdoor activities that appeal to a dog’s natural instincts?
• Do I focus on desired behaviors rather than behaviors I don’t like? Dogs respond to positive reinforcement of good behaviors, not punishment of bad behaviors.
• Has my dog completed an obedience or agility class or an activity that helps him focus?
• Do I feed my dog a balanced, species-appropriate diet that avoids food intolerances or allergies common in dogs fed low-quality commercial pet food? Food sensitivity can contribute to restless, hyperactive behavior, not to mention poor health.
• Have I discussed supplements such as L-theanine, GABA and valerian root with my veterinarian?
If you can identify a possible cause for your dog’s undesirable behavior, that cause should be addressed first. If your dog is hyperactive after ruling out these other causes and you know he is getting the physical activity and mental stimulation he needs, then it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian to investigate potential underlying physical or emotional causes for the unwanted behavior.
In the meantime, the best way to work the hyperactivity out of your dog is to take him for a daily walk.