How to overcome over-excitement on the lead.

March 26, 2018


If you struggle with your dog being too excited on the lead, often when they see other dogs or other people, your have a problem that happily can generally fairly easily be solved with a little training, a few games and consistency and persistence.  Basically your dog is finding the alternative move exciting than you and does not respect you enough to check with you that it is ok.  Over-excitement is a sign of inner restlessness.


Where did it start? 


It can begin when puppies are allowed too much free-for-all play in the name of socialisation, and where puppies play with such intensity that all of their attention must remain on each other for safety, puppies learn to ignore their owners and invest their energy into even more intense play.  This can lead to a lifetime of over excitement towards other dogs. 



It is important to teach puppies to be attentive towards their owners and to learn how to be calm and relaxed around other puppies or dogs before they are encouraged to play. Then, with a spotlight on attention and calmness, puppies can be allowed to have short play sessions with other puppies. 


Another thing that encourages wild greetings is permitting street play, where dogs are allowed to demand to meet and play with other dogs when they are out on walks.  This can also happen with people if a dog is allowed to pull toward a person and receive attention.  They learn that if they make a fuss they will be rewarded with playing with the dog.  The larger the dog, the more problematic this can be, they learn to use their strength and this behaviour is reinforced with each successful try. 


It often begins when the lead comes out.  The adrenalin starts pumping and the dog starts bouncing before the lead is on.


What to do? 


The only reason a behaviour continues despite your efforts to stop it is because it works! Everyone has to commit fully to the training and it takes time to change behaviour.  Plan short daily training sessions and do not expect the changes to happen immediately.  It can take months, depending on how long the behaviour has been allowed to happen.  15 minutes a day should help to fix the issues, but when you believe your dog has finally got it, do not just give up, keep up with the training and doing new things and throwing in refreshers courses too. 


Equipment can be an easy fix to unwanted behaviour.  Switch to different equipment and you might solve the problem.  Switching to a front clip harness or a halti, and using a different lead can make all the difference, is the lead too short or too long? 


Desensitise the lead.  Many dogs see the lead and go crazy.  The lead is associated with walks and fun, so while in the house, clip the lead on, leave them for five minutes and then take it off.  Pick the lead up for no reason and put it down again.  Do this many times a day. This will stop that initial burst of energy that sets the walk as it is to go on.  


Then desensitise the walk.  Put on the lead and walk out the door, then turn around and go back in.  The burst of energy that often happens when they leave the house will lessen if they think they may just be turning around and going back in. 


Always reinforce good behaviour with a very hearty "good girl" or a treat or quick game. 


Some basic games may help.  Before you start the games, ensure your dog has relieved themselves and been for a walk so they are not full of pent up energy, setting you up to fail. 


If your dog gets very excited when they are near other dogs or people, find your dog's perfect distance, the space it needs to not get overly excited, start to do some basic training that they know well and begin to slowly move towards the triggers, keeping your dog focused on you.  Gradually these triggers will become less and less exciting as the memory of the burst of energy fades.  If they start to build up the excitement levels again, you have gone too close to the triggers, take a few steps back and begin training again. Keep these sessions short and sweet. 


Teach them to "Watch".  When a distraction appears, the dog should check in with you.  Teaching them to "watch" works well.  You are training them to get eye contact with you.  Do not stare into their eyes for too long as this can be interpreted as a challenge and can make some dogs aggressive but looking briefly into the eyes of your precious dog can build a bond and teach them to learn faster.  Again, start inside, and sit or stand in front of them, when they look at you, give them a treat and say "Watch".  If they are resistant to looking at you, get a treat and hold it up to your eyes, when they look at you, give them the treat and say "Watch".  Do be aware that the goal is not to look at the treat, but at you, so do not distract them with the treat before they look at you, and if you are using the treat to make them look at you, when they have started to look at your face when you give the "watch" command, remove the treat and try without it.   Practice many times throughout the day for 5 minutes a time.  When they have begun to do it consistently when you ask, then is the time to move them outside and add distractions and triggers.  Do not add too many at once, or they may fail and this is unfair, if they are struggling, cut out some distractions. 


Teach the "where is it?" Game.  The main goal of the game is to find treats on the ground.  They need to wait for your cue to let them start searching.  Start in your home, when you are successful in many areas of your home, then you can move outside.  First go to an area with as little distractions as possible and then build up with distractions.  It is a classical conditioning game, sniffing is naturally relaxing for the dog and it is a social thing that lets other dogs know everything is well.  Begin the exercise with the dog on a long lead, always keeping the lead as loose as possible and never giving the cue to search with the lead.  As you will be doing the game in public, you are best to begin on the lead as you need to start as you mean to go on. 


Get a variety of treats in one hand and hold the dog in the other.  Keep the treats small and vary the amount that goes down so the dog never knows how many they will get, could be one or five.  To begin with, throw the treats by your feet and say "where is it?", practice this a few times until they know what to expect, then move on to throwing them to one side or the other, and finally behind you.  Once the dog can happily go behind you to find the treats, then is time to move outside.  Once outside with distractions, you may need to start at your feet again, and slowly build up.  Once the dog can go behind you, then you are armed and ready to use this technique when dogs are around, you are training your dog that you are the one in front and they do not need to worry and be on guard or excited as there are other, more exciting things happening and you are the one in charge. 



Use an Alice.  If you have a friend who has a dog that is very relaxed and calm, ask them to help you by adding a calm distraction slowly to the training session.  Using their perfect distance, get your friend and the Alice to stand while you do some games.  Then get the Alice to play at that distance and keep playing your games, gradually moving them closer to one another.  This is a very slow process and the aim is that the dogs are so preoccupied that they ignore each other.  When you allow, as a reward for behaving so well, you can let them meet each other, but any excitable behaviour needs stopping immediately while learning to be calm. 

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