Features April 2010 Issue

Walking An Excited Dog

Five things to do when your dog gets overexcited before a walk.

You contemplate taking your dog for a walk with mixed emotions. You love the idea of going for a companionable stroll through the neighborhood together, but it’s a major hassle to get out the door. When you pick up his leash he becomes the Tasmanian Devil – body slamming you, racing around the foyer, and bouncing off the plate glass door with such intensity you’re afraid he’ll crash right through it. Here are five suggestions for turning this potential disaster into the enjoyable outing you dream of.

Walking An Excited Dog

Good things come to those who wait – and they come even sooner to those who help! You’d never guess from this photo that this young dog is active and obsessed with tennis balls. She’s learned well that in order to go out and play, she must remain absolutely calm while her harness is put on.

1. Exercise first. Spend 15-20 minutes tossing a ball for your dog in the backyard, playing “Run upstairs to get a treat from the Manners Minder,” or providing intense mental exercise with a heavy duty shaping session (see “The Shape of Things to Come,” Whole Dog Journal March 2006). You’ll take the edge off his excitement, reduce his energy level, and make leashing-up and walking more relaxed and enjoyable for both of you.

2. Teach him to “Say please.” Reinforce your dog’s “sit” behavior so thoroughly that “sit” becomes his default behavior – the behavior he chooses to offer when he doesn’t know what else to do. Then wait for him to sit (say “please”) to make all good things happen: sit for his dinner bowl; sit to be petted; sit for you to throw his ball; sit to have his leash put on; and sit to make the door open.

3. Pick up his leash throughout the day. He gets amped up when you touch his leash because it always means the two of you are going for a walk. Of course he gets excited! If you pick up his leash numerous times throughout the day, sometimes draping it over your neck and wearing it for a while, sometimes carrying it from room to room, sometimes picking it up and putting it back down, sometimes clipping it on his collar and then unclipping it, the leash will no longer be a reliable predictor of walks, and he won’t have any reason to get all excited about it. Note: This will take a while. Hope springs eternal in the canine heart.

4. Use negative punishment. No, that’s not a bonk on the head. It means setting up the situation so that doing the behavior you don’t want causes a good thing to go away. Here’s how it would work in this case: If, when you pick up the leash, he goes bonkers (the behavior you don’t want), say “Oops!” in a cheerful tone of voice (what’s known as a “no reward marker,” it simply tells him no reward is forthcoming), set the leash down, and walk away. When he settles down, pick the leash up again. If he sits (say please!), proceed with attaching the leash and going for a walk. If he winds up again, do another “Oops!” and set the leash down. You’re teaching him that getting excited makes the opportunity for a walk go away; staying calm makes walks happen.

5. Reduce the significance of other “walk cues.” Other things you do as part of your walk preparation routine can also feed his energy – getting out treats, putting on your jacket, grabbing your cell phone and keys . . . The more you randomize your ritual, the less these steps contribute to his growing excitement over the pending event, and the calmer he’ll stay as you leash him and walk out the door. For example, put your keys and cell phone in your jacket pocket before you eat breakfast. Happy walking!

Pat Miller, CPDT, is Whole Dog Journal’s Training Editor. See “Resources” on page 24 for more information.

Comments (6)

I have an Eight year old female who was a rescue at one year old.She is in good health and about Five lbs.overweight.She has recently started Fly snapping not all the time,but once or twice a week.I have noticed her do it in her sleep.Is this stress related?

Posted by: Cottontop42 | September 14, 2014 8:57 AM    Report this comment

I highly recommend giving an excitable dog a "job" to do in order to get out the door. I trained Harvey to bring my socks downstairs and nicely drop them in my hand when I sit in the chair to put them on. He was a very excitable puppy and this kept him focused on performing that task while I was getting ready in the morning. He still loves to do it and comes running as soon as I open the sock drawer!

Posted by: HELEN F | March 15, 2013 12:22 PM    Report this comment

To Momof4 - i have 2 dogs, very hyper and I am new to dog onwership. Training/ exercising dogs separately is the key for making each dog l;earn what is expected out of her/ him. Initially this was time consuming, but totally worth it. It is like this - if we have twins or even 2 kids of different ages, we still have personal time with each and not teach things collectively all the time. It is all about expectations and to teach the dogs what to do. Once you teach them separately. walk the 2 dogs (this can be taken like a distraction introduced in learning).

Posted by: westienut | August 18, 2010 11:49 AM    Report this comment

To Momof4: I have five, so I know where you're coming from. It's a little time consuming, but I started with one at a time. When they really start getting it down, add another. When those two have it down, add a third and so on. It took 5 individual walks to start, but I've got it down to three walks and getting ready to start on 2 walks. The upside is that I've lost 7 lbs.

Posted by: Sherri D | August 11, 2010 7:14 AM    Report this comment

well ... I have just 2 canines:Standard Poodles ... 6 yrs & 11 months ... I have walked them 2gether since bringing the new pup into the house ... it wasn't easy the 1st few months ... but it has improved considerably ... so much so that i can take them both out in public walking places and after the initial excitement ... we all have a good time.

Posted by: ahettel | July 29, 2010 5:52 PM    Report this comment

Not a comment but requesting help. I have 4 dogs that fit the description of dogs getting excited when I pick up the leases. How do you handle 4 dogs? Thanks

Posted by: Momof4 | July 28, 2010 5:07 PM    Report this comment

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