Imagine a lively and energetic black lab named Mojo, whose owners decide to throw a backyard pool party. As the guests arrive, Mojo is in the middle of a lot of stimulation—new scents, people moving, laughing, splashing, and having fun.
Mojo’s pupils dilate, his activity increases, and he starts bouncing from guest to guest to interact with them. Eventually, Mojo’s behavior became so heated it was clear his “arousal bucket” was overflowing. Despite trying to calm him, Mojo couldn't respond to the cues. Mojo is a perfect example of a dog experiencing over-arousal.
Over-arousal is all about a dog’s heightened excitement, stimulation, or fear, hindering their ability to concentrate, learn, and respond to training cues. In other words, your dog’s arousal surpasses a threshold level for being in control.
The good news is that this kind of over-the-top behavior doesn't mean your dog is stubborn or uncaring. It simply means your dog is unable to control themselves.
I refer to the term "arousal bucket" to explain this situation, aiming to maintain minimal arousal levels for optimal performance. When your dog remains calm and mentally engaged, they have achieved an ideal state of arousal where they can handle situations.
However, excitement, stress, fear, or any excessive triggers can fill your dog's bucket, leading to issues. If these triggers continue without management, the bucket can overflow, resulting in hyperactive behavior and poor impulse control, just like Mojo’s. It is important to prevent over-arousal if you want a well-balanced, well-behaved dog.
Hyperactive behavior in dogs can manifest as impulsiveness and displays of "undesirable" behaviors, varying from mildly bothersome actions like jumping or mouthing to more alarming conduct such as barking or lunging.
Timing is key for training cues or training sessions. A dog unable to think clearly due to heightened arousal won't comprehend your cues effectively.
Being able to recognize your dog's signals is crucial. It empowers you to manage challenging situations and prevent unwanted behaviors proactively. By taking preemptive action and supporting your dog before they become difficult to manage, you can facilitate their learning process effectively.
Let’s look at effective strategies to support your pup and prevent arousal levels from reaching a tipping point:
It's important to create a calm and structured training and living environment for your dogs—this means minimizing distractions to help them stay relaxed and focused. By doing this, you’re promoting their well-being and creating a peaceful atmosphere that supports learning.
Consistency and support are key to helping your dogs concentrate on training and development, resulting in a wonderful and fulfilling bond with you.
Physical Exercise and Mental Stimulation
Regular physical exercise and mental stimulation help drain excess energy and promote relaxation. Be aware that some activities will be arousing for your dog. Avoid those. For example, if playing fetch makes your dog bonkers, do something else enjoyable, like going for a walk.
Training your dog to respond to relaxation cues like "mat,” “down,” or “settle’ can help them concentrate and stay calm.
Positive Reinforcement for Calm Behavior
Encourage and reward calm and relaxed behavior. Consider Kathy Sdao's fantastic SMART x 50 protocol as an example.
Slowly exposing your dog to triggering stimuli or exciting situations in a controlled setting can help them develop tolerance and reduce over-arousal.
It’s Time to Keep Your Dog (and YOU) from Overflowing
By effectively managing your dog's arousal level, you can create an environment where your furry friend stays focused, receptive, and able to learn and respond to training cues and their surroundings. It also helps you avoid feeling overly anxious.
Would you like to learn more about controlling your dog? You’ll love it! Schedule a free call with me with me here.