Supporting Insanity: Overly Active Mutt

This post is the first in a new series where struggling pet owners submit pleas for help to the expertise of blogland. Everyone’s experiences are unique. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments. What you think common sense may be revolutionary for someone else. You never know what may resonate with someone and keep one more animal out of a shelter. My hope is that together we can help good people feel a little less alone. 

Email from Kayla* about her dog, Poppy:
I am a new reader of your blog and a new dog owner and I am hoping you don’t mind me writing to ask a question because I am sort of at my wits end and don’t know where to turn. Poppy, like Shiva, is a rescue. She is probably a lab/pointer/terrier mix, whatever she is she’s got tons and tons of energy and I am at a loss about what to do with it.

Yesterday, for example, we went for two long-ish walks in the morning, walked for almost two hours in the afternoon, and then played with some dog friends in the park for over an hour. The owners at the park all said to me “does she always have this much energy?” because she ran around like crazy the whole time. Then we got home and she was still bouncing off the walls. Even after all that when I am home just sitting on my couch she jumps up and nips at me.

She pulls like crazy on walks, I’ve tried the gentle leader and the easy walk harness. We’ve tried interactive toys, frozen kongs (which keep her attention for maybe 20 minutes), obedience class, private sessions with a trainer (which are way to expensive to continue!)…

What I wanted to ask is if there is a book or a website you would recommend to deal with this type of issue?

 We are trying to use positive reinforcement and I’m trying to do the best I can for Poppy, I absolutely love her, but she goes nonstop from the time she wakes us up at 5:30 a.m. to 10 or 11 at night and I am so tired! There has to be a way to keep us both happy and sane. When I read about the progress you’ve made with Shiva it keeps me optimistic and I figured you might have some wisdom to share.

Now it is your turn, pet lovers. If you have any recommendations for Kayla, please share them below. The more resources, the better! Thank you so much for your kindness.

*Names have been changed

If you have a question you would like answered, fill out the contact form and I will post it up as soon as I can. It goes without saying that all submissions will remain annonymous.

32 thoughts on “Supporting Insanity: Overly Active Mutt

  1. As the caretaker of a border collie-ish, an australian cattle dog/whippet mix, and a foster mom to a purebred cattle dog, I can absolutely feel your pain.

    When I got my foster cattle dog he was non-stop. He quite LITERALLY didn’t lay down for the first two weeks unless he was crated. I spent A LOT of time teaching him a default “down” in the house and used this as the basis to teaching him how to relax in the house. He was a constant blur of motion and was making my dogs anxious. So I leashed him in the house and when I was chilling on the couch, he eventually got bored with his 4ft of area to roam (I made the leash shorter), when he eventually laid down click/treat. Eventually he learned that laying down was okay and relaxing was rewarding.. even now if he’s laying down inside, periodically i’ll click/treat him for the calm.

    You may be interested in Karen Overall’s Protocol for relaxation (

    Honestly, physical exercise is only one piece of getting a dog tired out. You have to work their mental and physical muscles … daily training sessions (if you clicker train, a shaping or capturing session is the BEST for this) are crucial in tiring out their mental half (which will in turn allow the physical half to relax). Make sure you do training every day … which is good because….

    If you want a loose leash walk, you have to work for it. Can your dog walk at a nice loose leash walk reliably all over you house? if not there is no way you’ll get it outside. You have to start the work inside your house.. build a BEAUTIFUL loose leash walk inside the house then you can take it to a garage/deck/porch (a boring almost outdoor environment–when you go outside make your criteria easier… so if the pup was getting a treat every 15 steps outside, you should to back to every 2 or 3 steps in any new environment you work). When they are good in the garage then take it to the back/side yard… then to the street in front of your house, then maybe the full block, etc. The point is you have to work your way up and show your dog that even outside you will still reward desired behavior and you will pay them for their good behavior.

    I’d also suggest maybe getting into agility/frisbee/nosework/freestyle/rally… give her a JOB to do to learn how to work with you and feel fufilled.

    So… w/ crazy dogs my equation tends to be… relaxation work + lots of exercise + LOTS of training + a job!

    good luck, HAPPY TRAINING!


    • I forgot about the Protocols! Thanks for bringing that up. We tried them for a little while with Shiva but I got frustrated and gave up. Not because of her reaction, but due to my own impatience. I think they could be such a great tool for an anxious dog and often wonder if I should try again, even though Shiva is better now.


  2. First, please know these are my opinions; I do not profess to be an expert in any way, shape or form. I am using my own experiences and making my conculsions based upon those experiences.

    I’m not really sure how long you’ve had Poppy, but in my opinion it takes a very long while for a rescue dog to ‘settle in’ and calm down. The key is consistency, and training, training, training. We are constantly asking our dogs to ‘sit’ ‘down’ ‘stay’ ‘wait’. The structure is so good for them.

    Also, if there is a doggie daycare around your area and you’ve checked them out and can afford to have Poppy attend (even if only one day per week) I think you will begin to see a ‘settling’ down. Doggie daycare really helped Delilah because she had other dogs to run and play with, which in turn helped me out when I got home because she didn’t demand so much of my time. Age also has a lot to do with a dog’s behavior.

    We raised Sampson since he was 8 weeks old, he has a mellow personality, but even with all that he didn’t actually “get it” until he was about 3. Even though Delilah will be 6 this December, in terms of us having her, she is only “4”. Does that make any sense? While Delilah was older when we got her, she had already been failed by someone (we don’t actually know how many people failed her.) So when she came to us, it was a fresh start for her and it was like having a puppy all over again, except this puppy was 76 pounds and 18 months old!

    As for the leash walking, if Poppy is motivated by food you might try having a treat in your hand on the side she is walking. I like these treats called “Chicken Nibblers” they are flat, dried discs of chicken, about the size of a quarter. I will hold it in my non-leash hand and keep my hand at my side) I found this training tip in a book called “Through a Dog’s Eyes” by Jennifer Arnold. Once you get through all the success stories, she has step by step instructions in the back on how to train your dog to do any number of things.

    Ok, now that I’ve rattled on I am signing off. I hope some part of this may have helped you.


    • Thanks for sharing, Jodi. I’ve heard about “Through a Dog’s Eyes” but haven’t read it myself. I’ll have to look it up again.

      It’s so different with rescue, isn’t it? A dog may be a physical age but mentally and emotionally sometimes their growth is stunted. Dogs generally don’t end up in shelters after being well-trained by their owners.


    • Kristine – I love the idea for this series. So awesome! Might have to pop in a question of my own 🙂

      Koly was a nut as a pup. I definitely found that he calmed down when he had work to do. He really loves agility. He has just as much energy as ever, but it’s not exploding all over the place. We also had a tie down in the living room for a while, to help Koly relax.

      JMO, but depending on what you’re feeding adjusting the protein content *could* help, though this is likely only an issue if you are feeding a quite high protein formula (like 40%) or if the food contains a lot of grain-based protein boosters (as opposed to meat proteins) to get to a high protein level. If the protein is a problem, it’s likely you would see other signs, such as Kayla putting on a little extra weight.

      Good luck!


  3. I’m not the best person to give advice because I’ve never had a truly hyperactive dog. But I have discovered that very few humans can physically tire out even a moderately active dog. The dog will always have more stamina than you do.

    I think you’re on the right track when you look into interactive food toys and training. You’ll have to tire Poppy out mentally to get some rest yourself.

    Try feeding every meal from a food toy–not just snacks. Or hide her food all around the house so she has to find it all (hopefully she’s food motivated). Learning agility or nosework might help to tire Poppy out as well.

    You didn’t say how old Poppy is either. If she’s an adolescent, she’s probably at the height of her energy levels which may come down after time.

    But the last thing I’ll note is that if she is a young dog and is pulling or nipping at you after lots of exercise, she may be overtired. I discovered this with Honey one time. I thought she needed more exercise because she was jumping around like a fiend. But once I put her in her crate, she settled right down and took a nap.

    Does Poppy like a crate? If so, try giving her a fun toy or snack in the crate when she gets back from lots of physical exercise and see if it calms her down.

    If she’s not used to a crate, that will give you a good mental game to get her used to it (which will tire her out) and teach her the crates is a safe place to rest.

    And finally, Kayla, it sounds like you’re doing a great job trying to find out how to work with Poppy the best. Yes, it’s frustrating and hard, but you really need to congratulate yourself for caring about what Poppy needs to be a happy pup. Keep the faith–it will get better.


    • Thank you so much for weighing in with your thoughts. It didn’t even occur to me that Poppy may be over-tired. I have been told that it is possible to over-exericse dogs to the point they are so over-stimulated they can’t relax. It’s possible we’ve done that with Shiva as well.

      Nosework is always a gun game!


    • wow! overtired, i haven’t thought about it.
      yes, on the way home from 1hr walk with my puppy, she sometimes tries to nip my shoes, pants. i did not know why she did that. i was wondering but could not figure it out. thank you so much


  4. I don’t see an age mentioned, and for any number of breeds age is going to be a huge issue. My cattle dog mix is five and has finally begun to settle, a bit. She’d still like to gogogo 24/7,but she is ABLE to settle, when asked.

    If I could, Stumpy would have an equally energetic companion and they could tire each other out. Is doggie day care an option?

    Running in snow or sand and swimming really help to tire her.

    Big, meaty, joint bones (raw) are great for expending energy. (always under supervision)

    Obedience classes leading to agility, rally or flyball. Expending mental energy combined with physical is very effective.

    Happy, Waggin’ Tails, FUREVER!
    Stumpy and me


    • I’ve been told five is the magic number for us as well. But others have suggested ten, so who knows?

      Thanks for the great suggestions!


  5. At this moment, I can think of 3 potential factors that could make a dog ‘hyperactive’:
    1) a medical condition – this can be easily diagnosed or overruled by a vet
    2) genetic predisposition
    3) food – What does Kayla feed Poppy? Regardless of whether she’s fed raw food or complete dog food, her diet might contain a protein-carbohydrates unbalance. In my view, unless Poppy is a working dog, foods that have a very high protein content, for example, are to be avoided, as they’ll overload her system.

    Not sure if I’m of any help. A dog behaviourist who can actually see the dog would be able to give personalised advice.


    • I didn’t think of that, but there could be some sort of medical condition involved. It’s definitely worth checking out!

      Thanks for sharing! You never know what will help.


  6. What a cool feature! I wish we had this when I first got Miss M. Miss M was kind of like that in the beginning too, and I felt like I always had to be entertaining her. I know all dogs are different, but this is what worked for us. Our big things were really getting into training. Once she learned ‘down stay’ it totally changed our life; she realized she was able to stay. Then we just practiced everything on the walk. Like sitting at corners, etc. And I think just realizing boundaries made her more calm in the house, plus it’s good mental exercise. We also went on walks with the backpack so it would be twice as effective, plus giving her a job to do made her better. This sounds very tough, I hope something works out!


    • I know what you mean. With a Shiva around, one definitely can’t forget there is a dog in the house. Though things have improved, I still feel like most of my time at home is spent entertaining my dog. It’s not until she goes to sleep at nine or ten that I can start relaxing. But it’s a small price to pay, really, for the fun we have together.

      I liked your suggestion of practicing things while on a walk. Not only does it help with training, but the mental stimulation goes a long way to tiring them out. I read somewhere, can’t remember by whom, that every 25 feet you should stop and ask your dog to perform a behaviour, even something as simple as sit. It helps them focus rather than run merely on instinct.


  7. I was in your shoes. Sophie had no off switch until she was over a year old. It really was go go go from when she woke up until she finally went to bed. She too is a lab mix.

    So here is what I learned and what others on a labrador forum told me. Walks, even very long walks, do not usually cut it for a lab. I was walking Sophie 3 miles in the morning, 3 at night and off leash time. And she was still active.

    Try making walks into training walks if you don’t already. Working on heel, automatic sits, stays, turns, changing pace etc would help tire Sophie out on a walk.

    Can you get Poppy more off leash time? When she plays with other dogs, are they wrestling, fetching, what do they do?

    In addition to upping Sophie’s off leash fetch time, I got her into a lot of classes. Intro to agility, flyball and obedience at the same time. Making her brain work really helped tire her out.

    If you can’t take classes, take her to new places and work on manners. It is amazing how making them think really goes a long way towards tiring them out.

    Hang in there, I know it can be stressful having such an active dog. I had a few occasions where I just wanted to cry because I didn’t know what else to do. Upping the amount of training, off leash activity and just time to mature really went a long ways towards settling Sophie.



    • Thanks for your help, Patty. I agree that training while walking makes a huge difference. Since we don’t have a fenced yard, I have to walk Shiva a lot but I do attribute that as one of our keys to success!


  8. How much off-leash time does your dog get? I have a Carolina Dog (all muscle, medium-small build, terrier-like traits) and she needs to be able to run at 100 mph for a while to really tire herself out. The dog park and a fenced backyard are the only places she can really let loose.

    If your dog is spending all her outdoor time on a leash, that could be part of the problem.

    You could also go for a bike ride or put on some Rollerblades and take your dog for a run. That way she can go super fast and you don’t get exhausted. There are special leash holders for your bike to prevent your dog from running in front of your wheels.


    • I’ve looked at some of the leash holders for my bike. I’m much too scared of disaster if I ride with Shiva while holding the leash normally but those holders look pretty solid. Maybe I’ll check it out this year.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


      • I just bought a walkydog and tried it out with Barbie last night. Barbie hates wearing her harness though so this limited the success of our first night out! I want to warm up with Barbie who is fairly predicable and listens to me instead of Bender who tends to lunge and lurch all over the place. 🙂 Anyway once I get the dogs running with the bike I’ll post some walkydog stories.


  9. Oh, and I forgot to mention swimming! My dog LOVES to swim and will be absolutely exhausted after 30 minutes of fetching stuff from the river. (I use a 20-foot leash to keep her from running wild.)


  10. Poppy sounds like the kind of dog Search and Rescue people love. It sounds to me like she really needs a job. That job doesn’t have to be Search and Rescue, I just know that a lot of times the dogs they require often end up in shelters because they have so much drive and energy that most people can’t handle them. To me it sounds like she needs something that engages her brain as well as her body.

    A good example is when we took our young German Shepherd on vacation with us to a Greyhound event. We were out walking and seeing sights most of the day Saturday and it was all new and intriguing to her. On Sunday, she slept all day on the way home. That has NEVER happened before. It made me realize how important it is to engage her brain and make her puzzle things out.

    There are lots of jobs that dogs can have. Try taking her to some kind of obedience or agility class as a start. From basic obedience you can build up to teaching her a lot of tricks or other behaviors, and that might help her some.


    • I agree, a job does go a long way. Shiva loves to work and her drive is often overwhelming. I always know when I haven’t been working with her enough because she will absolutely explode with joy as soon as I pull the cookies out or set up the agility equipment. 😛

      Brain work is very key for sure.


  11. first of all, Kristine, congrats on setting this up. i love that you’re not using real names. makes it so much more cloak and dagger fun! 🙂

    “kayla” – like many other commentors here, my dog [Georgia Little Pea] was [is?] a nightmare when we first got her at 8 months from the pound. she was anxious, reactive to every dog, hyperactive, totally untrained, destructive, and did i mention opinionated?

    we did [without exaggeration] 2 sessions of walks [for leash training] and playtime [to tire her out] daily [about 4-5 hours] and she’d still be on-the-go all day after just a short nap. the house and yard was a destruction zone [as we don’t do crating here]. our front door is still ripped and i had to say goodbye to many favourite things.

    to give Georgia some discipline, her home training started immediately. i can’t tell you what’s a good way to go with Poppy since i find every dog to be different. Professional trainers and obedience classes are great if you’re new to this, but consistency on your part will be the key. Georgia was /is Very Wilful and and so needs a really firm hand. i found that once she understood some keywords and we had a routine going, she calmed down a bit.

    that said, it took over a year before my husband and i were able to leave the house together for even 15 minutes. we tried leaving her stuffed treats [she sussed them out before we were out the front gate], we tried tying her up [too sad to continue], spraying noxious substances on things she would chew [apparently effective with many dogs but not ours], even vet-prescribed sedatives [did NOT work at all or only for a very short time].

    Yes, Georgia was a toughie and we had many desperate moments when we wondered what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into. then, almost overnight, her madness dropped off and she became…placid. we were very worried. we thought she was ill and took her to the vet only to be told she was just growing up 🙂

    as you can see, i don’t really have any solutions for you…except to talk about it [as you are doing] and, as much as possible, have a laugh. even better, start a blog about it! the best advice i can give you is – don’t give up and don’t form any attachment to things that you may lose to Poppy’s ADHD, including your freedom and sleep. one day, when she settles down and becomes The Lady Of Your Dreams, you’ll look back at all this and have a few good stories.

    until then xox


    • That’s hilarious Georgia’s craziness just dropped off, just like that. I have to wonder what triggered it. Perhaps it was the moment she realized she was with you forever? Who knows?

      Thanks for the suggestions and moral support. It’s always so wonderful to know others have been there and there is an end to the madness! I do agree, two years ago, I never thought I’d look back and laugh. Now I’ve made a whole blog out of said laughter!


  12. When we first got Charlie from the shelter we walked at least 4 hours a day with him and he still would not sit down. It was about 3 weeks after we got him that he just stopped being so crazy, he settled in and started laying down more. Teaching him tricks kept him occupied when we weren’t out walking. Once I got him to walk by my side (the gentle leader worked awesome, maybe your’s wasn’t the right size or something?) I got him to the point that we could rollerblade and bike together, which tires him out a whole lot faster. The dog backpack… I would do agility, she sounds like she’d be good at it with so much energy…


  13. We found obedience training was a huge help, not so much for Bailey as for us. We gained more confidence on how to manage his behavior. This has been a huge help in working with Katy who has far more energy and challenges than Bailey ever dreamed of presenting to us.


  14. I just wanted to say thanks for all of the responses. I so appreciate the advice and encouragement. I wish I could ask about a million follow up questions- I think thats the way it is with dog ownership, the more you learn the more questions you have along the way. And thanks to Kristine for doing this- Poppy and I thank you for it! This makes me think about starting my own blog- if only to have a record of this time so I can look back and laugh (later, when I am ready to laugh… I’m not ready yet).


  15. Pingback: Supporting Insanity – Loose Leash Woes | Rescued Insanity

  16. Hi there ‘ my dog was so active and so i took her walking 3 to 4 txs a day’ but this proved to not be relaxing for her even if she was tired ”untill i took her where there was Water” wow she went into the water instantly and her brain changed lol for ever’ it was a stress healing thing for her ‘ now every day she swims and relaxes ‘ she can play and play but when she has enough she goes to the water’ So it is destressing for her all she does is walk in & lays down ‘ it was amazing to see the difference and here that day it was snowing and had snowed a lot but the pond was not frozn ”now every place i take her has to have water. Makes her a better dog ” just a wee story about her & yes we did rescue &read up on golden Ret. I hope this helps some other dog .cheers Polly


Comments are closed.