In Defense of the "Overstimulated" Dog
Hang around dog trainers enough these days and you’re sure to hear talk of the newest dog behavior woe: overstimulation. You’ll hear whispers of sweet, angel-eyed puppies being turned into overstimulated, adrenaline-fueled monsters by classes allowing *gasp* free play. These once innocent souls, now incapable of walking past other dogs without straining on the leash, barking and howling in attempts to play- or, depending who you ask- in egregious displays of aggression. They’ve forgotten their wearied guardians exist, ignoring the cookies pushed in their faces in a desperate attempt to stop them making a scene. Or perhaps you’ll hear of worse. Out of control dogs jumping on guests. Bolting from doorways. Bounding just out of reach at parks, refusing to COME. HERE. AND. SIT.
Sky, "overstimulated" and having a great time.
You’ll hear a lot about rules and boundaries, of impulse control and instilling calm. Dogs should, after all, be calm. They should not jump, they should not pull, they should not make noise, they should not show interest in other members of their species. You, their guardian, should be the only thing they see. IF they play, it should be gently, quietly, and only with you. But not directly with you, of course, such as in the ball/tug toy realm. (Are you trying to get someone killed?!) You must take frequent breaks. Even better, make sure your dog naps during the breaks, or, if they must be awake, works on calm mat work.
But wait a minute. What are these “overstimulated” behaviors, anyway? And for that matter, what does overstimulated mean?
Well, the answer here is a bit tricky. Dog training is unregulated, which means, among other things, that we don’t have a fancy glossary of shared terms. But simply put, most dog trainers use “overstimulated” to describe dogs that are acting in ways that humans don’t always agree with. You may have noticed, keen observer you are, that most of these behaviors involve dogs, well, having fun.
Friendly dogs jump to get access to our faces. It’s in their genes. They bolt from doorways because it predicts a fantastic game of chase (sometimes you can get the whole neighborhood involved!!). They don’t come when you call because when they do, they lose out on all the fun they’ve been having; sometimes they are even punished. They play loud and wild because it’s fun.
So what do we do then? Allow these human-frustrating, sometimes embarrassing behaviors? I see you rolling your eyes at me, another too-soft cookie-pusher who thinks dogs should run wild. But the answer to this one is quite simple- we can let our dogs have fun and keep them safe at the same time. Give them time to play wild with their dog friends, and also train them to look at you instead of screaming at other dogs on the street. Let them meet new people, but teach them to keep their feet on the floor, too. Struggling with this? Get in touch with a trainer who will help you enjoy all sides of your dog- especially the overstimulated side.