My Dog, The Adrenalin Junkie

We’ve all met people who can’t relax. People who have to be active, who need to be doing something all of the time. We’ve known folk who crave excitement, extreme sports. They bungee jump on Saturday, parachute from a plane on Sunday and take a holiday rock climbing a difficult cliff face as a challenge. These types of people could be described as adrenalin junkies. 

Adrenalin is a chemical which rushes through our body when we’re excited, stressed or anxious. Adrenalin can make us feel good-that burn you get from a work out, or a run in the fresh air. So good in fact, that we can become addicted to getting that rush over and over again. And guess what? Increasingly I’m encountering dogs who are adrenalin junkies too. Dogs who can’t relax and settle, who are ‘on duty’ all the time, who are anxious or stressed and occasionally as a result, can be highly frustrated or even aggressive. 

While not exclusive to high drive breeds who like to be doing a job, there is a leaning towards finding adrenalin junkies in these dogs. Working breeds such as labs and spaniels appeal to the average family who want a fun, happy dog to join in group activities. These families often find themselves living with ‘always-on-duty-hound’, rather than a pet pouch who plays football with the kids, goes for a run with mum, then keeps dad company while watching tv. Let me share 3 cases I’ve recently seen, the likes of which sadly, I’m seeing more and more of recently.

Cocker Spaniel Archie never voluntarily lies down. His owners contacted me as they were finding his levels of activity around the house impossible to live with. He is walked plenty, indeed they are getting fitter and fitter by the day as they try to tire him out. Fetch can go on for hours and hours and yet still Archie won’t, or can’t settle. His favourite job is surfing the kitchen counters to get his owners to give him attention, start another game, take him for another walk, because that’s what he needs right?

Jack Russell Bob is a bundle of endless energy. He jumps on furniture as if in training for the canine Olympic sofa jumping team. I was called to address Bob’s reaction to his owners leaving the house. A frenzy of barking, spinning and jumping has become frighteningly highly charged. Bob now reacts in the same way to any signal his owner gives which could mean they are leaving the house. If they close a window, or approach the door, if they put on outdoor shoes, or an extra layer, even if they’re going nowhere, Bob’s frenzy of behaviours is triggered. Bob’s owner walks him plenty and the house is full of chew toys lying around. His bowl was full of food when I visited. Everything a happy dog should need, no?

As a pup, Border Collie Lottie did a lot of biting, nipping and chasing of the oldest child. Understandably this little girl became quite scared of her and would scream and wave her arms about when Lottie approached. This caused Lottie to become more and more excited. It felt great to follow her natural herding instinct albeit on a human, not a sheep. Despite the fact that Lottie is now 4 years old and her mistress no longer screams or runs away, Lottie is obsessed with the same behaviour that in the past, gave her such a thrill. She spins obsessively if separated from her mistress, she barks frantically on her approach and if in the same room, she crouches low & watches for any movement her human makes, in case herding duty is required. Her human dad now returns from night shift to walks 7 miles in the dark to help reduce her energy levels.

The common denominator in all the cases above is that each dog is an adrenalin junkie. The more thrill they get, the more thrill they need. If something is going on around the house, they must be involved. They are constantly ‘on duty’. It’s a vicious circle of excitement, stress and frenzy. Their owners try to tire their dogs with more activity. Even when their owners aren’t consciously invovled, each dog has found something which thrills them and makes them feel good and so now they can self-medicate any time they need a hit. None of the owners I’ve dealt with realise that they own an adrenalin junkie dog. so what can you do?

·        Adrenalin junkie dogs need to be forced to switch off in a low stimulus environment which indicates clearly that they are ‘off duty’. A covered crate or a room away from the family works well. They need a space to come down from their high.

·        Adrenalin junkie dogs need structured activities each day which not just exercise the body, but the mind as well. Give them opportunities in a controlled and thoughtful way to use mental energy on ‘tasks’ rather than just feeding the frenzy with fetch games

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They need to be retrained alternative, calm reactions to the previous triggers to excitement.  These scenarios should now offer high value, but low excitement rewards in a controlled setting. Chewing is a great calming activity which is also highly rewarding.

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Encourage activities which increase self-control. Teach your dog to deal with frustration. Train your dog that calm/static behaviour results in good stuff. Teach focus, and reduce the stress of ‘go, go, go’ but instead teach ‘wait, wait, wait’.

Not all working breeds are adrenalin junkies and not all adrenalin junkie dogs are from working breeds. It’s important that owners recognise signs in their own dogs. Measures can be put into place to insure that owners offer structured mental and physical activity followed by down time. Just as important however, is that dogs aren’t becoming obsessed with their own thrill-inducing opportunities. Watch for dogs who partake in repeated activity which winds them up and which make it difficult for them to calm down afterwards. The more adrenalin in their system, the more they will crave it. A smart dog will become inventive to get the same level of excitement day to day. Be proactive. Encourage doggy Zen, not doggy mayhem!