Too Much of a Good Thing: Overexcitement in Exercise

Physical exercise is necessary and healthy for all dogs. However, there are a few common problems we see in client’s dogs who are not exercised properly. Today we’ll discuss one of the biggest problems, overarousal due to exercise, and the myth that you should exercise “crazy” dogs more.

Layla adores lure coursing, and it's great exercise for her, but it also makes her overly aroused.

Arousal refers to a dog’s level of excitement and emotional control. A highly aroused dog will be very excited, with a fast heartrate and respiration and poor impulse control. He may have dilated pupils or chatter his teeth. He may pant, jump around or on you, or vocalize incessantly. He may become grabby or mouthy. Alternatively, he may become “locked on” to an activity, freezing in place and staring intently at the object of his obsession, spinning in circles, or pacing.

Highly aroused dogs are stressed. Remember that stress is not necessarily bad. When we think of stress, we often think of negative stress, or distress. However, there’s also positive stress, known as eustress. Winning the lottery and having your home foreclosed on are both stressful activities, and your body actually responds to them the same way even though your emotional response to each is different. This point is important for us to understand as it relates to our dogs, because happily exciting events still create a physiological stress response in your dog’s body.

Why does this matter? Stress causes physical changes in the body. When you or your dog become stressed, your body releases certain stress hormones into the bloodstream. These stress hormones don’t just instantly dissipate. They hang around for awhile (the most commonly quoted length of time is 72 hours, but estimates range from mere hours to an entire week depending on who you ask).

Consider this, then. If you engage in activities that cause your dog to become aroused, and therefore stressed, every day, your dog will always have high levels of stress hormones in his bloodstream. High arousal becomes the new norm. Consider how you would feel if you won the lottery, rode a rollercoaster, or attended your favorite band’s rock concerts every single day. Our bodies aren’t built for prolonged periods of excitement, even when the excitement is positive.

What does this have to do with our dogs? I’m often called in to work with dogs who have trouble controlling themselves or calming down. These dogs are often reactive and hypervigilant. These dogs are also often victims of the wrong sort of exercise. Exercise that amps your dog up is okay in moderation, but allowing your dog to engage in it every day will likely do more harm than good. This is highly individual, but is most commonly seen with ball- or frisbee-obsessed dogs playing fetch every day or highly dog-social and excitable dogs visiting the dog park or daycare regularly.

If this sounds like your dog, there is hope! Cut down on overly arousing activities and replace them with other physical and mental exercise. Save these exciting activities for special times. My dogs both enjoy the flirt pole, but only play with it a few times a month due to how highly aroused they get while chasing it. Layla adores lure coursing above all other activities, but she takes 3 full days to recover after just a few runs after the lure because she becomes so over-the-top waiting for her turn (words cannot describe the bark-scream-screech sound she makes in line). Dobby loves to play fetch, but two days in a row with the chuck-it or frisbee creates a dog who’s not very pleasant to live with.

In future posts, we’ll discuss other common exercise pitfalls as well as some great ways to exercise your dog. Have you ever had to limit an activity your dog adored because it caused him to become too overstimulated? Please share your stories in the comments below!

91 responses to “Too Much of a Good Thing: Overexcitement in Exercise

  1. Pingback: Is a flirt pole appropriate for my dog? - Page 2

  2. Thank you Thank you Thank you. This all makes so much sense, NOW! I have a highly strung and totally ball obsessed 4 year old boy. He is super super intelligent but his obsessive behaviour in ball play does not dissipate. His eyes will dilate and he will go stock still on just seeing a ball in my hand. He can (and has) caught a ball all day long, sleeps for 10 hours straight and then wants to start it all over again. Holding a lead in one hand (walks) and a ball in the other and he will nudge the ball every time. I think I will hide all the balls for a couple of days and start creating some new games. Its so obvious now that this is good stress gone bad and he needs to find another outlet.

    • This made me laugh, because I had a Parsons Jack Russell who was the exact description as your dog….sweet loving dog, but totally obsessed with a ball. Hope he calms down for you as mine eventually did….thanks for evoking the memory of him.

    • I have a Catahoula that would play fetch until she dropped dead. This describes her to a T. It did dawn on me to reduce the amount of days that we play as I saw that the effects were seriously detrimental. I can see how as owners of hyper/manic/obsessed dogs we can do wrong when we think we are doing right. I’ve added different activities to keep her engaged but under more control – I taught her how to jump up onto benches, trees, rocks and have taught her to move laterally which I find helps to change her focus. It seems that keeping her engaged with different things, therefore constantly changing her focus helps greatly with her obsessive behavior. Still a long way to go with her but now that we are doing things differently I feel like we are well on our way. Never had a dog like this before and am learning much from her.
      Thanks for a great article!

  3. Samantha Hendricks

    Thanks for the interesting read. I have a high drive IPO dog that has just finished 2 months of cage rest due to a carpal bone fracture. At first I thought I would have to keep him stimulated or he would go nuts, but after a while I realised that the more I tried to do whith him, the nuttier he became. In the end putting him on to a low energy diet, proving chew toys, taking him for short on leash walks, and spending time massaging him helped to calm him down much more than trying to find ways of ‘stimulating’ him mentally. Less was in fact more.

  4. UrbanCollieChick

    Thanks but now I definitely need exercise replacements because playing Frisbee just once in a blue can potentially leave you with a dog that loses muscle tone and is too out of shape for the game. Then next thing you know, you have a dog with a torn CCL.

  5. We use to call Brad a screaming banshee, you couldn’t sit quiet anywhere with him, he’s scream the place down/ On a beach he’d either dig a moat round us or leave us with a pile of sticks for a bonfire, he always had to be entertained. I wish I knew then what I know now. Thanks you for sharing this.

    • Can I ask what you did? My banshee can’t drive to somewhere (he’s fine coming back) without busting eardrums. I take him to the dog park, beach to run, and it is alot of noise! Love suggestions!

  6. Thank you for this post. I have a 11 month old boy, heeler, chow and Catahoula. We adopted him 5 months ago. We cannot play with him at all because he is just like the article describes. The problem is he has enough energy for 5 dogs. We tried to enroll him in agility beceause he can jump 5 ft high and loves to run thru tunnels in the park, etc. That only lasted 1 class. We need help and replacement activites. HELP!!

    • Long, relaxing leash walks side by side with you, not in front, lol… 2+miles? Gradually add some biking or jogging as his joints and body matures. That’s what they would do naturally with their pack. … travel together for miles. Enjoy!

  7. Thank you so much for this. My husband and I have been arguing this point for years. He is ruining the health of my beautiful , highly intelligent but ball obsessed ten year old border collie bitch. I think he is cruel as this ball throwing activity, as you say, keeps her permanently hyper and often spends hours looking at him or piling toys on him! Very timely article as we are at vets tomorrow for possible crutiate ligament damage! :-((

  8. Really interesting post. Thank you

  9. No more Fly Ball for us! I took an 8 week course, but declined to join the team because…. Well for two reasons, actually. Reason no. 1 was that my dog regressed in her obedience and I didn’t want to work through it. Even though Fly Ball was only 1 time per week, the hassle in degraded behavior was not worth it.

    Reason no. 2: I got too amped up! I could never get to sleep after Fly Ball class. Exhausting!

  10. Great article! I am a trainer and work with a LOT of dogs with all of the above problems. For the last 7 years I have encouraged my students with those dogs to consider “dragging” the conditioning method we use for the sport of weightpulling. I generally recommend 15 to 20 minutes, 3 – 4 times per week of moderate resistance. I is AWESOME how it really effectively in a calm state. Many of my students with reactive, anxious or hyper dogs often drag for 10 minutes before class and find it to be very helpful to create better calmness and focus during class. It is low impact, physically and although it should be done properly with proper equipment, I have never known a dog to be injured in practice or competition. To consider or learn more, please see http://www.APDASports.com

  11. Great information. Something to remember also is that if dogs especially fast running dogs are running around at speed and should they accidentally collide, you run the very high risk of either serious injury and even instant death.

  12. Pingback: Is Exercise Always a Good Thing? | Paws for Thought

  13. Pingback: Meet Tucker–My Latest “Z-Dog” | Z-dogs Blog

  14. i have 2 border collies full of fun and excitement, very obedient, live life to the max 2 hours excercise a day wouldnt have it any other way i can keep up with them and i am 71

  15. I don’t have this problem with the Yorkshire Terrier I am fostering as he’s not really interested in play but he is highly reactive to other dogs, so I was interested to read the replies. Will definitely try the ‘dragging’ technique, as he loves to race around sniffing and happily trots after me on a gentle run so perhaps the conditioning method will help calm him.

  16. Angie Barfield

    I have one that looses it he will and has ran over any of the other dogs in his path . When you take the ball he takes off and he doesn’t even see the other dogs . I have put a stop to that I won’t even take the toy until he is in a down stay .when he is out of control I make him work for it by having him go back and walk up and way to me and come by till he is totally under control. I have also cot the play time down to a few throws at a Time

  17. Pingback: Tucker Lessons Part One: Let’s Talk About Exercise | Z-dogs Blog

  18. I find that scent-work is great for taking ‘the edge’ off most clients dogs. Though it involves play when they find the scented article, they are usually really keen to return it to you so they can search again! My own collie sleeps more soundly and is generally more relaxed on the 3 days we do scent-work than on other days.

  19. I read this and finally found myself able to breath. This makes so much sense. Here I was trying to constantly stimulate my border collie/golden mix pup, when what I am really doing is TOO MUCH. He pants, paces, jumps all over us and the furniture, grab-bites, and vocalizes to complete chaos. Now I understand. But can anyone advise on ‘challenging’ toys? He has toys all over the house, and I try to keep new ones around to keep him interested and stimulated, but I am not sure I am providing the right kind of toys. Thank you so much!

  20. Pingback: over/understimulert | 2barn8bein

  21. Pingback: My (possibly neurotic) dog walking philosophy – Dog Love

  22. Timothy mcmaster

    hey just read your article about over aroused dogs I have a blue cattle dog that loves to play frisbee and we do play frisbee every day. as soon as I get home he greets me in a pleasant way then brings his frisbee over and we have a game he usually chases and jumps for it probably ten times then tires out for about two minutes then wants to go again but this time is a lot quicker to tire one to two throws and he has to have a rest for 30 seconds or so do you think this is a sign of an over aroused dog other than this he is very well behaved not that this is a
    bad behaviour to you think there is any need for concern

  23. Thank you for the article. Everyone told me my Border Collie needed more exercise but as others here have it, it just made him worse. He is not my first BC or my last so I know how they should act and very familiar with their energy level. When I leave him at the kennel it generally takes 3 days to get him under control again. I have now asked them to only walk him for exercise and not to play.

  24. Silky terrier cross gets really hyper after an on leash walk around a couple of city blocks. He was rescued with143 other creatures from a hoarders house and has major trust issues. But I find when he is home, with me, alone,without visitors, he is great. Put a stranger in the mix and we have major barking and biting, (Lately he has bitten me, when someone new came to the door). I find his walks make him difficult too. He doesn’t seem content, once he is back home again. It takes quite a while to calm him down.

  25. I definitely feel like we are dealing with this right now. We have a 10 month old female Nova Scotian duck toller retriever. We have been taking her to the park the last week and a bit to play fetch and still at night after more play time and training she just wants more there is no down time when we are home.

  26. Interesting article! My petite, spayed, female Am Staff gets extremely overstimulated on walks over 40 minutes. She is scent obsessed and as she smells along the walk (on leash) she gets more and more excited until she “spins out” (runs around us, jumping up and biting the leash). We practice having her focus on us by asking her to sit and watch every few minutes along the walk, but she still gets overwhelmed. When she does spin, we stand still and take all attention away until she stops, then have her sit and watch until she is calm. Not ideal on a busy trail. Perhaps we will need to keep the walks to 30 minutes and work our way up until she can tolerate longer ones. Funny enough, she doesn’t become overstimulated with fetch, which she loves. She is a very nice rescue dog, so unfortunately we don’t know her history.

  27. Very interesting article. I have a 2 year old GSD who is very excited, though the excitement is reduced to a very large extent now. We used to play fetch with him every single morning, firstly because he loved it and secondly coz he was tired after it and than slept till evening. But after reading your post, I feel, did I increase the arousal related stress in him everyday. We dont play fetch daily now, just short walks and mental exercise.
    However, as per your article, we have done lot of mistakes, under the intention of tiring him out. We are improving now. But just wanted to know your opinion about playing fetch everyday.

  28. I am currently dog sitting a 1-year-old labradoodle. His owners have stipulated that he gets 3 hrs 15 mins of exercise per day — 45 mins in walks, 1 hr of intense play at dog parks 2x daily, and 30 mins of fetch. From my past experience and what I know about dogs, this is excessive, virtually unheard of and potentially detrimental. However, the dog is up at night if he doesn’t get that much exercise.

    Any thoughts? Is it possible that, due to his owners exercising him so much, he’s in such good physical shape that he NEEDS over 3 hrs of exercise per day to get tired out? Or do you think, as is discussed in this article. That he’s simply getting too much stress/excitement/stimulation? (It is, after all, 2 hrs of dog parks and 45 mins of intense fetch daily.)

    I work from home and, frankly, can’t afford to be spending 4 hrs per day (incl driving to dog parks) on this dog’s exercise — but I also can’t afford to have him wake me up all night because he’s only gotten 1.5-2 hrs of running in.

    Any suggestions? His owners are well-intentioned and really love him, but also seem to be inexperienced when it comes to dogs. I’m with this dog for 3 weeks, and would REALLY appreciate any advice.

  29. I asked the question in last month’s blog ( I’m reading them I order) about why you don’t use fetch as exercise. After reading your article about overstatement, maybe this is why? It can lead to over-stimulation? My Stella loves fetch and often brings me her ball. Since she is young and I’m still using food rewards, she knows it’s a way to earn food. She does let me know when she’s tired. She’ll lie down before she finishes a “fetch”. I always make her bring the ball back to me and THEN I let her “rest” or I put the ball away for a time. I don’t play Fetch with her every day because I don’t want her to get bored with it but I struggle with finding other ways to exercise her physically. I use frozen Kong’s for teaching “Place” (or Go To Your Mat), and mental stimulus but with three dogs, I’m not sure of different ways to exercise them all mentally at the same time. (I’ve had terrible fights break out between my older male and female when food is involved). I’m trying to protect my young female from a negative encounter and find myself at an impasse.
    I will keep reading and investigating. Hopefully, I will get over this mountain.

  30. Kim Marshbanks

    We have a new Cane Corso puppy (12 wks). He is rather quite during the day but becomes crazy from around 3 to 8. This is when I have him by myself as my boyfriend works nights. He also doesn’t seem to want to listen to me as well as my boyfriend.

    I also have 2 11 year old Maltese dogs. They have never been socialized and the three are not meshing at all.

    Any suggestions for the two problems would be greatly appreciated as I am not want g to keep the new pup.

  31. When I got my first dog I had no idea what I was doing so searched for a great school to learn the basics really. I fortunately found an amazing training and behaviour school who not only ensured learning was fun but ensured the humans understood the dog’s needs. I was completely oblivious to the brain stimulation vs physical exercise and what a valuaylessom that was. I over stimulated my puppy thinking exercise was key yet he was hyper and crazy at times, but actually as soon as switched and did more brain training I had a different dog on my hands.
    I learned how to ensure my dog had enough physical play and socialising and also when brain training was a good option.
    Days can vary but ultimately it is finding a good balance to have a well balanced pooch.

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