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High-energy untrained dog: what to do?

By Heike Hahner

Heike answers a question from a reader:

 Help! I am the new owner of an 18-month-old Labrador, who arrived at our home with some bad habits. He jumps incessantly, nips at feet and elbows and I can barely restrain him on a lead when taking him for a walk. We started taking him to dog obedience lessons but he was difficult to control and the many other dogs there were making matters worse. He lurches after other dogs and barks incessantly. At home he chews everything in sight and pulls washing off the line. [spacer style=”1″ icon=”none”]

Buying a new puppy or getting an older rescue dog is an exciting and joyful time. Sadly some may come with some unforeseen challenges. These problems are quite common, not just in Labs. Here are some suggestions to turn your ‘wild’ dog into a pleasant companion.

Training and handling of the excitable dog should be calm, in short and positive sessions using motivational methods. Aim for rewarding dog behaviours that you like, like lying down or even just standing still. A good dog trainer should be able to help you with this.

Avoid going to large classes or dog parks until he is calmer. Find a trainer who will run 1:1 sessions or small classes. Interaction with better trained dogs rather than the equally untrained is preferable.

Avoid confrontational interactions such as staring at him to try and ‘win’. Some dogs can read you like an open book and know that you are not quite certain. This may lead to a challenge from the dog, by jumping up, grabbing clothes, arms or legs.

Use smells dogs don’t like. Spray clothes and body parts with lemony scents, such as citronella oil, 5 drops in 250 ml of water. Or use pet repellent sprays, but check for health and safety statements on the bottle.

Ignore or distract from unruly behaviours unless he is actually making physical contact. Use water spray with citronella oil if he becomes physical. Have spray on fine point and aim for rear end or toes, as that is more distracting than the face.

Increase exercise unless there is a physical reason not to. Small to medium dogs from 12 months  and large breeds from 18 months onwards should ideally have minimum 4 -6 km per day.  If walking is not an option, try a doggy tread mill.

Provide chew toys, cardboard boxes, rags, kongs, etc for your dog. Labs are known for their oral fixation and need an outlet.

Protect the washing, by fencing off or keeping dog away from clothes line. You can also put water filled balloons in some old pillow slips, he’ll get wet if he bites into those or try scents on your washing that dogs don’t like.

In combination with increased exercise and with objects that he is allowed to destroy, he should settle down after a while.

Discuss a change of diet. Your dogs protein levels should be around 18 to 22% per day and his diet should include foods that are high in tryptophan, which helps to produce serotonin in the body. Serotonin is needed for a good night’s sleep and helps prevent depression and anxiety.

Foods such as fish, chicken, turkey, brown rice, milk, eggs, may help provide tryptophan which may be depleted at times of stress. Contact a vet such as Dr Ian Billinghurst who has expertise in canine nutrition beyond commercial dog foods. Commercial dog foods are often high in protein and low in tryptophan and may provide too much energy for some dogs.

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