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Hyperarousal - These aren't just "high energy" dogs...

Companion animals can have a variety of behavior disorders, but none is more misunderstood than hyperarousal. These dogs spend a significant portion of their day busy, moving, and frenetic.


Symptoms:

  • Difficulty sitting still, constantly moving. Often described as “high energy.”

  • Frequent frustration-related behaviors: mouthing, barking, mounting, jumping up, chewing, etc.

  • Overly excited with transitions, changes in the environment, or mildly stimulating situations.

  • Poor decision-making skills and impulsivity.

Hyperarousal is often a comorbidity of generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways: anti-social behavior, aggression, and agitation. Many well-meaning pet owners and professionals will interpret frenetic behaviors as “excited,” “enthusiastic,” or “happy.” These pets are emotionally aroused and not necessarily happy. Many of these dogs are struggling not only emotionally and cognitively, but also physically:

  • Musculoskeletal pain

    • When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, as it is with hyperarousal, the pet’s perception of pain is significantly altered. As a result, clinicians are unable to identify pain and the owners see “high energy” at home. Both parties then assume pain cannot be an issue.

  • Gastrointestinal problems

    • Agitation is common with nausea and indigestion. Anecdotally, these dogs frequently have several, non-specific GI symptoms including picky appetites, excessive grass consumption, pica, and soft stool or diarrhea. It is possible the dog’s hyperarousal is related to GI disease.

  • Training Techniques

    • These are the most likely dogs to undergo training techniques that involve positive punishment. As they are interpreted as “happy” but “having no manners,” old fashioned trainers will often use excessive force with prong or shock collars to force the animals to “focus.”

These dogs are frequently misunderstood, mislabeled, and under supported. They often have significant underlying medical issues that are driving these unwanted behaviors.


What can you do?

  • Avoid identifying busy dogs as “excited.” They are overstimulated and conflicted. Labels matter.

  • Help families recognize that hyperarousal is not a normal behavior.

  • Further explore their pain and GI history identify symptoms that could be treated.

  • Be sure to always recommend positive reinforcement trainers.

  • Refer to veterinary behavior specialists as needed for further assessment and support.

Images of Clara courtesy of eileenanddogs.com and Hyperarousal posted credit goes to Lili Chin.

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