As awareness of ADHD increases in children, I’m occasionally asked if dogs can suffer from the same attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity.
There are rare cases when evidence does seem to support a diagnosis of canine ADHD. However many common conditions can be confused with combined hyperactivity and lack of attention. For it to be a case of ‘Dog ADHD’, both attention deficit and hyperactivity must be present at the same time. Here are a few examples of dog behaviours that aren’t strictly speaking ADHD but might well seem to be. (They can all be much improved by following the right advice)
- Normal Puppy Behaviour. Many puppies seem overactive, disobedient and uncontrolled. That’s because they are! Puppies take a while to learn voice commands. They have so much energy and exuberance they can barely contain themselves during puppy training. Make sure training is short and fun. Always end on a ‘high’. (If you’re struggling with a hyperactive puppy, you may be interested to hear about my One to One Puppy Training )
- Overactive Dogs. Certain breeds, especially those developed for fieldwork, seem as if they’re always on the go. Collies, Spaniels and German Shepherds spring to mind (Quite literally!) They’re displaying high activity levels, for which they were originally developed. Everyday life is sometimes not enough for these highly strung individuals. Owners often find that high-energy doggy hobbies like flyball or agility training to help them to blow off steam. If you don’t fancy getting involved in fly-ball or agility (Or you just don’t have the time), there’s lots that can be done to calm excitable dogs. We could start by having a look at the effect of diet on dog behaviour, but there’s lots more that we can do. Check out my One to One Dog Training and Dog Behaviour Consultations for more info.
- Highly Reactive Dogs. Certain breeds are more reactive than others. Reactive dogs, as opposed to hyperactive dogs, react to every minuscule event around them with extraordinary bursts of energy. If a leaf blows or footsteps are heard outside, they go berserk, running around the house, bouncing off the sofa or barking like a mad thing. Have you ever seen a Border Collie obsessed with chasing reflections and shadows on a carpet? That’s a reactive dog. (Possibly overactive as well!)
- Attention-seeking Dogs. Dogs learn to behave in almost any conceivable way if they are rewarded for it. If you pay attention to a dog only when he is barking, jumping, or otherwise being a nuisance, that’s the behaviour you’ll encourage. Inadvertently, you are reinforcing unwanted behaviours. Any attention is better than no attention for some dogs, even when you think you’re telling them off. As a starting point, make sure you pay attention to your dog only when he is being good and ignore him when he is misbehaving.
Interestingly, the true test of ADHD is to give the dog a prescribed stimulant, under controlled clinical conditions, whilst observing changes in heart rate, respiratory rate, and behaviour. For a dog with ADHD, these parameters are reduced. (Yes, you did read that right: Paradoxically, a stimulant can calm them down, for reasons that we don’t have space for here)
Almost certainly, then, your dog doesn’t have ADHD. It’s probably something much simpler that can be significantly improved, and quite quickly, if you get the right expert advice. If any of the above ring a bell, please get in touch with Dogfather Training and we can have a chat about the best way forward for you. I’m sure I can help!
Incidentally my friend recently told me he’s been diagnosed with a new disorder called ADOLAB. Apparently it’s short for “Attention Deficit… Oh Look A Butterfly!”. I’m sure I’ve seen a lot of dogs that have that…
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Graeme Hall MGoDT, ‘The Dogfather’ is one of the UK’s top dog trainers. Based in the Midlands, covering all of the UK. He’s a Master Dog Trainer with the Guild Of Dog Trainers. He’s trained over 5093 dogs and is recommended by vets. He’s frequently featured on TV, radio and in the press.
Graeme can come to you wherever you are – and wherever there is a dog behaviour problem to fix or expert dog advice needed. Contact us today!