Lets get physical!

The final part in this blog series of over aroused dogs, is looking at the physical aspects and causes.

There are two main areas of physicality that can affect over arousal, either creating it or affecting it.

Those broad areas are physical health, and physical stimulation.

Each can be further divided into sub-sections including hormonal changes, chemical imbalances, ill health, injury or lack of physical stimulation, inappropriate physical stimulation, lack of strength/fatigue/fitness etc.

Dogs that are easily over aroused, can often be a result of an underlying physical issue that is causing a level of discomfort or anxiety, which then subsequently results in their behaviour changing. This could be a underlying health issue, that is affecting their behaviour. It is not un-common for dogs that have sudden and random behaviour changes, specifically aggression, to have a thyroid issue. This is often difficult to identify at first, but can often be an indicator of over arousal.

There has been more recent studies that have shown the importance of a healthy digestive system, and specifically the gut and stomach.

A very close friend and student, had a border collie who as classic of a dog that lived and engaged in a over aroused state, and a lot of his tension would be linked to his gut health. When he was young he started to suffer from allergies and had to have a specific diet to help maintain his health, and would often have stomach cramps and self induced hunger strikes because of it. The signs were initially sporadic and random. His behaviour would change unpredictability. You would see a noticeable change in his state of arousal, when his allergies were proving challenging. This took extensive investigation to able to reach a series of dietary adjustments, immunotherapies and general management to ensure he was ‘feeling good’ and not being anxious and extra ‘hot’ in his work. It was very much a one step forward, two back…. it was emotional and challenging, seeing him clearly uncomfortable and anxious. It was because of his owners relentless dedication that his health issues were resolved and he ultimately became an Obedience Champion, and more importantly, lived a long and happy life till 15yrs old. He had management of his health throughout but was able to be ‘happy’.

Those from a horse background will be able to affirm the need to pay close attention to your charges diet, and adjust accordingly to the temperament of the animal. The same can be said of dogs. Being aware of how much protein or red meats your dog is having, can also have an affect of their behaviour. Whilst, I am not a nutritionalist, I know with my own dogs over the years, that I will make adjustments to their food and supplements depending on their activity levels and temperament.

Coat quality, reddened eyes, muscle tone and general appearance can all be indicators or your dogs well being, and over arousal will affect the cortical levels which will have an impact of their well being, both physically and mentally.

However subtle behavioural changes, over arousal, eating habits, anxiety, tension, aggression etc could also be symptoms.

Physical stimulation is a crucial part of creating a dog that isn’t constantly over aroused. Sometimes it’s as simple as having an insufficient outlet for their abundance of energy. I talked about the malinois in the previous blog in this series. There is a breed that has a lust for physical stimulation. My first malinois could easily do a 6mile bike ride, maintaining trot throughout and still have energy to train afterwards! He LOVED it! He would go into what I can only describe as a mediative state.

I always explain that exercise to my dogs that are of a type, likely to show over aroused tendency’s, perceive exercise as a drug. I equate it to insulin for a diabetic. It needs to be consistent, it needs to be appropriate and it needs to be diverse. I can only assume that they get addicted to the chemicals released as a result of physical exercise.

However, creating an ‘adrenaline junkie’ is also a typical trait of dogs who are over aroused. Repetitive exercise or behaviours can create exactly that. How often do you see people using ball launchers to exercise their dogs, paying no attention to the physical and mental ramifications?

I appreciate their popularity and convenience, but a closer look would actually prove very enlightening.

A good hard sprint is excellent, it blows off the cobwebs and expels energy… but this needs to be balanced out with more sedate, casual activity.

Paying attention to the physical aspects, subtle signs, behaviour changes can often give a indication as to why your dog is over aroused.

1. Regular exercise, varied, diverse and challenging. This can be a series of hill sprints, or a mooch in the woods. One of my greatest pleasure is finding new interesting locations for my dogs to investigate, its like watching kids in Disney land… pure joy! They are literally getting a feel good chemical release! You can see it in their every being.

2. Provide an outlet for who the dog is. These dogs tend to be intense and obsessive. So provide an outlet for that part of who they are, but additionally create ways to stimulate them that isn’t always go, go, go! Nosework is excellent for doing just this. As is trick training and problem solving games. Get creative.

3. Regular check ups with health care practitioners as a preventive measure, means that you aren’t allowing physical issues to develop and become a potential problem. Prevention is often better then cure.

4. Diet and behaviour are closely linked. The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ springs to mind…. if you see changes or issues of over arousal, start to keep a journal of diet and see if there are any patterns.

5. Behavioural changes are like clues to a mystery ‘what caused it’, you may have to put on your deer stalker and get out your magnifying glass… the clues will lead to a solution. The clues can be often be subtle. The prize is your dogs well being and mental health. Its worth the investigation!

6. If you time is limited and you can take your dog out for an extensive walk or run, its ok…. the odd day off won’t hurt! Although physical stimulation is crucial, everyone likes a ‘do nothing’ day to slob… PJ’s on, good movie and a duvet! Unwinding is as important.

7. Believe it or not, lack of fitness can create over arousal. If mentally you REALLY want to do something, but your body won’t let you… imagine the frustration you’d feel? This can create an association with the environment, or situation which then becomes the trigger for that stress. Being able to complete a behaviour, with physical ease, will equate to confidence and clarity.

8. Dogs that are ‘over triers’ or easily over aroused, will often have no comprehension of pain. You have to be sensible for them, and observe if their anxiety and over arousal is masking pain and discomfort.

9. Creative ways to feed are a useful tool in dealing with dogs that get over aroused. Kongs, snuffle mats, frozen, hunting and searching games are all ways to feed in and around environments that may be challenging. This creates a association that is conducive to calmer behaviour.

10. Taking baseline stats is a great way to monitor physical changes which may be linked to issues of over arousal. Posture, movement, weight, muscle size are all crucial data to note. Having them logged can help when behaviour changes.

These are just 10 points, this list could have been double easily…

I hope this series has given you some food for thought…

Keep posted for following up ‘surprise’ this weekend!


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