Is your dog suffering from sensory overload?

It’s surprisingly common for owners to experience behavioural issues as a result of their dog being over-stimulated.

If your dog seems to be constantly alert or hyper vigilant, they bark at the slightest noise, are hyperactive, find it difficult to relax, or they have become ‘snappy’ in certain situations, then you may need to consider sensory overload contributing to the problem.

All occurrences in the environment can stimulate our dogs to varying degrees. What that stimulation looks like is down to a number of things. For example, breed type, age and health status are the obvious factors, but we also need to consider a dog’s individual personality.  Dogs, just like people, are all different.  Some are shy, sensitive introverts, some are happy-go-lucky, and some are bold, confident extroverts. All of these factors impact on just how much stimulation a dog can cope with, and how that manifests.

Considering your dog’s behaviour

If you are struggling with their behaviour, consider what an average day consists of for your pooch.

How much repetitive ball chasing is your dog doing? How much rough-housing and playing with other dogs is he doing? How busy and noisy is your household?  Does he practice barking and ‘seeing off’ postal workers and passers-by? Essentially, how much of the average day does your dog spend being active, alert and over-excited?

When we are stressed, stress hormones are released into our brains. During this time we can’t concentrate properly, our tolerance levels drop, and our sleep is affected, as is our behaviour. We commonly associate stress with negative things that occur in our lives. However, over-excitement, high levels of stimulation and endurance exercise can have the same physiological effects, owing to the stress hormones being released into our brains. This is exactly the same for dogs.

Did you know that the average adult dog should enjoy resting/sleeping for approximately 16 hours over a 24-hour period?  If they are not getting close to this amount of sleep due to an over-stimulating lifestyle, then you may start to see some behavioural issues.

The answer isn’t to force downtime on your dog, but to consider how you can introduce some calming activities into their life so that they are less stimulated. This will help to calm their brain activity, resulting in them being more likely to take themselves off somewhere for a good nap.

Lowering your dog’s excitement levels

If you feel your dog could benefit from lowering their excitement levels, there are a number of things you can do.

Reduce over-stimulating activities for your dog

Where possible, reduce activities that cause them to be over-stimulated. For example, if they bark at passers-by, try shutting the curtains or restricting access to the windows. If the children playing in the garden over-excites your pooch, give them a stuffed kong and limit their garden access to times the garden is calm.

If you feel your dog’s brain is overstimulated, and they are displaying excitable behaviours that frustrate you, consider their mental health and improve it in the following ways:

  • Enrichment feeding: Make meal times last longer and more interesting by utilising enrichment feeding. It slows the process of eating down and requires concentration, which can be tiring for your dog. More information on enrichment feeding
  • Scent games: Hiding things for your dog to find provides wonderful focused mental stimulation, and is always tiring.
  • Sniffing walks: Allowing your dog to stop and sniff when on walks provides them with an opportunity to know about other dogs in the area without getting them over-excited.
  • Training: Force-free training again tires the brain, but it also helps improve your dog’s overall mood. Read our training articles

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