A lot of dogs are hypersocial – they get uncontrollably excited at the sight or sound of other dogs. When they see another dog, these dogs might bark, whine, lie down and refuse to move, pull on leash, or even “kangaroo-hop” toward other dogs in desperation to say hi.
This is a really frustrating behavior problem that can be embarrassing – and I totally sympathize.
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re tackling this exact problem.
How do I get my dog to stop becoming uncontrollable around other dogs? She is not aggressive but an overexcited player, which startles other dogs, especially since she is 70lbs.
– Sincerely, Worked Up Pup
If you’re looking for answers to a similar problem, you might find some answers in other Journey Dog Training resources:
- This podcast episode on Hypersocial Dogs is EXACTLY what you need!
- How Do I Teach My Dog to Play Nicely With Other Dogs – this resource is more specific for off-leash or “free” play between dogs that are really excited, not for passing by on-leash.
- My Puppies Play Really Rough. Is that OK? – this resource is also about dogs that play HARD and how to help them play more gently (and if that’s even needed).
- My Dog Doesn’t Play With Other Dogs. Is That OK? – this resource is more about if it’s a problem that your dog doesn’t like to play with other dogs.
Unfortunately, we humans aren’t generally very good at teaching dogs how to be dogs. We can pretty good at teaching them tricks and manners – but dog-dog relationships are pretty hard for humans to nail. That’s because we simply can’t “read” dog body language as well as other dogs. Even if we do pick up on an ear flick or pricked ear, we rarely intervene quickly enough or appropriately in order to really teach the dogs to interact better in the future.
For example, if you notice your dog is getting a bit tense with another dog around a favorite toy, you may try to step in and tell your dog to “cut it out.” However, you just crowded the dogs and made them feel more stressed – this intervention may actually cause or escalate a fight. It would have been better to call the dogs apart rather than entering the situation yourself.
Meet Your Dog’s Needs – Smartly
Many hypersocial greeters just LOOOOVE meeting other dogs. The problem is, this isn’t always safe or convenient for us. One of the first steps to helping your dog relax a bit around other dogs is to ensure that your pup’s cup is full.
Try ensuring that your pup gets plenty of playtime with you and/or with favorite toys. Working on some fun tricks can help satiate his energy and social needs as well.
Finally, ensure your dog gets time to play with appropriate, well-matched friends. Like people, not all dogs love each other. These mismatches aren’t because one dog is “bad,” but simply due to disagreements over what is “fun.”
It’s generally best to find a few well-matched friends for your dog, rather than trying your luck wit strangers at the park. For example, this 70-pound Goldendoodle might be flat-out terrifying to a 23-pound whippet, even if the Goldendoodle means well.
As explored more below, I like giving dogs enriched environments with lots of movement to help them play more nicely. Small areas with few features can push dogs into beating up on each other more than they would in a large forested setting.
Will My Dog Grow Out of This?
Sometimes. Teenage dogs (between 7 and 24 months) are most likely to struggle with this. It’s quite possible that your dog’s self-regulation will improve and that their social needs will decrease over time.
That’s right – older dogs don’t generally need or want to play as much as younger dogs. Sounds like people, right?
However, allowing your dog to “practice” the behavior of losing his head over another dog can make this behavior harder to deal with. You’re really digging yourself a hole if you allow your dog to bark, scream, and jump and then go say hi to the other dog. In that case, you’ve just “taught” your dog that vocalizing and pulling is the best way to get access to his friends.
Addressing Worked-Up Excited Greeters: The Basics
“Worked Up Pup” is the owner of a one-year-old Goldendoodle. I see this sort of hyper-excited behavior quite a lot in adolescents, and especially in this breed mix.
If your dog is uncontrollable about other dogs, there are still several things that you can do to help teach him to be a bit more polite:
- Don’t greet other dogs on leash. Letting your dog greet other dogs sometimes but not at other times can be confusing for your dog. If they’re anticipating getting to say hi and don’t get to say hi, this can easily lead to a frustrating “temper tantrum.”The tension from the leash can build frustration, you might get dragged around, and the dogs can’t freely play or retreat anyway. I teach my clients’ dogs that if the leash is on, it’s time to ignore others. Much easier!
- You can use a treat magnet (a fistful of treats) to lure your dog past other dogs at first. Or use an emergency U-turn to just get outta there!
- Avoid the dog park. It’s too unpredictable – some dogs are absolute a-holes at the park and can teach your dog terrible habits. Trying to teach social skills at a dog park is akin to teaching manners at a dance rave. Sure, many dogs enjoy rough-and-tumble play with 70-pound dogs. But many dogs don’t. If we’re trying to teach manners, we want to use good teachers. The dog park isn’t necessarily full of good teacher dogs. Instead, focus on #3 below.
- Find good dog teachers. Find other, similarly-sized dogs that are socially savvy. If you talk to local dog trainers, they’ll probably be able to help you out. You don’t just want to find other rough-and-tumble dogs. You want to find some dogs who set boundaries and set them well.
- My own dog Barley, for example, isn’t very playful. But he’s polite. If another dog is bugging him, Barley doesn’t let it go on – nor does he start a fight. He barks or growls, gives the dog a bit of stink-eye, and then removes himself from the situation. If your dog is totally uncontrollable around other dogs, this is actually the sort of “dog teacher” your dog probably needs.
- Using a drag-line during playtime can also be super helpful. If your dog is starting to get out of hand, you can use the line (attached to a harness) to reel him in.
- Teach your dog to focus near other dogs. Right now, your dog totally loses his mind around other dogs. That’s ok. Work on some of that using the games described here – go to the dog park and hang out nearby, but don’t enter. Just work on teaching your dog to focus on your around other dogs. Ready-Set-Down and Look at That are both useful games here.
- Use hand targets to interrupt playtime. Hand targets are a super useful tool for any dog owner to use. Once your dog is able to think a bit more clearly around other dogs, you can start using hand targets to interrupt play. Try to interrupt play before it gets too crazy. Once your dog is at 100% excitement level, you’ll never get him to listen! Try to interrupt before she gets there. You can always use the drag-line for backup.
- Consider hiking or parallel walks instead of playtime. Keeping the dogs moving forward can really work wonders for reducing crazy play antics. As long as you’re keeping the dog’s feet moving through jogs, hikes, or parallel walks, you’ll likely see some improvement.
Training Games to Help Hypersocial Greeters
Finally, it’s helpful to teach your dog a few basic skills related to calmness, focus, and polite greetings. Meeting your dog’s needs, understanding their headspace, and managing their social life can all help.
That said, if your dog isn’t capable of politely ignoring a piece of kibble or a strange person, it’s unlikely that he’ll succeed around other pups.
I really like a modification of this protocol to help dogs calm down with other dogs.
- Basically, start with rewarding your dog for disengaging from the temptation. Practice first with a tossed treat on the ground (with your dog on a leash so they can’t reach it). When they look back at you, reward them!
- How long does it take for your dog to voluntarily disengage? Don’t call them – just wait. If it takes more than a couple seconds, the temptation may be too strong! Move a bit further away.
- Does your dog eat the food you offer? Do they chomp down super hard or eat really slowly? This also lets you know how distracted they are.
- See if your dog can respond to known cues next. If they can sit, down, and disengage from the temptation, you probably can move a bit closer.
The point here is to reward your dog heavily for disengaging from the temptation, keep that temptation at a manageable level, and improve your dog’s ability to calmly focus on you even when they want something badly. The video below helps explain this much better!
What I’ve described here is an overview – but it’s a start. You also will probably notice your dog “chilling out” a bit as she gets older – but don’t count on that. Aging can be frustratingly slow with some dogs – they act like silly puppies until they’re six!
The main thing is that right now, playing really rough with other dogs is “working” for your dog. It’s fun for her. So we’ve got to control the environment as much as possible so that your dog learns that other ways of play are fun, too.