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How do I stop my dog nipping me when he’s overexcited?

There are two approaches to the problem of over-excitement and the subsequent problem behaviours in our dogs – either avoid the dogs getting over-excited in the first place, or train them whilst they are very excited so they learn to respond regardless of the situation.

My favourite is the latter, for the simple reason that for some dogs, general day to day living can be very exciting – your family coming downstairs in the morning, the arrival of your breakfast dish, going out for a walk.. I’m sure you can think of other occasions when your dog gets a bit giddy and over-aroused!

Now for some dogs, the reason that simple, everyday events have them overexcited is due to other factors that might need looking at in addition to training. For example:

  • Diet – quality and levels of protein
  • Stress – addressing stress levels may be necessary before approaching it from a training angle
  • Lack of routine – the novelty of events can create too much excitement, developing a better routine can help dogs feel calmer

First off, what characterises our dogs overexcitement? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Barking
  • Nipping
  • Rushing around
  • Jumping up

Most people’s first question to me is ‘How can I stop…’ whatever the troublesome behaviour is. However training science dictates that if I want to stop something happening, I need to use some sort of punishment or aversive in order to achieve that. And depending on the dog, you may have to escalate the punishment or threat – not a pretty picture, and not something I want to be involved in if I can help it!

What training science also tells us is this:

Reinforcement (something the dog finds rewarding)
builds behaviour

By which I mean, if we train the dog to DO something that is incompatible with the behaviour we don’t like such as the examples above, we can avoid having to STOP them doing it.

So instead of approaching it from the negative angle of STOPPING something, lets think about what we could train the dog to DO instead.

  1. How about rewarding the dog who gets excited when visitors arrive, for waiting quietly and calmly on their dog bed?
  2. Or rewarding the dog who jumps up with excitement when their lead is put on, for sitting patiently?
  3. What about teaching the dog who likes to nip family members because they’re excited to see them when they arrive home, to bring them a toy to play with instead?

When I’m approaching a dog training dilemma, I like to have this quote in my head:

“Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds.”
Norman Vincent Peale

I think each of the dogs we own will teach us a bit more about how dogs learn and give us a deeper understanding of how to live a happy and fulfilled life with our canine family members. I know I’m grateful for every single seed my dogs have ever given me 🙂

If you’re struggling to find a solution to a dog-related challenge, leave me a note in the comments below – two heads are invariably better than one!

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