Can dogs have ADHD?

Doggie Dialogues
By Doris Dressler

  Doris Dressler

With so many children and adults diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), did you ever wonder if your hyperactive dog could have ADHD?

Dogs can have ADHD but this diagnosis is rare. The reality is dogs with an overabundance of energy simply require more exercise. These dogs can also benefit from training, management and being given a job to do.

A tired dog is a good dog
Leaving your dog in the backyard does not provide sufficient exercise. Most dogs minimally require a daily one-hour walk.

  • If your dog is very energetic, consider having him wear a weighted-down backpack on walks. In addition to tiring him out, this will also teach him to focus on his job (more about that later) of carrying a backpack.
  • If you don’t have time for a walk, tire your dog out with a game of tennis ball chase or Frisbee.
  • If you have access to water, take your dog swimming.
  • Line up doggie play dates in your yard or at the dog park.
  • Play indoor games with your dog like tug or hide-and-seek; toss your dog’s favorite toy down the stairs and have him run up and down the stairs to retrieve it.

Be sure to formalize “crazy time.” Your dog needs the opportunity to let off steam in an acceptable fashion. Train your dog to chase bubbles or play tag and chase around the house. And don’t forget that mental stimulation (training) can be just as tiring as physical stimulation.

Ignore hyper behavior and reward calm behavior. Remember yelling or pushing your dog away can actually make the hyper behavior worse; even a negative response is a reaction and can reinforce the undesirable behavior. The best thing to do is turn away from your dog; no eye contact, no touching, no talking.

  • Praise your dog (calmly) and acknowledge and reward him when he is quiet and still.
  • Dogs synchronize with our emotions: If you remain calm, your dog will pick up on this and become calmer as well.
  • Practice obedience cues with your dog throughout the day. Redirect undesirable behavior with a sit or down cue. If your dog is sitting, he can’t be tearing around the living room, leaping on the furniture, running out the front door or jumping on guests.
  • Other good obedience cues that reinforce impulse control include touch, leave it, watch me and wait.
Doggie Dialogues
Drop responds to the touch cue. The touch cue (nose touching hands) encourages Drop to focus on his handler and not his surroundings. Photo by Doris Dressler

Set your dog up to succeed by controlling the environment.

  • Keep the trash can out of reach (or get one with a lid).
  • Leash your dog before answering the door.
  • Put items away that you don’t want your dog to grab.
  • Close off rooms the dog doesn’t need to access.
  • Don’t be afraid to use a crate.
  • Children running through the house screaming and waving their arms will escalate your dog’s level of excitement. Keep your dog calm by securing him in another room, taking him for a walk or taking him to doggie daycare.
  • The arrival of guests also can raise your dog’s arousal level. Put your dog in another room or on the deck and wait until all your guests have arrived and are settled in. Let your dog into the room (preferably with a chew toy in his mouth to keep his mouth busy and on leash, if necessary) and ask your guests to ignore the dog. If the atmosphere is calm, your dog will remain calm as well.
  • If your dog is continually left alone for long periods of time, he will, in all likelihood, exhibit hyperactivity when his human returns home. Consider hiring a dog walker, in-home pet sitter or taking your dog to doggie daycare to keep your dog company.

Give your dog a job to do
What exactly does it mean to give your dog a job to do?

Many high-energy dogs were bred to do specific jobs, such as herding or retrieving. Giving your dog a job to do doesn’t mean you should send your dog out to herd sheep or retrieve ducks (though it would be great if you could arrange it).

What this means is finding something else for your dog to do to burn off physical and mental energy. Ask your dog to do something he enjoys that will also result in him earning things of value, such as treats, belly rubs, walks or playing a rousing game of fetch.

  • Our dog has been taught to deliver messages carried in a pouch from my downstairs office to my husband’s upstairs office. Successful delivery of a message results in a food reward.
  • Our prior dog was taught to pick up laundry (that I pointed to) off the floor and hand it to me so I could load the washing machine.
  • Teach your dog to retrieve the newspaper … if you are fortunate enough to get one delivered.
  • Let your dog help carry grocery bags from your car to the kitchen.
  • Instead of having family members wake up to a noisy alarm clock, teach your dog to jump into bed and do the honors instead.

You can both also “go to work” and attend agility, lure coursing, herding, Treibball or Noseworks classes. Be creative; your dog will love you for it.

Happy training!



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