How to Teach Your Excited Dog to Calm Down

Does your dog constantly jump on you? Is he rambunctious in the house? Does he plow over the kids? Does he stubbornly mouth you when he wants you to play with him? Does it seem he can scarcely contain himself? Below are a few guidelines on teaching your overly-excited dog to calm down.

  • Don't reward excited behavior. When your dog jumps on you, try waiting for him to calm down. Cross your arms and look away from him. Sooner or later, he probably will sit down. When he does, bend down to pet him. If he jumps up again (and he probably will), ignore him again. Your dog should soon piece together that you will only pet him when he has "four on the floor." If you are consistent in this practice and NEVER pet your dog or pay him attention when he is jumping on you, he most likely will learn that calm behavior gets your attention -- and rowdiness does not. Dogs do what works.
  • Use contextual learning. Dogs are capable of learning that things are appropriate in some contexts but not in others. If you only play rowdy games with your dog outside, he can learn that outside is the acceptable place for rowdy behavior. Likewise, when your dog is inside, do not play with him and always interact calmly and gently with him. This concept is similar to behavior I've seen in some service dogs -- when the vest goes on, the calmness kicks in. (Note: I play with my dog in the house frequently -- but she doesn't have a general rowdiness problem. This point is primarily for dogs that seem to be out-of-control.)
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! This is the first thing I recommend to people with rowdy dogs. With some breeds, the customary two walks a day isn't good enough. Border Collies come to mind. It is unreasonable to expect a dog to be calm when they are brimming over with physical and mental energy. If you can handle your dog while riding a bike, you can exhaust him more quickly than you can by walking. Fenced-in dog parks are also a great venue for unbridled rowdiness (i.e. exercise). If your dog is a fetch-crazed beast, fifteen minutes of you throwing a tennis ball for him can work wonders too.
  • Be a good leader. With certain dogs, a portion of the rowdiness can be linked to a lack of leadership on your part. Dogs who see themselves as leaders are often pushy (which can come off as rowdiness). Here are some leadership principles you can use to subdue pushy behavior.
  • Obedience. Sometimes, we just need our dogs to lay down and be still. Assuming we are doing a good job of living by the above guidelines, teaching the dog to go lay on his bed on cue can often calm things down temporarily. (Remember the above point on contextual learning: Never play with the dog while he is on his bed.)