How to calm an overexcited puppy

Puppies are bundles of energy – and cute ones at that – but it’s important to know why puppies get overexcited, what triggers these outbursts and how to calm a puppy down to make sure their behaviour is manageable, similar to knowing how to help an anxious dog. Understanding the psychology behind the behaviour will go a long way to enabling you to deal with the behaviour and bring them out of the hyper-aroused/vigilant/alert stage more quickly.

First and foremost, you need to understand that you are your dog’s best friend and whole world. Once you bring him home, whether it’s as a puppy or an older re-homed or rescue dog, and the bond between you is established, being excited is his way of communicating his pleasure at your presence – whether that’s you coming downstairs in the morning or walking through the door after work. For your dog, it’s like falling in love all over again with you and they only way they can express this is by showing you – sometimes in unacceptable ways and vocalising – to release that “I’m so pleased to see you” energy. Remember they cannot communicate in speech like humans or rationalise the same way.

Signs of over excitement in puppies

  • Barking
  • Wagging tail
  • Hugging
  • Stomach flip
  • Wiggling
  • Tongue hanging
  • Play bowing
  • Zoomies or running around the house
  • No impulse control

Peeing uncontrollably when the stimuli is in front of them – this is usually a problem that resolves as they mature, or they are exhibiting submissive urination, which typically happens when a dog feels shy, anxious or scared, or is recognising another dog’s hierarchy

What causes puppies to get over-excited?

Overstimulation

Puppies can get overexcited when there is a lot going on around them. Play parks are a prime example of this, particularly if there are a lot of small children running about and screaming or laughing. This is like being back with their litter siblings and they are desperate to join in.

Stress

Some puppies get overexcited when they are stressed – and this one is a hard one for a dog parent to grasp. It doesn’t seem logical that if your dog is stressed, that it be running about like a lunatic, chasing its tail, jumping up, nipping or panting like crazy, usually accompanied with whale eye (dilated pupils) and an inability to concentrate. All of these are displacement behaviours and your dog’s way of coping with the situation and releasing the feelings.

Your behaviour

Your behaviour can be a factor in your puppy’s overexcitement. Usually by bending down when the dog is exhibiting the excited behaviour and talking excitedly to your dog while giving direct eye contact. Not only are you adding to the behaviour, but you are also affirming it.

Excess energy

Excess energy can lead to hyperactive behaviour or overexcitement. The usual culprit is a processed diet (kibble) and lots of coloured treats (as opposed to natural dog treats), combined with a lack of environmental enrichment and exercise. There is so much contradicting information out there, that it can be difficult for dog owners to know if they are doing the right thing. For example, you’ve probably heard that you can only walk a puppy for five minutes for every month of their age. Try telling that to a husky or a working cocker spaniel on the wrong diet when it’s bouncing off your walls and destroying everything in sight.

I tend to use common sense when exercising young dogs – if you can exercise them on the lead and in a controlled way, while doing a bit of training and enrichment games, then they are less likely to hurt themselves jumping up or on and off furniture while zooming around to release the excess energy. I own large breeds and they grow exceptionally quickly and, although you have to be careful with their joints and growth plates, in 20 years of owning and breeding them, none have had any joint issues. I won’t let them climb stairs or jump in and out of cars or on sofas while growing, but I do walk them longer than five minutes per month of age and I do so on a flat surface, on a lead in a controlled way.

Conditioned behaviour

Your puppy’s overexcitement can be trained. For example, if every time you come home, your dog launches itself at you and you fuss it and entertain it, this is affirmation to your dog that this is a desirable behaviour. In the same way, you can tease your dog into overexcited behaviour by squeezing a ball and not letting them get it or blowing in their face – all this provokes a response in your dog. You may also laugh while looking directly at your dog, which your dog will see as as affirmation and think this behaviour is making you happy. However, the problems start to arise when your puppy is no longer a tiny ball of fluff but a six-month-old 50kg giant. It’s not so hilarious then, but it’s your own fault for teaching it.

How to calm a puppy down

The best way to calm a puppy down is to instil the correct behaviours from the beginning, but it’s never too late to start. If a puppy is nipping or mouthing, it’s good to have something to hand that you can put in his mouth. I would suggest carrying something your dog likes, such as a ball or one of the best dog toys, when you’re out, and have the same items to hand when you walk in the door before greeting your dog.

Avoid giving direct eye contact until they are calm. If they are jumping up, give the “off” command but still avoid eye contact, and continue walking through them to where you want to be as if they weren’t there. Only give your dog eye contact when the behaviour stops along with the “yes” command  for affirmation and a reward, which could be a stroke and a fuss, a treat or both.

Sometimes, in very young dogs you cannot redirect to work mode (such as setting them a “find it” task) until you get the calmer behaviour. Their lack of impulse control would make it almost impossible to respond to basic commands such as “sit”, which most people use, and this can actually be a trigger in itself.

Make sure you are not exacerbating the behaviour by engaging them when jumping and biting. Be consistent – always greet your dog in the same low-key way. If your dog jumps up and you greet it with enthusiasm then you have taught the dog this is acceptable behaviour, and he will do it to everyone he encounters – even more so when you use an excited voice. Consider how many times you’ve seen or met people on a walk who’ve said, “oh wow, look at your puppy its so cute, can I stroke it?” and they then talk in a ridiculous voice (we’ve all done it, too) and the puppy then jumps all over the walker. This is because it has learnt this from you as acceptable. I start teaching meet and greets in my puppy class from the outset, while showing owners the correct body language and methods to help teach the dog the right way.

If all of this fails, and your dog is approaching six months, has never had any training and is still snarling snapping biting and jumping uncontrollably, do not wait any longer and get in a reputable behaviourist before the behaviour escalates more going into the teenage phase and next fear period.

When to bath a puppy: how soon is too soon?

If you’re thinking about when to bath a puppy for the first time, the answer is often to use your common sense and the truth is it varies. As a breeder of English Mastiffs, I start washing them with a warm flannel and some dog shampoo diluted in a bowl when they start walking and rolling about. I avoid taking over from the mother, who in my case was cleaning them till they went out the door to new homes, but puppies do tend to be blissfully unaware of what they’ve been rolling when playing so can get pretty mucky.

Over-bathing can wash the oils and ruin the coats of certain hardier breeds. They have a coat for a reason – they are waterproof and some breeds originate in colder climates or are outdoor working breeds are double coated, too, so are not designed to be continually washed.

I bathe the mastiffs when they’re moulting and usually if they have trunked through filthy, muddy puddles or (worst case scenario) fox poo! My Irish Terrier puppy, Gladys, is quite unique – and from the minute I got her home she has been trying to (with some success) jump in my bath. She likes nothing more than to have a wash in warm water before being wrapped in a towel and falling fast asleep. However, I have had to teach her (and shut the bathroom door), not to get in my bath every day. She is a double-coated breed that requires hand stripping, so it would not be good for her skin or her coat to be bathed that often.

When can you bath a puppy?

For most puppies, unless they have rolled in something hideous or its autumn/winter and very muddy, I would tend to wait until the first fear period is over, which is between 8–11 weeks. At this stage, I suggest starting with an inch or two of water in a bath and gently spill the water over them with a cupped hand or a jug to get used to the process. You can get lick mats that stick to the bath (like this one on Amazon), which help to occupy them in a positive way while you begin the bathing process. Another method I use to help dogs get used to the feeling of warm water is to get a warm damp flannel and start wiping them down once or twice a week during that first fear period of 8-11 weeks.

Once you have bathed the puppy once or twice in a few inches of water with a jug, you can start putting on the shower at a low pressure and gently use it around their tummy and legs in the first instance to desensitise them to the feeling. I then gradually work my way up and around the puppy over two to three sessions. Throughout this process, rewarding your puppy at various points when they are coping, listening and getting used to the procedure. It’s very important that a dog feels secure during the bathing process so make sure that it is not slippery. Use a rubber mat in the bath (like this one on Amazon) and potentially the floor, too, when you lift them out to dry, and hold them securely as you possibly can while bathing. Having an assistant will help with this – and if you’re unsure, check out our tips for how to wash a dog.

How to bath a puppy: tips

I am very fortunate to work with a close group of professionals in many dog spheres and the lady I trust above all others to bathe, groom and strip my dogs is Kate Ball, owner of Doggie Styles Professional Grooming in Headcorn, Kent. She also helps with lots of my clients’ dogs. Here are her top tips for bathing and grooming your pups:

Bath at home initially, rather than in a strange environment.

Use lots of praise but don’t make it a game – especially the drying part when they want to get the zoomies and rub against everything.

Use one of the best puppy shampoos that is gentle on the skin and coat as their coats change dramatically as they mature.

If you have a long-haired dog, brush from head-to-toe after the bath and during drying.

Use only a towel on short- and smooth-coated breeds. On the longer haired breeds, use a handheld hairdryer on a warm setting while brushing through at the same time. Again, make this a positive experience by including enrichment toys and lick mats. You can start getting your puppy used to a hairdryer the minute you get it home every time you dry your own hair. Begin with letting them get used to the sound and watching you, then lower the speed and the temperature and run it over them once or twice and reward to aid desensitisation.

Always rinse thoroughly.

Use one of the best conditioning shampoos on the longer coated breeds to help with any tangles. Make sure the bath and the drying area are non-slip.

Make sure you are prepared. Have the grooming brushes, dog shampoo, towels, enrichment toys and treats all set up ready so you are not fishing around for things and adding stress. Have the non-slip mats in place and the hairdryer outside ready. It is a good idea to just give them a little break before using the hairdryer to have a drink and a treat.

Book your dog in for a puppy grooming experience once you’ve taken some of these steps to introduce bathing.