Help! My dog is out of control!

Why is my dog out of control?

When someone tells me “Help! My dog is out of control!” he’s usually concerned about a specific issue – aggression around other dogs, possessiveness or nonstop energy!

These are problems that should be addressed, but usually the owner fails to look at the big picture. If a dog is having “problems,” it’s often related to a lack of exercise (physical, mental and emotional) as well as a failure on the owner’s part to prevent situations that cause the problem.

Here are some examples:

1. Physical exercise for all energy levels

I see so many dogs “wound up” with energy, and I’m sure you do too. I wish every dog could go for at least an hour walk every single day. That would erase so many “behavioral” problems.

See my post: Why I favor exercise over training.

‘Lazy’ dogs need exercise, too

Even lower energy dogs will have behavioral problems due to pent-up energy. How many people say things like “He’s so good in the house, but outside he’s just crazy!” Or, “He’s so good until someone comes to the door, then he’s uncontrollable!”

These types of problems can be related to a lack of exercise.

Help! My dog is out of control!

My senior mutt Ace is physically lazy. This mutt can sleep for at least 20 hours out of every 24 if I let him. However, he can also go from a very calm state of mind to a very excited state in about one second. Because of this, I know it’s still important to provide my dog with a daily walk. If he does not get several walks per week, then all that hidden energy will appear at the wrong time such as when we drive to a park and he starts whining and howling.

Even though my dog does not appear to be high energy, he will still have an easier time remaining calm during “exciting” situations if I consistently exercise him.

With my younger dog Remy, this is even more important!

How much exercise?

Most people will say they do walk their dogs. But if you ask how far, they will say things like “oh, about a mile” or “I take him out for four potty breaks around the block.”

And then of course some of us just admit we don’t walk our dogs enough.

But dogs are made to move! They adapt to our lifestyles, but dogs really need to walk and run! If you think about each breed, pretty much every single one was bred for something active – herding, pulling, retrieving, tracking, chasing pests, hunting, guarding, flushing, etc.

A one-mile daily walk is just not going to cut it for most dogs, not if your goal is to eliminate “behavioral” issues.

What about small dogs?

Elli the Pom mix needs lots of exercise!

Most small dogs are all able to walk more than a mile per day, even toy breeds like Chihuahuas and mini dachshunds. I fostered a Pomeranian cross that ran 2 miles along my bike several days per week. Small dogs need lots of exercise, too. Sometimes even more than the bigger guys!

How to exercise a dog

Try running with your dog, biking, rollerblading or buying him a dog backpack to wear on walks. Visiting the dog park is also a good way to drain a dog’s physical energy, but please take him for a walk first. You could also hire a dog walker.

2. Mental exercise – working for food

If your dog is anxious all the time – appearing stressed, bored or obsessive – give him something to do with his mind! You’d be amazed by how many “problems” would simply vanish if people gave their dogs more mental challenges.

Using food to create a job for your dog

One of the worst things you can do for most dogs is to leave food out all the time.

Instead, use food as a reward for the good work your dog does throughout the day. By teaching your dog to work for his food, you are teaching him to focus on you and to practice self control. He will get the satisfaction of solving a problem and learning to feel calm.

You could break your dog’s meals into small portions and reward him after short training sessions where you practice commands – sit, down, stay, come, heel, shake, speak.

Another way to help your dog work for his food is to give him pieces of food whenever he shows good behavior on a walk. When he walks at your side or on a loose leash, give him food. When he looks at you instead of another dog, reward him with food. Add a command to this exercise – “watch!” – so you can eventually get your dog to make eye contact in any situation.

You should always have food handy whenever you are around your dog’s “problem areas,” whether it’s when he’s tied in the yard, when you ride in the car or visit the vet, etc. Reward your dog whenever you see him displaying good behavior. Problems like lunging after other dogs, chasing squirrels or barking at cars will decrease.

Food-dispensing toys

Food-dispensing toys like Kongs or puzzle toys (aff link) work really well for giving dogs an extra job. When a dog is fed this way instead of from a bowl, the dog must work to get the food. Not only does this give the dog something to do if he’s home alone, but it helps him use his mind and body to solve a problem. This helps drain the dog of pent-up mental energy and rewards him for his hard work.

Even if your dog will not work on puzzle toys once he’s already anxious, you should still use these types of toys when he’s calm. This will drain some of his pent-up mental energy, leaving him calmer when more stressful situations occur. I like the Nina Ottosson puzzle toys (below) but there are lots of options.

Ideally, you should put all your dogs meals in these types of toys instead of in bowls. It does take extra time, though, so try starting with one meal per week. There’s a great post on this here.

Dog puzzle toy

What if your dog isn’t interested in food?

Whenever I write about making a dog work for his food, someone always says “But my dog won’t accept treats on walks” or “My dog is not interested in Kongs.”

That’s because he’s not hungry. He’s used to receiving a free bowl of food every morning. Stop feeding him from a bowl or at least decrease the amount. That way he’ll be hungry and ready to work for food.

Most dogs in American could stand to lose several pounds. Let’s remember that dogs are animals and they will eat if they are hungry. As long as they are healthy, they will not starve themselves.

If your dog still seems uninterested in working for his food even after he’s missed a few meals, try mixing the food with pieces of real meat, cheese, jerky treats, canned food or whatever else your dog likes. Just make sure if you increase these foods, you decrease the kibble. You don’t want an obese dog.

Don’t feel sorry for your dog if he’s not interested in working for his food at first. He will eat when he’s ready to work. Remember how bored, anxious, frustrated or obsessive he is? That’s because he needs a job! Be patient, and keep looking for ways to challenge and reward your dog with food.

Other mental challenges

Try visiting a new place several times per week, walking in new environments, taking an agility or obedience class or having your wear a dog backpack. Sometimes the simplest mental challenge is to expose your dog to new sights, sounds and smells every day.

Black lab mix sitting outside in a field with a blue sky

3. Emotional energy and playing tug

I’ve taken into account the emotional energy of dogs ever since I was introduced to “natural dog trainers” Kevin Behan and Neil Sattin, although I am still learning. You can read more about this concept in my post on natural dog training.

An effective way to help rid dogs of deep emotional energy (such as stress or frustration) is to play tug of war every day. Ace has a lot of emotional energy, and playing tug really helps him drain that energy. We typically play for about five minutes per day.

Ace the lazy black lab mix lying on his bed

If your dog is reactive on a leash, you could try offering him a rope toy to tug on when you see other dogs. This will give him a constructive way to drain his frustration, while drawing his attention to you and away from the other dog.

4. Prevention!

Dog owners highly underestimate prevention. Prevention could be doing a quick U-turn when you see an approaching dog on a walk to prevent lunging. It could be carrying jerky treats to get your dog’s attention and prevent whining. It could be not leaving your dog outside unattended in order to prevent barking. It could be leaving him in a kennel when he’s home alone to prevent peeing on the floor or chewing shoes.

Senior black lab for adoption in Fargo ND

My former foster dog Dora barked when she saw other dogs in the yard, so I prevented this by keeping the curtains closed.

I know my dog Ace is well behaved 99 percent of the time because I consciously prevent him from failing. I know how to push his limits just enough so he will grow and be successful.

For example, if two people play catch and Ace is not allowed to run back and forth between them, he will absolutely freak out.

So, to prevent him from barking, I either sit with him and get him to focus on me (by using food), or I put him in the house where he is able to calm down. I know where my dog needs to be in order to relax, yet remain challenged without failing.

Lying in the yard barking his head off, howling, yipping and flinging foamy drool everywhere would be failing 🙂

Lying quietly on his bed in the living room where he can still see us through the window would be success. Lying quietly out of sight in his kennel with a Kong would also be success. Then we slowly build from there.

Will your dog get better?

If you provide your dog with more than enough exercise and mental challenges while also practicing prevention, I’m guessing your “out of control” dog will suddenly be much easier to manage.

Do you have any examples of how increased exercise or prevention helped your dog?

Help! My dog is out of control!

31 thoughts on “Help! My dog is out of control!”

  1. Very good point. I can see how lack of exercise could be the real issue. However, I don’t think that is the case with my dogs. My Labrador Maya gets so excited when she sees another dog because she wants to go say hi and play. My Aussie/BC Pierson just doesn’t like other dogs. He really gets out of control. But I can see how taking my dogs for walks more than once a day might help desensitize them to other dogs that are also out walking.

    1. Dawn, I don’t think she’s saying that exercise will solve all your dog’s problems. It’s a piece of the puzzle but it sounds like your dogs need some training on top of exercise needs.

      1. I agree, Ty. Training is definitely an issue. The biggest hurdle is getting another person with another dog to work with me regularly. While my dogs go for a walk every day, they do not see another dog every day. So I have trouble with consistency. I could hire a dog trainer to come every single day for several weeks (or more) but that would get exceedingly expensive. Lately, I’ve been walking them separately so that I can concentrate on them individually. Any other tips?

        1. It’s all about having the right tools, the right training techniques, and some consistency. For the most part a dog who is excited to see other dogs on walks can be solved within a day or two. An aggressive dog may take more time but you really don’t need someone every day to come by. You need to find the right techniques for your dog and apply them every time you see other dogs. You could see very quick results that way.

          1. Really? I sure would like to know what this training technique is that only takes a couple of days for the excited dog. Consistency is easy since she goes walking daily. I feel like I’ve tried everything, including a couple of dog trainers… not all at once, of course. email me. Understand that I have had dogs my entire life and do very well at training in general. So I know all about consistency, positive reinforcement, clicker, etc. But teaching proper leash-walking habits is my weakness.

          2. Hey, Ty. I checked out your site (and even emailed you but you haven’t replied back to me) and there is nothing on your site to indicate any special techniques that I am overlooking. I apply leadership and obedience with my dogs very well. Maya & Pierson are great at everything except behaving on a walk when other dogs are around. The one thing on your site that you mentioned was a special training collar. What sort of collar would that be? I’ve tried the Gentle Leader to no avail.

          3. Hi, Lindsay. Is your recent comment in response to my question to Ty about the type of training collar he is talking about? Is an e-collar the same as an electronic shock collar? If he’s talking about a shock collar, no thank you. I’ve seen what that has done to some dogs and I’d prefer not to do that to my ever-loving Maya. If I can’t keep her from going crazy when she sees another dog by giving her plenty of exercise as you suggested, using positive reinforcement training, non-physical leadership exercises, and consistency, then I will just have to keep working at it. Thanks Lindsay! :0)

          4. Ty will have to speak for himself as far as the tools he would recommend, but yes I was referring to a shock collar. If you are not comfortable with one, then you should not use one, but I encourage you to be open to the idea if you are not seeing progress with other methods.

        1. I think the key is to slowly push their limits while remaining successful. So, walking them separately is a good idea when it’s reasonable (for time, etc.). Every dog is different, but when I’m walking an excited or leash-aggressive dog, I prefer to get to that point where we see the other dog but we are not close enough to trigger a reaction. That distance is different for each dog – could be several feet away, several yards, etc. Then I reward the dog for calm behavior either with treats if the dog will accept treats or by getting closer to the dog (if that’s what the dog wants).

          If the dog reacts out of fear, I do a U-turn and move away but only once the dog is calm. That way I’m rewarding the calm behavior.

          Neighborhood dogs that bark from behind fences are a great training tool, by the way 🙂

    2. Walking the dogs separately at this stage is your best bet. Be sure it is a Structured walk- which means dog heels by your side, no sniffing, no marking, sit when stopped, release word to potty (I use BREAK), then right back into structured walk. Get a training collar if you need one to achieve this. I would train PLACE command- great videos on You Tube for this. I also tread mill train all my dogs. You could try posting on social media or local paper looking for someone to walk their dogs with you a few times a week.

  2. This is a great article. I always tell people to look at behavior problems as if they were a disease. A disease has a root cause with symptoms. Most people just want a quick treatment for the symptoms (jumping, hyperactivity, destruction, etc.) but they ignore the root cause (physical and mental exercise, prevention, structure, rules, etc.)

    Treating any disease by just going after symptoms doesn’t tend to work very well and it doesn’t work very well with dogs, either.

  3. Today was a big one. CV has D.O.G. and I have Belle for the past two days. Belle’s been coming to work with me and getting a great walk during lunch! Today with a happy voice on my part we were able to walk past dogs playing in the park without the usual lunging and whining, still panting and pulling on the lead, but definitely better then if we hadn’t had a good walk! Thanks for the advice on mental energy drain with the tug of war, I’ve been trying to figure out a good mental drain as well as physical.

    Took both dogs camping last week. And it was great to see how well Belle did off lead. I still had her on lead for late night and early morning human potty runs but otherwise, she came when called, obeyed all commands and was pleasant to curl up with on the bunk on a windy day!

    Thanks for the great posts! Always making me think of new and different things!

  4. That’s so good to hear! Congrats!

    We are taking Ace to our favorite camping spot this weekend, just for a day trip. He will get to be off leash, too. Can’t wait!

  5. Why is my dog so out of control she breaks everything in the house and now she is chewing up my walls leaving holes in them and very aggressive toward other people that come near me or try to touch her. She bites my clothes all up and pees on the bed. When I leave my house I come back to a mess I don’t know what to do I don’t wanna give her away because they might put her down 🙁

    1. Is she kennel trained? I would definitely leave her in a kennel when alone. Are you able to hire a professional trainer to help show you some general tips? Also, if you aren’t already walking her at least an hour a day, I would start.

  6. I have an almost 3 year old husky and I run him 6 days a week (we run at a decent pace too-8 min mile or less). I usually run anywhere from 20-30 miles a week. When the weather is decent or if I’m training for a run, I’ll run up to 12 miles in one day with him. In the house, he’s fine but outside, he’s sometimes hard to play with because he’s so crazy and forget about taking him anywhere or getting him to listen when company comes over. Clearly he’s getting exercise, could he need more? What else could be the culprit?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Jess. That’s great that you are exercising him regularly! He is a lucky dog! It sounds like he needs some work on general obedience. I recommend taking him to some obedience classes if you haven’t already. Work on the basics – sit, down, stay, heel, come and slowly add more and more distractions.

  7. I have a 15 month old female boarder collie. Our second. She kennels well. Her safe place and often head to it by herself. She is barking ing all the time when left off leash. One animal control notice already. She is difficult. We took her to one training and she was exhausted. But can not afford a trainer. She was better and it helped me to understand her a bit better. She does not really know how to play. She will play tug but nothing more really. She jumps hits me in back bites my ankles ans is protective and on the drop of a dime will turn ugly toward our other dogs. I now keep her on leash while in house. I do try to walk her about 30 minutes a day. Not doing much better every repetitious sound elevates her state. She never settles. Please help I don’t want to re home her that is not what I got her for and I took her because I knew she would be taken to the pound.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That’s great that she likes to be in her kennel. You can keep using that as her safe place.

      Gosh, she does sound like a challenge. Just brainstorming some ways to help work her mind and body … How about working on lots of basic training in the house and outside like sit, down, heel, etc.? Or, playing “find it” in the house where you hide treats for her to find under boxes, etc.

      I would definitely keep up with her walks for at least 30 minutes a day, more if you can. A dog backpack may help her burn some more energy and give her a job. You can get a fairly cheap one at Petco or PetSmart for around $20. I’d also recommend lots of treat-dispensing, puzzle toys like Kongs and such.

  8. Thank you any help would be wonderful. She is a high drive dog and probably needed to be working cattle. She will not really play ball, she would rather watch the ball bounce. When she was younger we put her out with our older boarder collie and our daughters pup she would start to interact but then she would run off to sit and just watch. We had to teach her to play and she still has very few things that she wil do to play. She does love tug but still does not respect the no teeth on humans. We have to stop and start again to keep things calm. Any other ideas with a dog like her would be great. I am having to learn along with her. Many mistakes on my part

  9. Your ideas have been helpful. I am continuing to read on your site. I think our Molly is 80% more like a normal 15 month old pup. She still has work to go with her barking issue, but I am trying not to allow that situation to happen. Don’t quite understand the push. Yet I think that will be something down the road. She already has a problem with jumping and punching me with her front paws when she is elevated. That to is better Thank you for encouraging help. It has helped so much.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So glad I’ve been able to help in some small way! That’s great news that you are seeing some progress. Some days will be better than others, I’m sure. It’s never a straight road.

  10. Do you recommend a puzzle toy for a very strong jawed Golden Retriever? Except for the Kong toys, my goldie has destroyed everything else in her path. She loves to shred everything she can! But she loves puzzles (for the few days they last) and I wish I could find one that can stand up to her strength. Can you help me?

  11. We have a 3yo black lab & a 5yo GSP mix. We recently moved next door to our 2 yo granddaughter. She comes over every afternoon after day care. Our dogs are really out of control when she is here. The GSP in constantly trying to lick her. She runs, and they run and she goes flying. She has to be carried to enter our house or they will knock her over. I have tried walking them before she arrives, playing fetch with them to tire them out, wearing a treat pouch and “clicking” them for lying at my feet when she is here. That works but requires constant vigilance as they are constantly getting up. (Have been working on “stay” but not very successfully.)I am getting worn out! They are big dogs with long tails that are constantly wagging and whacking her in the head! I think part of my training problem is that there are 2 of them and it is very hard to work with them separately because the other one is going nuts if they are separated. We recently moved from another state and fostered dogs for a rescue group (over 30 in a year)and never had these control problems around our fosters. My granddaughter makes my dogs act crazy! Anybody have any suggestions?

    1. I’d train PLACE command, I use a dog cot. Dogs are trained to stay on their cots, no barking, whining, or getting off without permission. You could use a tie back at first ( leash tied to a very solid object) to help the dogs. Lots of free videos on You Tube showing how to train this behavior. Once they learn this you can work on duration and distractions. My ACD will lie quietly on his cot with distractions for several hours at his stage of training.

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