If you have ever thought, “Can dogs have ADHD,” you wouldn’t be alone. It is entirely possible for dogs to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) because dogs and people have a similar brain composition. ADHD is marked by distractibility and hyperactivity. Some people may think these traits are normal for the breed of their pet and companion. It isn’t always the case.
Dog owners can improve the quality of time they spend with their dog by understanding what is a normal amount of energy and what is considered extreme. A great dog trainer will help evaluate the breed, determine normal behaviors, and help develop a path to overcome all unwanted behavior. Veterinarians and professional dog behaviorists (aka canine mental health professionals) can also step in to assist in the evaluation and treatment plan helping dogs overcome ADHD.
Defining Normal Behavior in Dogs
Dogs are a fun-loving companion for families of all sizes. They are both protector and companion, but like their human counterparts, there are no two dogs alike. Some dogs naturally have a lot of energy while other dogs will lounge around all day without a care in the world. This is based on the dog breed, personality, and potential mental health issues.
Before comparing your dog to the neighbor’s dog, make sure to understand the differences and similarities between breeds. All dogs have a general need for companionship whether they seek that from a human or another pet. As descendants of wolves, dogs are pack animals and need other dogs (or humans) to be emotionally and mentally healthy.
Because of a desire for attention often mixed with a high metabolic rate, it isn’t uncommon for a dog to get hyperactive after being home alone for long periods of time. Dogs have a similar sense of excitement that humans do in anticipation of seeing a loved one. When dogs are left alone for extended periods of time, they will seek mental stimulation to alleviate boredom leading to unwanted behavior.
Normal, non-ADHD unwanted behavior from a bored dog includes:
These are just a few of the ways a dog may seek mental stimulation and energy releases. But, they don’t necessarily indicate a major underlying condition. With a little attention, training, and some toys, these behaviors are often remedied.
What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
The term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is most commonly heard when discussing a condition thousands of children are diagnosed with every year. Though rare, some animals including canine species develop ADHD symptoms.
Definition of ADHD
ADHD is a neurological disorder in the brain that causes hyperactivity, restlessness, and an inability to stop moving. People and animals with ADHD are often described as the Energizer Bunny that just keeps going and going. Those with ADHD lack the ability to focus thoughts into actions and constantly bounce from one thing to another often never completing any one given task.
Symptoms of ADHD in Dogs
ADHD in dogs manifests many of the same traits as ADHD in human counterparts. Dogs with ADHD are extremely restless, hyperactive, easily startled by noises, or just seem out of control. Even with adequate exercise, attention, and mental stimulation, ADHD dogs can’t calm down or relax. Some dogs have trouble sleeping or only sleep for brief periods of time.
Behavioral Issues Associated with ADHD
If your pet has ADHD, his hyperactivity and energy levels will not always be exhausted with exercise. Essentially, he may not feel tired or mentally satisfied with normal activities. Most puppies and dogs will play and then nap. Dogs with ADHD might not nap but instead seek more stimulation and become destructive. For pet owners dealing with ADHD dogs, all the exercise and love in the world may not stop the chewing, digging, barking, and nagging.
Interacting with People and Other Dogs
Dogs with high-energy, ADHD, or hyperactive behavior pose a challenge for dog owners, especially if they aren’t well trained at being dog trainers. Let’s put it this way, even great professional trainers can have trouble with some dogs that are smart and dealing with ADHD. It often becomes a test of wills to see who will cave; the inexperienced dog owner often gets frustrated and caves first with inconsistent training.
Canines with this condition known as hyperkinesis, a disorder causing hyperactivity can actually pose a danger to young children or vulnerable family members such as senior citizens. Hyperkinesis dogs don’t mean harm or injury but simply can’t control their urge to jump, sprint, and frenzie around the house and people.
When an ADHD pet gets around other dogs, their desire to play and expend energy can result in behavior that puts other animals into a defensive posture. Dogs with attention disorders and hyperactivity tend to be more skittish around loud noises and new environments. Introducing new animals without a good plan isn’t always the best idea to keep unwanted behaviors down.
High Energy Dog Breeds
Specific dog breeds are known to have a lot of energy as their natural pace but aren’t necessarily classified as hyperactive. With the proper training, exercise, and attention these dogs become great work dogs, companions, and guardians for families raising children.
Some of the most common breeds considered high-energy include:
- Golden Retriever
- Belgian Malinois
- Siberian Husky
- Border Collie
- Russell Terrier
- Australian Shepherd
- Bull Terrier Breeds
Consider a couple of examples. Border Collie’s are herding dogs with naturally high-energy levels that are also prone to ADHD. Basset Hounds, on the other hand, are usually more likely to be a big lump on a log waiting for their next meal.
When looking to get a new puppy, keep in mind how much exercise and attention you can give them. If you live in a small home and don’t have much space for a puppy to run, consider getting a lower energy breed that fits your home and lifestyle.
On the other hand, a higher energy puppy can give you a lifelong exercise partner. Their activity level will help keep you active and they offer a high level of companionship depending on the breed selected. Knowing the environment they are coming home to is key to keeping everyone in the family happy.
Causes of ADHD or Hyperactivity in Dogs
Dog ADHD is caused by genetics, exposure to lead, or malnutrition. Dog owners should always make sure to work with veterinarians to find the underlying cause of ADHD to help find the best solution.
- Genetics: ADHD is a genetic condition inherited from a canine’s parents. So some dogs are more prone to having the disorder depending on their breed compared to other dogs. When getting a new dog, it helps to visit with the dog parents if possible to see their temperament, talk the dog breeder, and get as much information about the new puppy as possible. This isn’t always possible, especially when adopting so researching the breed is the next best things.
- Exposure to Lead / Lead Poisoning: High lead exposure is another source of ADHD in dogs. Exposure to a puppy increases later behavioral issues. Lead sources can be found in chipped paint or items dogs chew on. Be sure to clean up any paint right away and don’t allow your dog to chew on things unless it’s his designated dog toys.
- Malnutrition: Poor nutrition also plays a role in hyperactivity and worsens ADHD symptoms. Some preservatives, gluten, and artificial flavors can exacerbate hyperactive behavior in animals. Maintaining a healthy diet and buying high-quality dog foods will keep your pet healthier.
Diagnosing ADHD in Dogs
If you think your dog might have ADHD, the next step you need to take is contacting your veterinarian. Make an appointment with your vet to discuss any concerns and have the dog tested. Keep a log about your pet’s behavior for the days or weeks leading up to the appointment. This helps the vet determine what is normal behavior and what may fall on the ADHD spectrum.
Things you should have at your visit are:
- List of concerning behaviors
- Things the puppy likes to chew on
- Medications or supplements the dog takes
- Activity schedule
- Feeding schedule
- Diet of the pet
- Anything else relevant to your concern of ADHD
Blood panels and behavioral tests can confirm any suspicions of ADHD or may determine there is a different issue at hand. The specific testing procedure for ADHD in dogs consists of administering a small dose of stimulants to the dog followed by observation for reactions. This should only be done under the supervision of your vet.
After the stimulant has been administered, the dog’s behavior will be monitored. His breathing, heart rate, and energy level will be observed. If medication drops these levels, the dog likely has ADHD and will develop a plan to help address it.
My Pet Has ADHD, What Now?
If a veterinarian confirms that your puppy has ADHD, it’s time to make an action plan to help your dog become the household pet you’ve always wanted him to be. Dogs with ADHD can be difficult to train but dog training can be an integral part of dealing with unwanted behavior. Helping your dog learn basic obedience skills such as sit, stay, come, and even the word no will give him direction as to what is okay behavior in the home. It will likely take longer for simple obedience commands to be remembered but give your dog time.
Behavioral training also gives a foundation for other activities you can do with your dog to wear him out and burn that energy off and help him learn to focus. Most dogs start training for basic commands and then move on to agility work, doggy good samaritan classes, herding classes, and sniff school for scent dogs. Some of these advanced classes can lead to work training for your dog, giving him a sense of fulfillment and positive reinforcement from you.
Almost every dog breed has work traits whether they are to assist with hunting, herding, or guarding. Find what your dog is naturally inclined to love to simplify the training process.
Hunting dogs include retrievers and spaniels that love to fetch things and bring them to you. Hound dogs and beagles are hunting dogs that find the animal and do well with sniff school. Some terriers were even bred to go down into rabbit holes giving them an edge in the chutes of an agility course.
Herding dogs such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds love to run. If you don’t have them in herding school or agility class where their speed and quick turns are awe-inspiring, let them run alongside you while biking.
While it is possible to train an ADHD dog to be a service dog, it will be very difficult. Most service dogs are picked from the litter because of their naturally relaxed nature. This can go against the grain of what a hyperactive dog naturally wants to do.
Training your hyperactive dog for sports or fun, is the best way to help them get physical activity and mental stimulation. Agility training is the most common type of sports training for dogs. An agility course consists of jumps, tunnels, weaving poles, and other obstacles the dog must traverse.
Agility dog training is done in baby steps by first leading the dog around the course and doing small jumps while they are on a leash. As the dog continues to learn the obstacles and routes to take, they can be taken off the leash and led by commands. The fast paced nature of agility courses offers a great amount of exercise for the puppy.
Exercise and Playmates
Dog owners may confine an ADHD or high energy dog just to keep it from being obnoxious around other dogs and potentially instigating fights, but social isolation only compounds the problem. When ADHD dogs are finally allowed to be out around other people and pets, they become too much to handle.
Dog owners that attempt to solve the problem by isolating the pet are just creating a vicious circle of isolation and unwanted behavior. In order to solve the problems created by hyperactivity, the dog needs to socialize with other people and dogs as early as possible.
Take him to a dog park where everyone is on neutral territory. Allow him to roam, run, and play with other dogs. If there is a concern about safety when it’s introduced to other dogs, keep it on a leash. Once you have gauged how your dog handles others, take it off the leash or leave it on depending on the situation.
Social interactions also create an opportunity for more pet exercise opportunities and just getting out to sniff the world does a lot for mental stimulation needs. As you are working on basic obedience training and commands, the times he is allowed to just be out running around and cutting loose is beneficial. It will burn off steam and allow for friendly play. While physical and mental stimulation helps calm his mind, too much structure can be harmful.
Just like children who are diagnosed with ADHD, dogs can receive medication such as dog Ritalin. Ritalin is a stimulant. It may sound counterintuitive, but giving a dog with ADHD a stimulant will have a calming effect.
Dogs and people with ADHD are looking for a way to get their brain activated. Drugs like Ritalin target stimulation and activate areas of the mind to help a dog better focus. As a dog calms his mind, he is able to settle down with his demeanor becoming calmer as a result.
If you are opposed to the idea of stimulants but want a way to help calm your dog, there are a few supplements many dog owners swear by. Valerian, GABA, CBD oil, and L-Theanine can all provide a calming effect. Discuss which one is right for your dog with your veterinarian. You may consider consulting with a holistic veterinarian if you really want to explore non-prescription drugs.
Using Therapy Dogs in Treating People with ADHD and Other Disorders
Raising a child with mental health issues such as ADHD, autism, Asperger Syndrome, oppositional defiant disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder comes with a host of challenges. Finding coping strategies and ways to help your child overcome the disorder is vital. Trained service dogs are known to be highly beneficial for children with these conditions.
A service dog for a child with any of these disorders helps keep blood pressure down, serves to redirect negative energy into positive activities, and builds confidence that a child can do things on his own. Dogs are trained to recognize anxiety attacks and distracting behaviors and respond in ways to remedy the situation. Service dogs also help with socialization as other children become naturally attracted to the dog and owner.
In children with severe anxiety or Aspergers, the dog will likely respond to an attack by laying with or on the child. The weight, rhythmic breathing, and closeness of the animal soothe the child. Whether it’s autism, ADHD, epilepsy, diabetes or a host of other health issues, service dogs are trained to respond to whatever the disorder is and help.
The Hyperactive Canine: Dogs with ADHD Aren’t a Lost Cause
Hyperactivity in dogs is relatively common, ADHD is not. If the dog is still a puppy it likely just needs a few more years to hit adulthood and calm down. But in the cases where dogs are clearly past the puppy years and are out of control despite plenty of exercise, attention, and mental stimulation, further evaluation by a vet should be done.
The sooner dogs go into behavioral training, the better they are as pets and members of the family. A dog is diagnosed with hyperactivity can always benefit from learning or relearning his command and working on specific tasks leading to mental satisfaction and exhaustion. Your vet and dog trainer are your best resources to develop the perfect balance of medication, training, and supplements to help your dog develop all the right coping skills.