Many people think their dog has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but very few really do. In most situations the owner just needs to provide their dog with more opportunities for exercise, human interaction, and mental stimulation. These are simply cases of pent up energy, not ADHD.
In an average year I see one or two client dogs that I can say likely have ADHD. Dogs who have ADHD are usually high energy breeds. Any breed of dog can be ADHD, but it is more common in field hunting and herding breeds.
With and ADHD dogs you can’t help but notice how difficult it is for these dogs to be still. They are constantly in motion. It seems they have only two speeds, zero (asleep) and 100 miles an hour (everything else they do). They move so quickly that it is not uncommon for them to lose their footing and slide around on the floor, sometimes even slipping and falling. These dogs are usually overly attached to their humans. You can see they really want to please. Unfortunately, their neediness and racing around are often sources of frustration for their humans.
The most glaring issue of an ADHD dog is the lack of impulse control. When you tell the dog to stop doing something they will stop, but then almost immediately start back again. No matter how many times you stop them, within seconds they are at it again. Even after receiving a harsh correction the dog will stop for a moment and then repeat the undesired behavior. It’s like they never get that you want them to stop it FOREVER, not just for two seconds. The most common impulse control problems I have noticed with ADHD dogs are 1) learning to not pull when on the leash, and 2) not jumping up on people. However, issues can vary from dog to dog.
Dogs with ADHD typically have some similar characteristics. They display more hostile attitude when they meet another dog. Their hackles go up and they show a dominant body language. Often an ADHD dog will race up to a new dog and get right in the dog’s face, often while growling. The ADHD dog is actually not looking to start a fight, although it is a likely, as a result because of this behavior. If a fight does happen and the ADHD dog is on the losing end, they will not learn from it. Chances are the next time they meet a new dog they will do the same inappropriate greeting behavior again. In fact, they might even go right back to the dog who just beat them up with the inappropriate behavior.
At their core ADHD dogs are usually anxious. They whine a lot, and can be super sensitive to sights and sounds, resulting in a lot of barking. If there is a stimulus that gets the ADHD dog too excited their barking can turn into misdirected aggression. This means they might attack another dog they know who is innocently standing nearby. ADHD dogs can be very nervous when alone outdoors, especially after dark.
ADHD dogs typically are very intelligent and capable of learning a lot of commands and tricks. They also seem to do really well with people and love human attention. These dogs usually like to play, although their play tends to ramp up to an abnormally high intensity. They can make dog friends with other playful dogs who will overlook their social missteps. Dogs who aren’t so understanding, and especially other highly anxious dogs, usually have no patience for an ADHD dog, and are likely to growl and snap at them.
ADHD dogs seem to do best in homes with no more than one or two dogs. The owner needs to be aware that their dog cannot help their impulse control issues. Most dogs with ADHD will settle some as they age. By the time they are five or six years old you should notice an improvement.
As with humans, ADHD is diagnosed by giving a dose of the drugs used for treatment. After being given a dose of the medication the vet can determine if there are any measurable physiological changes; such as a lowered heart rate, respiratory rate, and a calmer behavior. The changes will be noticeable within minutes.
I haven’t typically recommended medicating ADHD dogs with my clients. Understanding and management of the dog and its environment can be helpful when living with an ADHD dog. But, if the behavior is too much for the owner, medication is an option to consider. Consult with your dog’s veterinarian for diagnosis, suggested medication, and doses.