Help, My Dog Is Out of Control and Acting Out! (7 Tips for Settling)

Difficult-to-manage dogs often cause dog owners to feel helpless and frustrated. Yet there is a little-known method that can work wonders in diffusing certain situations and paving the path to progress.

Help, My Dog Is Out of Control and Acting Out! (7 Tips for Settling)

Difficult-to-manage dogs often cause dog owners to feel helpless and frustrated. Yet there is a little-known method that can work wonders in diffusing certain situations and paving the path to progress.

Is your dog out of control? Discover several strategies to help your dog settle.

What to Do When Your Dog Can't Settle Down

An out-of-control dog can be a dog owner's worst nightmare. The constant mouthing, tugging on clothes, jumping, humping, biting the leash and chewing anything in reach can easily overwhelm the most calm and composed humans. Complaints about out-of-control dogs rank highly among the variety of issues dog trainers and behavior consultants encounter during their careers.

If you are dealing with a dog like this, you are likely at your wit's end. You may have tried upping your dog's exercise, enrolling him in training or emulating techniques you have seen on YouTube. Yet, nothing seems to work. If anything, things actually seem to be getting worse rather than better.

At this point, you may feel helpless as you wonder what is going on in that canine mind. Why is your dog so out of control? What drives such wild behaviors?

Training your dog to lie on a mat can come handy when you need him to calm down.

12 Reasons for Out-of-Control Behavior in Dogs

Finding the exact culprit causing your dog to be out of control may not be straightforward. There can be several factors at play, and multiple factors often interplay together.

Medical causes can sometimes also be an underlying cause, making the out-of-control behavior difficult to manage until it is addressed.

Below is a list of some potential causes for wild, out-of-control behavior in dogs.

1. Lack of Socialization

All puppies need to be socialized to a wide array of people, animals, objects and places during the critical window of socialization that closes when the puppy has reached 16 weeks (four months).

Lack of socialization leads to puppies who are insecure and easily stressed by the common sights and sounds of everyday life. Stressed dogs are often confused for dogs being hyper, as they both display wild and unruly behaviors.

2. Effect of Selective Breeding

Several dog breeds have been selectively bred to be high in energy and don't fit always very well in the position of "pets."

Some dog breeds were selectively bred to be particularly determined and tenacious and may be perceived as "stubborn" when in reality, all they are doing is acting like a normal representative of their breed.

It's therefore imperative conducting research before adopting a dog, whether purebred or mixed breed, to understand its energy levels and needs. This can help avoid lots of heartaches.

3. Lack of Mental Stimulation

Most dog breeds were selectively bred to perform some type of task. Retrievers carried birds, Spaniels flushed birds out of bushes, scent hounds tracked the smell of rabbits, terriers hunted and killed rodents, livestock guardians scared off wolves from herds of sheep and mastiffs kept thieves away from wealthy properties.

These are just some of the many examples of tasks dogs have been bred for.

Now, that most dogs are kept as pets, they are unemployed and often left with nothing to do. This often leads to chewing, digging, barking and many other hyper-undesirable behaviors.

4. Singleton Puppies

Singleton puppies are simply puppies that are born solo. In other words, when they were born, they didn't have any brothers and sisters. Being born as an only pup is not a very common occurrence, but it happens every now and then.

Since there are no other puppies in the litter, life is quite easy for the singleton pup. When he nurses, there's no competition over the nipples. When he wants attention, mother dog is always there just for him.

As much as this easy life sounds good, many owners of singleton pups soon notice how, later in life, singleton pups may have a harder time coping with frustration. Here is more information about preventing problems in singleton puppies.

5. Wrong Amounts of Exercise

Dogs need sufficient amounts of exercise to prevent the effects of pent-up energy, but the wrong amount can lead to hyper, out-of-control behaviors.

Too little exercise will lead to dogs who are bouncing off the walls because they have so much pent-up energy with no way to disperse it. Too much exercise or exercise of the wrong type will lead to dogs who become increasingly fit and overstimulated.

Too much excitement and overly aroused states may lead to exhaustion or over-stimulation. Some dogs may therefore struggle to chill and calm down after hard play.

As with many things in life, the middle road is the golden way to go.

6. Exposure to Overstimulating Environments

Often dog owners take their dogs to daycare and dog parks in hopes of draining their energy, when in reality they are just allowing their dogs to rehearse problematic behaviors such as engaging in rough play and getting overstimulated.

Excessive engagement can lead to dogs being in a hyperarousal state for prolonged periods of time, which lowers a dog's ability to self-soothe and calm down.

Ideally, dogs should learn from an early age to stay calm in spite of being around other dogs and people. A well-run puppy class where the focus is on establishing responsiveness to the owner's cues despite distractions can help with this.

7. Lack of Restorative Sleep

Many puppy owners fail to realize how important it is to have their puppies sleep. They take their puppies on long walks and then engage them in long play sessions in hopes of tiring them out.

However, when puppies are overstimulated or tired, they start acting out. Tiredness leads to cranky pups.

Consider that, generally, young puppies require around 18–20 hours of sleep per day. This may sound like a whole lot, but it makes a lot of sense once you understand that puppies do most of their growing while sleeping!

The average middle-aged adult dog, on the other hand, is expected to sleep anywhere between 12 and 16 hours a day in a 24-hour cycle. Most likely, 8 hours are spent sleeping at night when everybody is asleep, and then an extra 4 to 8 hours are spent snoozing during those downtimes at other times of the day.

Ensuring your dog sleeps enough is important. Dogs denied adequate levels of sleep often pay the consequences in the form of behavioral problems and impaired learning abilities, explains veterinarian Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley in the book "Understanding and Training Your Dog Or Puppy.

8. Stressful Events

Dogs don't go through divorces, nor do they need to balance their checkbooks at the end of the month, but they do have their share fair of stressful events.

Sudden changes in a dog's life—like a new move or a new baby—can act as a disruption, causing the dog to act anxious, which is often confused for a dog being hyper and unable to relax.

Exposure to a household with buzzing activity or constant exposure to noises in dogs forced to stay outdoors in the yard may also prove to be stressful.

Even sharing the living quarters with very active children can prove to be stressful. According to an online survey, many dog owners provided for their dog's basic needs, such as walks or separate resting and feeding places, but most appeared not to know that a dog needs undisturbed resting periods away from small children.

The lack of adequate resting areas and resting periods for the dog may create situations in everyday life that could lead to misbehavior and even a bite incident.

On top of this, small children are not yet capable of understanding that a dog does not always want to be touched and followed everywhere it goes, and this can cause overstimulation and stress in the dog.

Dogs who are stressed may therefore become hyperactive. It's the "fool around" response often seen in stressful events, just one of a dog's 5 F responses to fear.

9. Use of Improper Training Methods

Believe it or not, the methods you use to train your dog can have an impact on his emotional well-being.

According to a study, repeated use of aversive methods (leash jerks, use of choke, prong and shock collars, scruff shakes, alpha rolls etc.) may push animals into a generally negative mood, potentially leading to increased incidences of aggression and a reduced willingness to approach strangers and engage in playful activities outside of training.

Furthermore, punishment-based training has been linked to the potential for generating a general sense of anxiety in dogs. Even yelling causes stress in dogs and can have several negative repercussions.

In contrast, reward-based training has been shown to be associated with a dog's improved ability to focus and learn new tasks.

10. The Influence of Humans

If you are hyper, chances are your dog will be too. Dogs are masters in reading body language, and if your voice sounds excited or alarmed or you move in a nervous, overly excited way, rest assured your dog will sense that.

On top of this, if you get frustrated with your dog or riled up, that can be picked up by your dog and lead to hyperarousal.

Even the way you touch your dog can influence his energy levels. Fast and energetic pats will lead to over-excitement, while slow, gentle and calm massages calm them down.

11. Attention at the Wrong Times

Many times dog owners inadvertently reinforce their dogs' hyper behaviors without being aware of it. Here's the thing: To an attention-seeking dog, any form of attention is perceived as reinforcing, even attention of the negative type.

So if you scold your dog or push him away, consider that your dog perceives that as attention (if that's something he craves), which means that you'll have inadvertently reinforced his hyper behavior. No wonder why he keeps on acting hyper!

12. The Impact of Diet

While eating has a nourishing and energizing effect on dogs, this effect can be exacerbated by poor diets.

Switching to a better diet made of wholesome ingredients is recommended. Ask your veterinarian, or even better, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist for specific recommendations.

You can teach your dog that it feels good to lie down and relax.

7 Tips for Owners of Out of Control Dogs Who Act Out

If your dog is out of control and acting out, you may be desperate for some solutions. The good news is that there are several things you can do to regain your sanity. The not-so-good news? It may take some time for your dog to exhibit calmer behaviors, and some dogs may only start calming down more once they mature.

However, you'll be rewarded here and there with some calmer behaviors along the way if you're patient, consistent and persistent. This calmer behavior will then start becoming more and more common.

Think of it as the process of raising children: You go from the temper tantrums of toddlers and then through the rebellious teenager stage before patting yourself on the back when finally your child has become a solidly tempered adult.

The process isn't without sacrifice. You'll have a sometimes exhausting, sometimes funny and sometimes overwhelming adventure to endure. Be patient and don’t take your dog's less-than-stellar behavior personally.

1. Act Calm Yourself

Our dogs can sense when we are calm, and our calmness reassures them. If we tend to be on the reactive, excitable or frustrated side, it's important for us to at least try our best to act calm in the presence of our dogs.

Moving quickly, talking in frustrating tones, petting them quickly and ruffling up the fur risks making them hyper, reactive or unsteady.

2. Capture the Calm

Catching our dogs when calm indoors or outdoors and praising calm behaviors with a calm tone of voice, possibly handing a not-too-exciting treat, can help capture the calm behaviors so that they repeat.

Excited/hyper behaviors shouldn't get our attention-and that means any form of that attention, both of the positive or negative type. Before we give attention, it's therefore important that we evaluate what state of mind our dog is in.

Also important is to reduce any stressors, as stress can deplete the body of “good chemicals” that help dogs calm down and relax.

3. Use Antecedent Control

Controlling the circumstances (antecedent control, management) so that the dog wants to do what we want him to do, is what ultimately sets our dogs up for success.

In other words, we can pave the path to good behaviors by avoiding rehearsals and trying to preempt problematic behaviors by giving something more acceptable to do. Praising and rewarding that acceptable behavior should compete with and eventually supersede the innate reinforcement gained from acting out in ways we do not like.

4. Tackle the Root Cause

On top of this, it goes without saying that getting to the root of the problem is paramount (not enough sleep, too many stress hormones, not enough outlets for instinctive behaviors, too much social pressure, etc.).

Some dogs who are very hyper may benefit from calming supplements or medications (consult with your vet on this).

5. Have a Plan in Place

As difficult as it may be, it's important to take several deep breaths at critical times and become proactive rather than reactive.

It's helpful to do some goal setting to prevent problematic situations from occurring in the first place and then implementing an intervention plan that is easy for both us and our dogs to adhere to (baby steps with possibly a way to track down whether the behavior is improving over the course of several days).

Setbacks can always happen throughout the process, but these should gradually become more infrequent. If occurring more than expected, a careful evaluation of what may trigger it and a little tweak back to the drawing board can help soon set things back on the right path.

6. Implement Impulse Control Training

Training impulse control in out-of-control dogs is paramount. Trained correctly, these exercises allow your dog the opportunity to master the art of calmness despite stimuli that may overexcite him.

Here are 10 impulse control games to get you started.

7. Embrace Positive Reinforcement

As mentioned, the training method you use can really have an impact on your dog's arousal levels.

When positive reinforcement is implemented correctly, you make it clear that access to what your dog wants so badly (or access to an alternative reward if giving access to what your dog wants is not feasible) occurs contingent upon displaying a desired behavior.

With time, you should see an increase in those desired behaviors, as that's the power of this method. Reinforced calm behaviors will strengthen and repeat, while non-reinforced hyper behaviors should weaken and extinguish over time.

Here is more info on this method: Research reveals the best training method for dogs.


  • Rooney, N.J.; Cowan, S. Training methods and owner-dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2011, 132, 169–177.
  • Herron, M.E.; Shofer, F.S.; Reisner, I.R. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2009, 117, 47–54.
  • Blackwell, E.J.; Twells, C.; Seawright, A.; Casey, R.A. The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. J. Vet. Behav. Clin. Appl.
  • ange, F.; Heucke, S.L.; Gruber, C.; Konz, A.; Huber, L.; Virányi, Z. The effect of ostensive cues on dogs’ performance in a manipulative social learning task. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2009, 120, 170–178.
  • University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna. "Risk to small children from family dog often underestimated." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 September 2016.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli

(Excluding for the Headline, this article ("story") has not been edited by MiBiz News and is published from a web feed or sourced from the Internet.)