Dogs Can Have ADHD. Here’s My Latest Case.

Australian Shepherd ADHD Hyperkinesis.jpg

© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC 

I first saw “Knickers” about two years ago. She is an Australian Shepherd and was 1.5 years old at that time. She had been in three homes before the current adopters, Joseph and Gail, had brought her home.

Joseph and Gail told me at our first visit that Knickers was “very energetic, restless and never stopped moving.” After watching her for an entire session, they were absolutely not exaggerating. Knickers couldn’t stop moving and I could see why she was now in her fourth home.

While Knickers seemed to be on the extreme end of high-energy, I was not particularly alarmed; I see dogs with boundless levels of energy all the time. I prescribed a regimen of techniques to bleed off some of Knickers’ enthusiasm, get her to focus on the new owners and learn some impulse control.

After working with the owners over several months it was obvious that we were “barking up the wrong tree” (pun intended). We were getting nowhere with Knickers. Something else was going on.

I considered that possibly Knickers had generalized anxiety issues and we tried some medications and exercises that address anxiety in dogs. We observed only a marginal improvement at best.

Although rare in dogs, I had to finally consider that Knickers might be one of the rare cases of hyperkinesis in canines – known as ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) in humans. I’ve only seen a handful of legitimate cases of hyperkinesis in dogs. This looked like it might be one of them.

A common treatment in humans and dogs for ADHD is Ritalin or Adderall. Both of these medications are actually central nervous system stimulants. Humans and dogs that actually have ADHD have what is called a paradoxical reaction to these drugs. This means these medications act in reverse and have a calming effect on these patients. This paradoxical reaction can make it easy to diagnose ADHD in humans and dogs; if their hyperactivity and lack of attention get better with the medication, they have ADHD.

We tried these medications with Knickers with no positive results. I was not giving up on this diagnosis because, unlike humans, only about 20% of dogs with hyperkinesis respond to these medications.

I wanted to try one more medication. We tried a medication that was originally created in the 1950s for psychiatric patients experiencing psychosis. This was a bit of a long shot, but we were running out of options.

And it worked! It was such an incredible feeling to see a dog that never stopped moving and had virtually no ability to focus to rather suddenly turn into a dog that could calm herself and focus. I’ve only had a small number of these cases, but it is very rewarding once the issue is properly addressed.

If your dog has very high energy and can’t seem to focus, he or she has only about a .5% (1 in 200) chance of the cause being hyperkinesis. In almost every case it’s a result of many other factors that are usually fairly easily addressed by a dog behavior consultant or a dog trainer.