Can dogs have ADHD?

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 her current adopters, Joseph and Gail, 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.

“I assured them I was not giving up on them or their dog.”

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 her new adopters and learn some impulse control.

After working with Joseph and Gail over several sessions 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 the possibly that Knickers had generalized anxiety issues and I prescribed some behavior modification for Joseph and Gail to try with Knickers to reduce her anxiety. There was some improvement, but not enough.

Although somewhat uncommon in dogs, I had to finally consider that Knickers might have canine hyperkinesis – known as ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) in humans. I’ve seen a number of legitimate cases of hyperkinesis in dogs; this looked like it might be one of them. I use a list of 11 identifiers or markers for hyperkinesis in dogs; upon closer inspection, Knickers checked almost every box.

Working with the client’s veterinarian, we tried some medications with Knickers but with no positive results. The client had seen multiple dog trainers before seeking my help as a behavior consultant and they were becoming quite frustrated with Knickers. I assured them I was not giving up on them or their dog. Please, hang in there with me.

Working with their veterinarian, we tried another medication that has recently been found to treat hyperkinesis in canines quite effectively and it worked well with Knickers. Voila! It was such a good 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. It is very rewarding every time we properly identify and successfully treat a dog with hyperkinesis. Joseph and Gail are now enjoying living with Knickers more than they ever thought possible.

If your dog has very high energy and can’t seem to focus or stop moving, he or she may have hyperkinesis. In most cases, however, these behaviors are not hyperkinesis but simply a result of many other factors that are usually fairly easily addressed without medication. See an independently certified canine behavior consultant who understands hyperkinesis in canines for help if you believe your dog may be suffering from this disorder.