© 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.
“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.”
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 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 that possibly Knickers had generalized anxiety issues and we tried some medications as prescribed by the veterinarian and exercises I suggested that address anxiety in dogs. We observed only a marginal improvement at best.
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.
A common treatment in humans and dogs for ADHD/hyperkinesis is Ritalin or Adderall. Both of these medications are actually central nervous system stimulants. Humans and dogs that actually have ADHD/hyperkinesis 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/hyperkinesis in humans and dogs; if their hyperactivity and lack of attention get better with the medication, they have ADHD/hyperkinesis (this is called an empiric diagnosis).
Working with the client’s veterinarian we tried these medications with Knickers with no positive results. I was not giving up on this possibility because, unlike humans with ADHD, only about 20% of dogs with hyperkinesis respond to these medications.
We then tried another medication that has recently been found to treat hyperkinesis in canines quite effectively and it worked well with Knickers. 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.
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 specializes in CCD for help if you believe your dog may be suffering from CCD.