Hyperkinesis in dogs is rare. If you have a dog that appears to acting in what is common called a hyper-active way, the chances are it is NOT hyperkinesis. However, learning to understand more about this condition can help dog owners identify the signs and in this article we start out by looking at a case study where drugs were used as a treatment plan for hyperkinesis.

You should always seek veterinary and/or professional dog training advice if you have concerns about your dog’s behavior or any sudden changes in their personality.

Canine Hyperkinesis: A Case Study Of Drug Treatment

The first controlled studies of hyperkinesis in dogs were an outgrowth of a long-term attempt to develop animal models of psychopathology.

Dogs were chosen for these studies for several reasons, primarily because there were many carefully bred animals available. This allowed an evaluation of genetic strains in certain breeds. Also, dogs are the only domestic animal with a variety of emotional responses comparable to those seen in people: they worry about things not essential to their survival.

In studies designed to evaluate responses to stress, some dogs did not respond to Pavlovian conditioning. Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and tranquilizers were all tried, but nothing worked.

Hyperkinesis in Dogs

Typically such dogs would be eliminated from the study, but because the researchers were interested in the interaction of genetics and psychological environment, they were curious about dogs that appeared unwilling to be studied. Eventually the researcher decided they were dealing with the equivalent of a hyperkinetic children. On that basis, amphetamines were given, and the tentative diagnosis proved correct.

The first model of hyperkinesis in a dog was Jackson, a Cocker-Beagle mix whose usual response to any approach was to snap, snarl, growl or, if possible, bite. Many experienced, gentle dog handlers were bitten, until eventually laboratory personnel refused to approach the dog. Jackson responded the same to other dogs. He viciously attacked any dog without hesitation, even friendly and docile animals. He refused to submit to Pavlovian conditioning, and destroyed laboratory equipment in his rages.

Because depressants were not effective against Jackson’s abnormally hyperactive and vicious behavior, it was suspected that hyperkinesis may have been involved. On this assumption, the dog was given amphetamine orally. Within 2 hours, Jackson’s personality changed to complete docility. He whimpered as if he wanted to be petted. When petting was stopped, he begged for more. He became nonviolent, even submissive, toward the same dog he had attacked earlier. Jackson appeared to be perplexed and unsure of what to do.

When placed in the Pavlovian experimental stand after medication, Jackson responded normally and learned rapidly, indicating that his previous failure was not a result of mental retardation, but rather a secondary effect of his behavior problem. After 6 weeks of drug-facilitated psychosocial therapy, medication could be withdrawn without reappearance of aggression, but hyperkinesis reappeared in low-threat situations. Aggression was apparently trained out by the drug-facilitated social interaction and conditioning experiments, indicating that what is learned under the influence of amphetamines is retained later.

After 2 more months of psycho-social therapy using amphetamines, Jackson’s non-medicated hyperkinesis was also reduced. Because he was between 1 1/2 and 2 years old at the time of the experiments, maturation could have been associated with the cure; however, 6 older hyperkinetic dogs did not outgrow their abnormal behavior patterns.

An Insight In to Hyperkinesis in Dogs

Hyperkinesis is a disorder characterized by excessive activity, extreme restlessness, impulsivity, and a short attention span. In humans, especially children, it is now referred to as ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. Veterinarians continue to use the term hyperkinesis. Hyperkinesis can affect a dog’s ability to learn new behaviors. Dogs so afflicted exhibit inattention, restlessness, and are easily distracted. The syndrome seems to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

Most owners are not aware of the disease. The condition is quite rare in dogs, and when diagnosed by a veterinarian, medications, usually stimulants, can be prescribed to ameliorate the effects. Unfortunately, the popular use of the term to describe normal, but overly excited dogs, has clouded the issue for both owners and veterinarians. Dogs with extreme hyperkinesis that cannot have their symptoms improved with drug therapy, are often euthanized.

Truly hyperkinetic dogs exhibit many of the following symptoms:

Cannot be taught anything, even in obedience school
Salivates constantly
Always excited or nervous
Cannot sit still, even for a minute
Never becomes accustomed to everyday situations
Chronically rapid heart rate

The symptoms of hyperkinesis are usually exacerbated in dogs that are stressed by being kept in conditions of close confinement or short-leash tethering. Even with the clear presence of defining symptoms, it is difficult to treat the basic problem because there is often no clear reason, either physical or environmental, to explain the symptoms. Some truly hyperkinetic dogs do not respond to positive reinforcement, and tranquilizing drugs seem to have no positive effect. Truly hyperkinetic dogs can be vicious, and are known to bite owners and other dogs without provocation.

Don’t be worried about your dog if she is simply hyperactive. This can be normal for some breeds, and is typical with new puppies who display enthusiasm for everything. Just a simple hello will have them running in circles. Some dogs are simply energetic and enjoy running, jumping, chewing, pulling, and barking. Their enthusiasm is one of the things that endear them too us.

True hyperkinetic dogs seldom have a rest period. They exhibit abnormal frantic behavior, and continue it until they drop from exhaustion. Because the symptoms are also exhibited in simply overactive dogs, veterinarians will usually require a test trial with stimulants like amphetamines or Ritalin, which is often prescribed for children with ADD.

If your dog is simply overactive, they can be retrained and managed with persistence and obedience training. Vigorous daily exercise will also help the overactive dog to expend energy.


Nancy Cope
K9 Magazine
Vet Gazette

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