We adopted Annie from your shelter about six months ago, and I’m afraid it’s just not working out. She’s a good dog overall, but she’s so hyperactive it’s driving my wife and me crazy. In short, we never realized how much work getting a dog would be, and we think it’s in everyone’s best interest if you could find her a more suitable home.
Please let us know when we can bring Annie back to the shelter.
Couch Potato Man
Dear Couch Potato Man,
If you wanted a dog who sat next to your wife on the couch and watched television, you should have gotten a Gund. They are soft and cuddly, and don’t need to be walked.
Against my better judgment, I didn’t send that note. But this is what happened: Couch Potato Man brought Annie straight to the shelter with the complaint that she was “too hyper to live with,” and in retrospect, now that the other dramas of that particular day are resolved, I feel a little bad about how I responded.
It happened to be one of those days.
The evening before, one of the dogs in the shelter went into labor, and because she was still recovering from life on the streets—malnutrition, dehydration, and a nasty wound on her neck—I spent the entire night in mucous-drenched shredded newspaper trying to make sure everyone popped out okay. They did—all seven of them—and while seven healthy newborn pups might be cause for celebration in some quarters, in mine it meant I’d have to find seven new homes in addition to at least 300 others.
On top of that, my assistant Jenn and half the volunteers all called in sick with the same flu, and without them, it’s impossible to run the shelter. Especially if it’s me that has to run the shelter. Jenn had instructed me to never answer the phones (something to do with being “rude”), so I didn’t know how to deal with all the flashing lights on the new system. Jenn had also told me never to touch the new Mac (something to do with being a PC person and thus “stupid”), so I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. And no one had ever showed me where we keep the coffee filters, the extra toilet paper, or the paper towels (which I desperately needed to clean up the mess I made when I used toilet paper as a coffee filter).
On top of all that—and this is the big one (and the reason I suspect everyone called in sick with “the flu”)—the day before, someone had brought us a little terrier he’d found on the side of the highway who had very obviously been sprayed by a skunk. The minute he stepped through the door, the sulfuric, satanic smell engulfed the entire shelter, and throughout the rest of the day, it permeated our clothes, the other dogs, and, I swear, my cigarettes. During every break I took, I inhaled skunk. To make matters worse, the terrier was friendly and rambunctious and kept jumping up on us, wanting to play.
Jenn Googled “skunk smell” and found that the best way to get rid of it was to bathe the terrier in vinegar douche—only no one would go to the store to buy the twenty bottles we needed.
“What would people think if a girl bought twenty bottles of douche?” Jenn asked.
“What would they think if a big gay guy bought twenty bottles of douche?” I asked.
“Just wear sunglasses,” she said.
“You wear sunglasses,” I said.
“I can’t. I think I’m coming down with the flu.”
So as the phones rang, the coffeemaker overflowed, and dogs who needed homes barked for their breakfast (which I couldn’t find), a very rotund Mr. Potato plods in with Annie and says, “She’s too hyper to live with,” followed by a confused grimace and, “Jeez, what’s that smell?”
I glanced down at the dog. She was of medium height and had a short white coat speckled with black and brown spots, which meant she was probably the result of a pet Dalmatian or Australian shepherd who got loose while in heat and then mated with a mixed-breed bad boy from across the tracks. Dalmatians, Australian shepherds, and other working breeds—including setters, pointers, retrievers, and spaniels—are dogs who’ve been bred for high energy, which means that they and any of their mixed-breed offspring will drive everyone around them crazy. Dalmatians, for instance, were selectively bred by the English aristocracy to run alongside and underneath their horse-drawn carriages. Why, I don’t know (probably to guard their jewels or something), but imagine how much stamina it required for a dog to run under a coach for long periods of time at the same speed as the horses.
Terriers, too. Jack Russells, Scotties, Airedales, and any of their offspring who inherit some or all of their tenacious little genes will go out of their way to annoy you.
As Mr. Potato stood there waiting for me to say how sorry I felt for him, Annie’s heritage betrayed her as she wrapped herself around his legs until the leash tightened, then unwound herself and immediately re-wound in the opposite direction.
“She never sits still,” he said.
“She paces around the house constantly. It drives us insane. We have wood floors and her toenails click on them like I don’t know what, a typewriter or something. We have to turn the TV volume up high to drown it out.”
I nodded again.
“And then there’s the barking. She barks at everything. She paces from one window to the other and barks out of each one. If the air conditioner turns on, she barks. If she sees her shadow, she barks. If a doorbell rings on the TV, she barks.”
As if on cue, double lines on the phone started ringing, and Annie broke into song.
“See? And then there’s the other stuff. Like when we walk in the house, she goes absolutely crazy, jumping up and down and gouging us with those toenails, yipping and yelping. Jeezus, it makes us crazy. We tried to teach her to sit, but the closest she ever comes to the actual position is a crouch, and then she just crouches there, shaking, like her energy’s about to make her explode. Watch this….”
Mr. Potato told Annie to sit, and she immediately danced in circles, crouched for a split second, then went spinning into circles again.
“See? And then there’s the whole issue of demanding attention. We can’t watch TV without her jumping up on the couch, trying to get in our laps and whipping her tail around in our faces. When we make her get down, she sits there, shaking, pushing her nose into our hands or walking back and forth, rubbing her body against our legs …” He inhaled, exhaled, and shook his head down at Annie, who upon eye contact jumped up and down at his side.
Mr. Potato looked at me expectantly.
“Do you know anything about Macs?” I said, pointing toward the white blob on the desk.
While high-energy dogs may not seem like a good match for people who like to watch TV, I propose that they are actually the best match for people who like to watch TV, because people who like to watch TV probably need the exercise more than their dogs. It’s a win-win situation.
It’s also a no-brainer. Walk the dog. Walk the dog for at least thirty minutes every single day. These dogs need to work to stay mentally sound, and if you can turn the walk into a jog, even a slow one, so much the better for both of you. If and when I run the world, high-energy dogs will only be assigned to qualified people—either those who drive Land Rovers with ski racks on top, bike racks on the back, and a kayak or two strapped to the roof, or those involved with agility and tracking competitions, dogsled races, or herding sheep.
As Mr. Potato slid his hands around the Mac, looking as I had for a button, any button, to turn the thing on, I looked down at Annie who pranced and paced at my feet. Her eyes swerved from Mr. Potato, to me, and back to Mr. Potato, as if pleading, “Yes! Yes! Tell him! Tell him! Sheeeeeeepherding!” But I figured the conversation would go thusly:
Me: You know, Annie may have some Australian shepherd in her. Have you ever considered sheepherding or agility competitions?
Him: (Blank stare)
Me: Uh, how many walks does Annie get every day?
Him: (Another blank stare)
Me: Tell you what—let’s do a little experiment. There’s a drugstore about two blocks down. You and Annie walk down there at a brisk pace, and when you arrive, go in and buy twenty bottles of vinegar douche. Then walk back.
Him: (Blank stare tinged with suspicion)
Me: And get a receipt.
Because so many people complain to me about their “hyper” dogs, I’ve heard just about every excuse imaginable concerning why they don’t walk them. “I just don’t have time,” is probably the number-one whine, but I don’t consider that a good-enough excuse. You have a dog; get off your couch and walk her. I will make some concessions for “bad knees,” “seasonal allergies,” and “miscellaneous,” which can include house arrest, a fatal reaction to bee stings, and living in harsh environments like the Arctic Circle.
A very good alternative for daily walks—maybe even better—is a Frisbee. For those with energetic dogs—walked or otherwise—this little disc is the greatest invention since the shoe. In fact, there are entire clubs and competitions revolving around canine disc sports, with names like the UFO World Cup Series (www.ufoworldcup.org), Sky Houndz (www.skyhoundz.com), and Yankee Flyers (www.yankeeflyers.com). There is even an International Disc Dog Handlers Association (www.iddha.com), which sets standards for competitions and titling and keeps track of record holders.
If you’ve ever seen one of these competitions, you may have noticed that most of the dogs look similar to yours—i.e., they are working breeds or mixed variations thereof, like border collies, retrievers, terriers, and cattle dogs. You may have also noticed that when they’re racing across the field toward the airborne disc, they look like the happiest dogs on earth, which indeed they probably are, because running, jumping over obstacles, and leaping high into the air are activities they were born to do.
This is also an excuse-proof alternative, because once your dog learns to bring the disc back, all you have to do is place your recliner next to an open window.
I taught one of my own dogs, Steffi, to fetch a Frisbee, and it worked like a charm. Steffi was a terrier mix we found roaming the streets who was so energetic, we couldn’t adopt her out. Someone whom she stayed with once e-mailed me: “So, does Steffi normally enjoy doing backflips off the ceiling?” Steffi was so hyper that every time I let her loose in the backyard, she ran around and around along the same oval path until my yard looked like Churchill Downs in no time at all.
When I first taught Steffi to fetch a disc, she had trouble concentrating on what she was supposed to do, so I started by rolling the disc like a wheel across the floor and then went wild with joy when she chased it. I made sure she understood that the only way she got to play the game was if she brought the disc back to me.
Once she got the fetch idea, I took her outside, bent down at her level, and tossed the disc a few feet in front of me—again, making sure she understood that she must bring it back if the game was to continue. At first, she waited for the disc to land on the ground before she picked it up, but as the tosses got farther and farther away from me, she accidentally jumped up once to catch it, and when she did, I went wild with praise.
Once Steffi had learned to leap up and catch the disc in mid-flight, I was so happy that I took the training no further. I just stood on my porch every morning, drinking coffee and throwing the disc across the yard for thirty minutes until she was so tired, she came back into the house a sane animal. So if you want to take the next step and teach your dog aerial tricks and cool sequences, you’ll have to check in with the pros. Look at some of the Web sites I listed earlier for online advice, or Google “disc dog clubs” to find a group close to home.
“Found it!” Mr. Potato cried as the orchestra inside the Mac struck its opening chord and the screen came to life.
Sadly, I couldn’t picture Mr. Potato even throwing a Frisbee, so I thought of suggesting a simpler alternative—putting twenty tennis balls in a pillowcase and tossing them across the yard for Annie to chase—but imagined the conversation would go thusly:
Him: I’m sure my doctor wouldn’t let me do that.
Me: Why not?
Him: Rigor mortis.
As one of the phone lines rang and then another in sequence, I asked Mr. Potato if he could figure out how to answer them and then walked Annie back to the holding area where thirty dogs were barking for their breakfast. Not one kennel was empty, and most were doubled up as it was. As I walked down the aisle trying to figure out where Annie could stay, anger—the kind with sharp teeth—got hold of my scruff and wouldn’t let go.
It wasn’t that we already had too many unwanted dogs in need of homes, or that most of them came from the streets where dozens more waited for rescue. It wasn’t that I needed to make my daily rounds of abandoned warehouses to feed our stray packs, or that I should have trapped the starving mama dog whose puppies might be dead already. It wasn’t the dog we found burned alive or the chow bald with mange or the pit bull at the vet’s office with a bullet in his hip. It wasn’t the constant, nagging need for more money, more volunteers, more foster homes, or more publicity that fueled my anger. It was simply this: How could someone give up their dog?
Then I heard the smelly terrier yelping from the confines of the supply room where we had stashed him solo for the night. Annie heard him too, and with the force of a mule team pulled me toward the door. Meanwhile, up front, Mr. Potato answered one call after another, frantically scribbling messages on the back of a Speedy Burger bag he’d pulled out of the garbage:
- CALL LAURIE SOMEBODY ABOUT SOMETHING
- Foster dogs got in fight. CALL BOB? Bill? Ben? ASAP. 233-67??
- Vet’s office: Rotwyler Rotwiller Rotwhyller with neck wound doing better—German shepherd (with chain embedded in neck?) is OK—two spays and three nooters done this morning—pit bull with gunshot died last night.
- Policeman, said he was friend, raided dog-fight ring. Needs help with six dogs, several in bad shape. Is on his way here with them!
- Mindy. Volunteer. Says she and someone else out feeding packs and caught the starving mama dog and three puppies. Is on her way in with them now. Says to get a kennel ready!!!!
- Lady named JEN says she got the doosh. Wanted to know why I was answering phones. Told her I DON’T KNOW.
When I came back to the front, fully intending to give Mr. Potato a piece of my mind, he ran toward me, shoved the Speedy Burger bag into my hands, stammered something about needing to “get ready,” and looked wildly around the room as if he’d lost something.
“Where’s my Annie?” he said. “Where is she?”
“Uh …” I pointed to the back in confusion. He grabbed Annie’s leash from my hand and followed the direction of my finger.
I glanced down at the bag and barely had time to sigh before Mr. Potato rushed back into the room followed by an exuberant Annie and an equally exuberant stinky terrier on Annie’s leash.
“What … ?”
Mr. Potato waved his hand back and forth at me to quell any questions. “Never mind—there’s no time. They’re on their way here.”
He headed for the door with both dogs.
“Wait,” I called, but he didn’t even look back at me, just said something about Annie needing a friend. He didn’t even close the door behind him.
Turns out, sometimes all an energetic dog needs is another energetic dog to keep them company. Several days after Mr. Potato had disappeared with the stinky terrier, he returned to the shelter with a smile of relief, a large donation check folded inside a thank-you note, and a scrap of paper covered with his handwriting.
The look of relief, he said, was because Annie and Flower played so much together, they wore each other out. They smelled to high heaven because he couldn’t get the skunk smell off but he figured it was a small price to pay for domestic tranquility.
“And, Annie’s happy,” he said.
The donation check and the thank-you note were for the “great public service” done by Stray Rescue, which Mr. Potato said he’d never understood until he answered our phones. “After taking all those horrible calls, I ran out of room on the bag and grabbed this,” he said and then handed me the scrap of paper on which was scribbled the following message: 7) LADY HAS HYPER DOG. WANTS TO BRING IN. “After calls about gunshot wounds and dog-fighting rings and starving mamas and puppies, this lady calls and complains she has a hyper dog. I wanted to tell her to go to hell, because there were dogs losing their lives out there …”
“So what did you tell her?” I asked.
“That she had the wrong number.”
I nodded my approval, wadded the paper into a ball, and lobbed it with grace into the garbage can.
“Wait here a sec,” I said, then went in back to search for the twenty bottles of vinegar douche that Jenn had bought at the store.
Happy Ending/Quick Fix Recap for Hyper Dogs:
- Walk the dog every day.
- Buy twenty tennis balls, put them in a pillowcase and throw them across the yard for the dog to retrieve.
- Alternatively, teach the dog to catch a Frisbee.
- Consider adopting a companion for your energetic friend.