The effects of “runners high” in dogs

If your dog is constantly being told off by other dogs just for saying hello. Or, he seems immune to normal social cues, he might be experiencing runners high. In my latest blog, we discover the effects of runners high in dogs and how it can help, and hinder, dogs social abilities!

Runners high in dogs

When a dog undertakes intense exercise, their body produces endorphins. These endorphins create a euphoric feeling which makes them want to do more exercise. It’s quite addictive and it’s great for boosting mental health, and reducing anxiety.

But, when a dog undertakes moderate, but sustained, exercise, such as a long walk, they might experience runners high instead. This is different to the high created by intense exercise such as chasing a ball or running with friends. This type of exercise releases endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids also reduce anxiety, but in a different way. This hormone reduces a dogs ability to detect threats in their environment, and in particular warning signs from other dogs. If your dog seems immune to being growled at, or told off, they might be getting a “runners high” from their walks – but is it a good thing?.

Benefits to the anxious dog

An increase in endocannabinoids might be a good thing, if your dog seems scared of everything. If your dog jumps at every noise, over analyses everything, reacts to every dog, car, or bike, or startles at new things, then they might benefit from a very long walk. For them, a decrease in threat detection would stop them seeing everyday objects as dangerous and could help them enjoy their time in the big wide world.

Reduced threat detection has it’s place in early development. For puppies, it allows them to discover and explore novel items without fear. It helps them find the confidence to socialise more and make friends, which in turn is good for resilience and overall good mental health. As a puppy it is expected they will make mistakes, so it’s safe to take risks at this early age. But, they don’t need a long walk to see the benefits of this, it’s part of their critical period.

For an anxious dog, a prolonged walk could have a similar effect. In psychology, exploration is the opposite of anxiety. So, once curiosity has been activated, a schedule of very long walks could lead to a gradual reduction of overall anxiety, all by itself.

If your dog seems immune to getting told off, he might not be reading danger cues!

“He’s just being friendly!”

Not all dogs benefit from an increase in endocannabinoids. When a dog is already very confident, any impairment to their ability to assess risk could get them into serious trouble. This could lead them to stop recognising danger signals from other dogs, or in their environment.

It’s easy to imagine the type of danger a dog could be if their ability to assess risk is reduced. But the most obvious danger is from approaching the wrong dogs. Ignoring warning signals will almost always lead to conflict.

Often, it’s pretty obvious if your pup is approaching the wrong dog. But, it might sometimes appear that your dog is just being friendly. He’s approached another dog in good faith, he sniffed calmly, and the next thing you know, the other dog has snapped or pounced on yours. This conflict will seem unprovoked and unfair. However, it is quite possible that they have been asked to go away several times already and the other dog is just getting frustrated by a lack of cooperation.

If you suspect this might be the case, watch the other dog next time yours approaches. Any signs of stiffness, head turning, lip licking, side-eye, twitchy tail, or wide lips, could suggest the other dog was politely trying to avoid your dog.

How to help

Increased endocannabinoids might not be the only cause of reduced threat detection, of course. But if you think this is a problem for your dog, and he gets very long walks, then try reducing them for a few weeks and reassessing. In the mean time, boost up other types of stimulation such as scent trailing and enrichment type activities to compensate.

As we know, runners high in dogs isn’t always a bad thing. For the dog that needs less threat detection, combining several short walks into one really long one could be of benefit.

Failing that, seek help from an experienced behaviourist who offers assessments as part of the rehabilitation process. You’ll need someone who can assess the whole dog and figure out the cause.


Are you struggling with your dog?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!

Caroline
Caroline

I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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2 Comments

  1. Wow, Caroline, this is an eye-opening article! I’ve often wondered why my dog behaves differently after long walks versus intense play sessions, and this gives me a lot to think about. The concept of “runners high” in dogs is new to me, and it’s fascinating to consider how exercise could be affecting their social cues.

    I appreciate your nuanced take on the benefits and potential downsides of the endocannabinoid release during moderate, sustained exercise. I can see how it would be particularly beneficial for an anxious dog, but I never considered how it could hinder a more confident dog’s ability to pick up on social cues from other dogs.

    Your suggestions on how to balance the type of exercise and stimulation are valuable. I’ll definitely look into incorporating more scent trailing and other enrichment activities to complement walks. I think a consult with a behaviorist would also be beneficial to fine-tune my dog’s exercise regimen to his specific needs.

    Thanks for providing such an insightful read!

    • Aw thank you for your lovely comment. I’m glad you found it useful, hopefully you get a behaviourist who can help you fine tune your dogs exercise. Let me know how it goes, Caroline

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