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I have popcorn brain! Could this be the reason behind your dog's struggles too?

Popcorn brain is something that I have very recently learned about (probably about a decade after the rest of the world!)

It’s something that resonates with me a lot in my own life as something to always keep on top of so I’m winning the constant on-going battle in my brain.  It was a big relief to learn about as I was actually starting to think I might have ADHD!

But the most interesting thing of all for me, is that I see such strong similarities in so many of the high-energy dogs I work with. 

If you haven’t heard of it before, popcorn brain refers to a mental state where you struggle with scattered thoughts and your attention is constantly switching from one thing to another so focusing on a task is a real struggle. You are compulsively and unconsciously filling your brain with crap constantly. You can also experience increased stress, anxiety, fatigue, and overwhelm so it’s a real treat!

And the cause of popcorn brain? 


Being constantly bombarded with sensory information and the addictive dopamine hit that comes with it. 

Our brains become acclimatised to, and expect, frequent distractions and immediate gratification. 

It’s a cycle that is incredibly difficult to break because our brains always choose the easiest route which is generally the things we are rehearsing repetitively.

For us, it looks like picking up our phone frequently, doing something one minute then mindlessly scrolling the next, and just generally looking for the next thing and the next thing, even when there is something right in front of you. These blogs take me a shamefully long time to put together because my brain pings to 3,000 different places during the process! We are either “on”, or we are sleeping, and even our sleep could be impacted too. 

For dogs, it looks like never settling at home, always looking for mischief, rarely still or in the same spot for any period of time, displaying repetitive behaviour patterns and cycles, seeming to be bored easily, seeming uninterested in you and any learning tasks or activities, becoming frustrated easily and just generally struggling to self-regulate.

Does this sound familiar? 

Have you fallen into the trap of over-exercising and constantly stimulating your high-energy dog? 

Continuous access to the garden, tug toys, balls, food puzzles, attention, play, window watching, etc., is all going to contribute to creating popcorn brain similarities in our dogs.

And I think one of the biggest contributors of all, is that nobody seems to ever be leaving their dogs alone anymore which is creating total dependency on constant company and activity. 

They will be forever searching for that next bit of stimulation, that next dopamine hit, and they’ll need more and more and more.  This is often met with more exercise and more stimulation as we try to tire an already frazzled and exhausted dog. And so the cycle continues.

As much as possible, we want to give our dogs choices. 

But not when those choices are detrimental to their wellbeing. 

And if popcorn brain resonates with you, I think you can probably confirm that it is in fact a pretty unpleasant and unhelpful state for your brain to be in and it can impact every aspect of your life. 

If your dog can’t settle at home, that isn’t normal or OK just because you have a high-energy breed. 

It’s not a healthy way for them to live and they need help. 

There are 3 things you need to do to help them…


1.     Structure their activity time to ensure you are meeting their needs, challenging them mentally, and providing them with outlets for their breed.  Physical exercise is not enough. When it comes to spending time with your dog, quality is far more important than quantity.


2.     Make down time happen and adjust their environment to help.  Make it as easy and obvious to them as you possibly can that there are only two choices available – rest or chew time.  Our brains will always choose the easiest route. If our phone is there, we will check it.  Don’t expect your dog’s choices to change without changing their environment first.


3.     Stop trying to pacify them with constant company, attention, and activity.  Be consistent and be clear about what is available to them and when.  They need structure, clarity, and independence more than they need to be constantly with you and entertained. 


As always, if you ever need to chat about struggles you are having with your dog, or you want to learn how to avoid the common mistakes when raising a high-energy breed, you can click here to book a free call. 


Liz Whelan GTA-AD 020 ABTC-ATI

Owner of DogScentric

Accredited instructor with the Gundog Trainers Academy (GTA-AD 020)

Accredited Animal Training Instructor with the ABTC (ABTC-ATI)

FdSc Canine Behaviour and Training (Hull University)




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