All of us have our own emotional sink, and so do our dogs.
Imagine for a second a sink, flowing into that sink is all the stresses of the day. Throughout the day stress will flow in, and our coping strategies will mean that most of that will drain away.
However, for some dogs who don’t have coping strategies, the sink overflows and this is where we see the undesirable and negative effects of stress. Often with dogs it is seen through reactivity and aggression.
There are a number of factors that influence how much stress each dog can deal with until the sink overflows.
We are all born with and develop our own tolerance to how much stress we can handle. The other main element is our ability to process the stress. Some people and dogs can easily deal with stress, they have a large drain and stress just flows away.
It is important to remember that the size of the drain can vary day to day and therefore so can our ability to cope with the stress. The good thing is that we are able to influence our dog’s ability to cope with stress. Through giving them control of a situation, by giving him choices, he is going to feel empowered.
Watch for any areas that drip small amounts of stress into your dog’s sink on a regular basis. This can be a whole multitude of things – unpredictability, ignoring your dog, using punishment in training, shouting at your dog can all be very stressful for your dog. Instead introduce structure, positive reinforcement and reward him highly for his successes. Look at their daily routine, do they have long periods where they are in social isolation, lack of enrichment, untreated illness or pain. And probably the one we have the most control over, setting our dogs up to fail and then to punish them for it. Instead, allow your dog to engage in activities that they really enjoy, swimming, fetch, digging, running, sniffing – all of these will help a dog to relieve their stresses and feel happier about the world.
Some signs your dog isn’t coping with stress include hoarding resources, overreacting to a situation, restlessness, increases in flare ups. If you think your dog is struggling, please contact a qualified trainer to help you and your dog.
About Kimberley ...
Kimberley Grundy is a canine behaviourist and trainer, based in Yorkshire, who has practiced for more than ten years, has two masters degrees - one in Animal behaviour and welfare,
another in Psychology.