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Reactive Dogs and Stress

16/01/2019 - Puppies

In the mad crazy world we live in these days, a lot of dogs struggle with sensory over load, and trigger stacking. A good way to describe this is to imagine a bucket, and for some dogs, their bucket is over flowing. 
 
For dogs every time something concerns/stresses or worries them Cortisol is released into their body, Cortisol and stress is vital for survival, but prolonged stress, and therefore cortisol levels can cause a lot of issues for our dogs. Too much cortisol, and they are much more likely to react to what’s going on around them. For example, if you have had a bad day, 3-4 things happened to you, and then you spilt a cup of tea, you would be very upset at spilling the tea, however if the others things hadn’t happened to you, it most probably wouldn’t have bothered you. Well this is how a lot of dogs feel on a daily basis. It takes 72 hours for Cortisol levels to return to normal after a stressful event, and for some dogs walking down the road is extremely stressful, therefore the cortisol levels aren’t given a chance to come back down. If a dog, for example if fearful of other dogs, every time they see another dog they may start to react, their brain is getting their body ready to react to what their brain sees as a danger. For humans when we experience something we are scared of, again our brains can do the same, the adrenalin goes, we start to sweat, not able to eat etc. 
 
Therefore its important that we recognise what stresses out our dogs, and where possible, reduce these stresses. 
 
Filling our dogs buckets isn’t always about something frightening or scary, high arousal games such as ball throwing, agility, flyball etc all have a impact on the adrenalin and cortisol levels in our dogs bodies. I am not suggesting to give those things up, but to have in mind how full your dogs bucket is. 
 
For dogs with a full bucket, its important that we give them opportunities to empty their bucket. Below is some information on how to help empty your dogs stress bucket. 
 
Another thing to consider is the environment they live in. 
 
Do they have enough room to be able to get away from any stresses, and be able to rest completely. 
 
For some dogs they can find it harder to live in a cluttered room, if possible de-clutter around where they sleep, for some any new item can cause them stress. 
 
For some dogs changing the layout of the home, and where they sleep can have a huge impact on them, think about if they get to relax in a comfortable area, or if they have to put up with people walking past them all the time. 
 
Are you in a built up area? If so can you travel somewhere more rural for walking. 
 
Although we can’t take away all of our dogs stresses, we can help them to relax – 
 
Give them a break, dogs can be trained in the garden and home, they don’t have to walk everyday, especially if they are reactive. For some dogs they would prefer not to, for some its good to allow them some time out for a few days to recover from the stress. 
 
Enrichment – I will do another blog on Enrichment, but feeding our dogs whilst using their brain, tapping into the seeking part of our dogs brains can really help them to start to relax. Scatter feed, find it games, throw the food games etc. 
 
Calm, sniffing walks. Where possible take your dog on rural quiet walks, where they get to explore, sniff and enjoy themselves. You can put them on a long line lead so they get to enjoy wandering up ahead of you, but with you walking nice and slow. Stop and be with them, get them to find food, paws up on logs etc. Avoid any ball throwing, as this gets the adrenalin pumping. 
 
Look at your home, how can you make it a calmer place for your dog.