Canine Arousal and Stress: Is It All Bad?
An aroused dog is not necessarily aggressive. In simple terms, aroused means an excited state. If you are the guardian of a dog, you have most likely observed behaviors. An aroused dog is "pumped up" due to heightened emotional state which can be excitement, fear, anger, stress or joy. Arousal can be distressing or it can be fun. If a dog is scared during a veterinarian visit this can be a distressing time for the dog. On the hand when a dog is joyfully jumping and wagging its tail when the guardian comes home, this is a happy moment.
It is important to be aware when a dog is aroused for several reasons.
Aroused dogs typically have less control over their bodies and mouths. If you have ever been training your dog with a game of tug, ball or frisbee, you may have noticed your dog becoming aroused. They are less likely to be responsive to trained cues for trained behaviors. And less likely to learn when they are aroused. When I am working with a client because the dog is reactive barking and lunging at another dog while on leash. I plan sessions to teach the client how to train the dog "watch me" because the dog is not going to learn anything. Aroused dogs can have problems calming down quickly if they just experienced going for veterinarian visit or a visit to the groomer. They may be sensitive to touch and need time to calm down.
As a behavior specialist and trainer its important I set up sessions to help the client and dog. The environment needs to be checked and everything planned and followed. As I coach clients to be aware of triggers because a dog that is over aroused is going to struggle. Arousal levels should be manageable and very low.
Now we can talk about stress. Both stress and arousal are closely related. There are two types of stress eustress and distress. Eustress is good! Most of us dog guardians have seen it. This is a state of excitement and it can be a positive stress. If you have walked in the door and your dog is just so happy to see you that is a good event. For dogs that really enjoy the agility course this too is a good event.
Distress is not good. This is a time when the dog is overwhelmed, with excitement, fear, tension and making the dog very uncomfortable. I have worked with dogs like this and I know to take my time, don't move too fast.
There are levels of stress, low, medium and high. Low levels of stress are not a major concern. These may come and go quickly in different situations. High levels of stress are serious and need to be relieved.
It's important to always consider the context of the entire body and the situation. There are many reasons I always say don't corner a dog. Tight spots are not good!
Low levels of stress:
• Tongue flick
• Averted eyes
• Body weight centered backward
• Ears back
• Displacement behaviors: scratching, stretching, self-sniffing, licking, sneezing and shake off
Medium levels of stress:
• Leaning away, slow approach
• Moving away
• Repeated tongue flicks
• Mild facial tension ridges
• Lowered tail
• Hard eyes
High levels of stress:
• Panting and drooling
• Tight, numerous facial tension ridges
• Whale eye
• Tucked tail
• Sweaty paws
• Stiff muscles/ body
• Repeated, loud whining or yelping
• Escape attempts, running away
• Pacing back and forth
It's important to look at everything in the dog's environment. If problems occur during situations, then contact a certified dog trainer for help.
© 2021 Mecca Curtice CCDT, CTDI Behavior Specialist
The dog is stressed!