When Stress Is Too Much for a Dog / Triggers and Threshold Exposures
Dogs can react just like us when they are pushed over threshold. The goal with behavior modification is to keep the dog under threshold. Keeping a good distance between the dog and the trigger. When a dog is over threshold it's important to be aware of this and help the dog by removing the dog from whatever is causing this.
Triggers can be cats, dogs, skateboards, joggers, a person walking on the sidewalk the sky is the limit because the dog determines what is of a great concern to him or her. Take a dog on a walk and you have trigger stacking during the walk. Stress stacking up and the dog is now very upset. It's had enough for one day.
The dog above is over threshold and too close to the trigger, his emotional state is very aroused, he was barking and lunging. I removed the dog and started to scatter food on the ground to allow him to sniff to help calm him. As I created more distance between him and the trigger. Unaware dog guardians can easily push a dog over threshold. This is often how stress and anxiousness can start to affect the guardian also. A guardian can start to tighten up on the leash during a walk because they expect it to happen and now the leash tension has cued the dog trouble is ahead. When there are ways to distract the dog to do something else to break eye contact or start sniffing for some good, tasty treats on the ground.
Below is the same dog with the same trigger in a further away distance. A safe bubble around him. He can look and be calm when he knows the trigger is there. A safe distance away and now he can learn, because he is not reactive and over threshold.
Now the dog can learn as I continue to work in a safe distance. Dogs need to come down from a highly stressed state. Repeated exposure to triggers elevates stress hormones and can take several hours or even days to come back down.
Behavior modification does take time and following through with a plan. Sometimes it's a few months and then it could take a year or longer to help the dog. I will often suggest shortening the walks or stop the walks for now. Startup daily enrichment and mind stimulation. Keeping the dog in an area where they do feel safe.
Just daily walks can cause stress and anxiety in dogs and it's a good practice to know and observe the subtle signs. Subtle signs can be overlooked, and the stress just keeps building up. Then suddenly the dog is changing and then one morning you accidentally drop your glass of water, and the dog explodes.
When you notice changes its time to contact a certified dog behavior consultant or certified dog trainer in your area for help. I offer in person one-on-one sessions in your home or virtually. Dogs can bite when they have had enough. There are levels of bites also.
Helping the dog to feel safe is very important. You can learn more by setting up a consultation.
Mecca Curtice, CDBC, CCDT, CTDI
© 2023 Mecca Curtice, Mecca's All Breed Dog Training, LLC.