Spotlight on the Stress Bucket by Kelly Murrell

stress bucket

Photo by Devon Dogs

Have you heard of the term ‘STRESS BUCKET’? Not really sure what it is and how it affects your dog? Or how to manage it? Or how to ensure that the bucket is never full?…then read on!

Lots of people are aware of negative stress events that their dogs experience. For example; having a fearful experience such as hearing fireworks. Negative stress events absolutely do get added to the bucket, but here’s the thing, so do positive stress events.

A positive stress event is something like enjoying a high energy training session, a game of fetch or running an agility course. These are enjoyable events for our dogs but physiologically the same hormones are released whether your dog is experiencing negative or positive stress.

Why we need to consider negative AND positive stress events that our dog is experiencing

Think of it this way; each event represents a glass of water and each glass gets poured into the bucket. Like with all buckets, there is a limit as to how much water your dog’s stress bucket can take before it over-flows. If your dog’s stress bucket is full it is likely that you will be seeing behaviour responses to relatively mild encounters or to things your dog normally tolerates and is normally OK with, but all of a sudden isn’t. Ever thought; ‘he doesn’t normally react this way? What’s going on?’ Or have you ever wondered why your dog’s responses to certain things are often unpredictable?

Here’s the very crucial thing

Once your dog’s stress bucket is full it can take an *average* of 72 hours before it starts to empty, that’s IF no further positive or negative stress events present themselves. So, if your dog is continuing to experience positive and/or negative stress events with a full bucket, you will likely see a continuation of behaviour responses, and so the cycle of reactivity goes on and gets rehearsed.

So that is the nuts and bolts of the STRESS BUCKET. Next we’ll be discussing the very first thing you need to do if you think your dog’s bucket is full. Need help with your NBN dog? Head over to: https://www.devondogs.co.uk/book-training/naughty-but-nice/

Give Your Dog a Break

Wondering if your dog’s stress bucket is full? If you are finding that your dog is reacting to things that they aren’t normally worried by, give your dog a break from everything….we mean everything. Giving your dog a break is crucial, this is an essential stage and we can’t STRESS (pun intended!!) this enough!

  • Giving your dog a break means keeping them home for a few days, or perhaps a week or two, depending on the dog!
  • If your dog continues to experience positive and/or negative stress events when the bucket is full, the situation will never right itself. The bucket needs to be given a chance to empty before you can do anything else!

Be Your Dog’s Geek – Knowledge is key

 “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you!” Here are a few things to consider in general and before the bucket is full.

  1. So just what events and situations are you putting your dog in? Be mindful of your dog’s week in terms of positive and negative stress events. Become their expert and know when to remove them from a situation if you know that it is leading to filling the bucket…or actually not putting them in a situation in the first place if you know it’ll be way too much for them, whether that’s a positive or negative experience!
  2. Notice what behaviours your dog exhibits to certain events. Thinking specifically in terms of negative stress events, be mindful that some dogs don’t respond in the same typical fashion, so really any change in behaviour during an event should be considered as bucket filling. Be aware that certain events will fill the bucket quicker than others…..some events may even fill the bucket in one go…depending on the dog!
  3. Become your dog’s absolute expert, get to know YOUR dog best. Know what makes them tick and know ahead of time how they will likely respond to an event and decide whether they should be put in a particular situation or if it’s better for them not to be involved. 

Want to grow your knowledge? Check out the Naughty But Nice DVD: https://www.devondogs.co.uk/product/training-dvd/


Grow Calmness

Calmness is one of the top concepts to grow in a dog. Thinking about it, when a dog is calm, the behaviours they exhibit are never, ever inappropriate. The choices they make are always something we are looking for. Not only will growing calmness help with other training struggles, but in terms of the stress bucket, calmness helps to empty the bucket. Working on the calmness triad is key. The calmness triad is made up of:

  1. Passive Calming Activities: long lasting chews, stuffed kongs, scatter feeding, snuffle mats etc.
  2. Active Rest: Dogs needs a lot of rest. Is your dog getting enough? And we mean proper, uninterrupted rest. If your dog is catching 40 winks here and there but gets up to investigate the slightest thing; a noise, something that catches their dozing eye, maybe you leaving the room, for example. Help your dog out by popping them in a crate, on a bed, a quiet room, or section off a quiet area using an x-pen. Some dogs need help with resting properly and removing the option of choice making will help them with that.
  3. Calmness Protocol: The reward nothing game. Want to know what that is and more about calmness? Click on the link below to watch a super cool Facebook Live from Tom Mitchell (Absolute Dogs): https://www.facebook.com/absolutedogs/videos/1800868706663283/

Grow the Bucket

So, we have covered what the bucket is, managing the bucket and ensuring the bucket is being emptied, now to look at how you can make your dog’s stress bucket bigger! Let’s face it, some dogs have a bucket the size of an espresso cup and it doesn’t take much to fill!

  • Thinking specifically in terms of negative stress events, the reason these are negative stress events to our dogs is because these events are novel.
  • Creating a dog who views novelty as something positive is crucial to growing your dog’s stress bucket. How do we do this? Two words: GROW OPTIMISM!

Yes, we talk about this a lot, along with growing calmness but we honestly believe that these two concepts are the most crucial! These are the two concepts that we need to ensure we are working on all of the time! Growing, enhancing and guarding optimism is key! Growing calmness is key!

If you haven’t already, check out this free eBook from Absolute Dogs called Optimism Rocks. It is packed full of info! It’s literally bursting with some super info. From theory to practical, it also includes many, many optimism growing games. Grow that bucket! Start now! Get your eBook HERE: https://nbn.absolute-dogs.com/optimismrocksbook.

Read more of our Thursday Training Tips HERE. And check out the Devon Dogs Schedule of Events HERE.

Do you have a training issue you want to tackle? Come and stay with us in our cottage style apartments, right in the heart of Dartmoor, and make the most of our fantastic training facilities onsite.

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