The Stress Bucket by Kelly Murrell
What is the Stress Bucket and How does it affect your Dog?
First off, I have to give credit to Absolute Dogs for coming up with this analogy. Its has helped me to understand my dogs so much better and I hope it helps you too. Our aim is to ensure that the stress bucket is managed via careful consideration of whether we ought to be putting our dogs in certain situations or not, playing games to boost optimism and working on growing calmness generally.
So what is stress?
Physiologically positive and negative stress have the same internal reaction, the same cocktail of hormones are released; including adrenaline and cortisol. An example of a positive stress occurrence would be an agility run, an example of a negative stress occurrence is your dog being worried by hearing another dog bark in the distance. Regardless of whether your dog has experienced positive or negative stress each occurrence adds to your dog’s stress bucket.
Once the bucket is full, it is likely that your dog will start exhibiting behaviour responses to seemingly minor situations. Ever had a situation where you dog reacts in a way that surprises you? Perhaps they never normally behave that way? It is likely that their bucket is full. The thing is, once the bucket is full, evidence has found that it can take an average of 72 hours for the bucket to start dissipating – in other words for the hormones to start leaving the body. In these instances, my advice is to give the dog a break from any potential negative or positive stress situations, and only focus on calmness activities.
Managing the bucket
So now you know what the stress bucket is, here are my 3 tips on managing the bucket:
1. Know your dog. Observe them. Know what signs they give when they are finding a situation uncomfortable. Before the bucket is full these signs could be extremely minor, a simple lip lick or look gentle away or a look at you for help, for example. Some dogs may exhibit uncommon and often misleading behaviours to a negative stress situation. For example, when one of my dogs; Bruce is feeling uncomfortable in a situation he shows this by becoming quite frantic/frenzied. To some this is mis-construed as joy and excitement as it looks like that in a way, but I can tell the difference. Become your dog’s geek! Learn what makes them tick! Be their advocate and remove them from a situation if you are picking up on any signs at all that they are having a hard time.
2. Work on growing calmness generally, as this will ensure the bucket is being drained.
3. Work on growing optimism. This concept helps to create a dog who sees every novel situation with a view that there will be a positive outcome. Dogs are faced with novelty a lot and so having the ability to bounce back and look at those situations with positivity is crucial. Optimism makes the stress bucket bigger, so if you have a super optimistic dog, the bucket will essentially never fill up!
If you haven’t already, download the OPTIMISM ROCKS eBook from Absolute Dogs by clicking here. This book has a massive amount of information in it and explains ways you can grow calmness and optimism and includes lots fo games that you can start playing with your dog now!
At the end of the day during the course of their lives, all of our dogs are going to experience positive and negative stress situations and our aim as owners is to acknowledge that and help to ensure that the stress bucket is managed.
Read more of our Thursday training tips HERE.