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STRESSED! It is More Than Just Desserts Spelled Backwards

Posted on 05/13/10 15 Comments

Following up on last week’s post on stressing. First let me explain a bit further about what I mean about “anchoring”. Basically it is a classically conditioned response. Here is something I do to give myself a “good anchor”. Anytime I have a massage or other other relaxing pleasant experience. Before I get off the table I inhale deeply and hold my breathe for 10 seconds. While I am doing that I am squeezing my right hand tightly. I do this three times– I am anchoring the feelings of contentment and relaxation into the clenched fist. Now at a trial anytime I feel upright I take that same breath and squeeze my right hand to relax myself.  That is a positive anchor.

Making new friends at a castle in England.

Flyball people have anchored some great responses in their dogs and most of it is probably unconscious! The word “r-e-a-d-y” will immediately get most flyball dogs into an uber-excited, ready-to-sprint state. For others the word “out” and fighting with the dog has anchored in a response of “hang on to my toy as tightly as possible” in loads of flyball (and other) dogs. That is anchoring.

So with stressing dogs, many times this stress has been brought on or at least increased in intensity by anchors you are using possibly without even being aware. I recognize that when a dog is stressing you can not “reinforce” the stress by patting or praising (because we are dealing with classical conditioning) but you can anchor these feelings to have them return again. It could be the phrase “it’s okay” or it could be the way that you stoke the dog, the way your hover over him or even the type of food that you give them giving the dog — can be the anchor that triggers re-occurance. Possibly you may be going into a defensive mode trying to shield your body from the thing you think the dog may be stressing from. You little dog people are likely picking your dog up and talking baby talk to him aren’t you? All of these well meaning acts are often acting as “anchors” that re-trigger the stress to ensure it is going to happen.

For many of the low stressing dogs you likely have never allowed the dog to feel stress and recover from it. That is a big mistake. My guess is that anytime your dog struggled while training you stepped in thinking you were “helping.” Start the recovery at home with a fun, easy game of shaping. However during the 2nd or 3rd shaping session set up a failure  – –  and let the dog stress. He will likely give up and try to run away. Have him on a leash or in a small controlled environment where he can’t just give up and MAKE CERTAIN your rewards are so outrageously attractive that he won’t want to give up. Teach your dog to stress and recover from it. Life is full of stressors but that doesn’t make life bad, nor does teaching your dog to work through it.

When I was younger, every time I skiied down a hill for the first time in the winter  I nearly crapped my pants I was so stressed. Did that mean I called it a day and packed it in after one turn down the hill? No way!  I jumped on the ski lift to go up and have another go. Yes I was stressed beyond belief but that didn’t interfere with me having fun while I was stressed. It is possible for you, for me and for your dog.

Now on the other hand, for those of you with dogs that are over-aroused and can’t get the dog to focus on you or on the job at hand. Check out your own “anchors”. Chances are the thing you have been trying to prevent could be exactly what you are trigger. It could be as obvious as using the same type of treat or favourite  tug toy at ringside. Likely the biggest anchor to tell the dog to “get high” is you popping the collar or pinching their butt to get them to focus back at you while you say a phrase such as “leave it” or “watch me.”  With Buzzy, I always did obedience heeling prior to agility. The problem was I rarely did obedience anywhere else so heeling became a trigger to get r-e-a-l-l-y  excited because the best game in the world is about to begin, in the end obedience was a cue to go wild.

What to do now. Get my ebook “Building the Team” You will find games that can become good “anchors” for your dog. But the key is this. You MUST develop this good anchor extensively and re-charge it often away from the stress in order for it to be effective. Regardless of which direction your dog is stressing high or low– check your physiology first. I bet your breathing is rushed and shallow. Your physiology is a huge anchor and you need to be able to master it.

Some of you may have dogs that are beyond their first experience with stressing and you have inadvertently anchored this raw, fearful state for him, seemingly permanently or perhaps your dog’s “first experience” was so intense or injurious you think there is no ray of hope for improvement available.

Recovery is still available to most dogs and improvement certainly is within the reach of all. Some dogs may need the help of a licensed Behavioural Veterinarian (I am very specific about what I just wrote as many dog trainers try to present themselves as “behaviourists” and that is not to whom I am referring.) For some dogs in order to create a new altered reality you may need to use pharmaceuticals to allow the dog to first sense what “normal” really is. Either way, get started. Buy the ebook and start to create your own positive anchors for both you and your dogs.

Today I am grateful that I own a Mac since all PC users on the team can not access the hotel’s wireless internet:).

Not dipping to the well too often,


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    Monday, December 2, 2013 at 1:52pm

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  2. Melissa says:
    Friday, May 14, 2010 at 3:14pm

    I understand the concepts, but I am having a problem with application. My 2 year old for some reason decided to start stressing in the car. I narrowed down the stress response to when we go over 40 mph. He starts shaking, turns and faces the rear of the car, then yawning, then panting. How do you create a positive anchor when your dog is in the crate and you are driving over 40? As soon as we slow down and start making a few turns, he starts whining because he knows we are close to stopping and playing.


  3. Nat says:
    Friday, May 14, 2010 at 11:20am

    I used to think that I shouldn’t ever let my dogs be stressed and that I should always prevent any stressful situations. Recently, though, I’ve realized that stress isn’t always a bad thing and that stress is bound to happen, so (like you said) we should train our dogs to work through stress. Great post.

    I never realized that “stressed” is “desserts” backward, hahaha. Desserts are much better than stress, though 😉


  4. laura says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 11:47pm

    Susan Garrett you freak me out when you figure things out like Stressed is Desserts spelled backwards! Holy smokes!


  5. Sydney says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 11:25pm

    The red girls look great. Wishing you and the team the best of luck! Yeah for Macs!


  6. Mary M says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 3:14pm

    Nice post, good stuff to think about in everyday living with our dogs. They are oh so good at observing things we are not even aware of!


  7. Cindy says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 2:30pm

    Once again, awesome post! I actually practiced a bit of this last night at an evening agility trial. My little guy was stressing ( the dandruff told me so) and so I decided not to put him away or cuddle him, but to work on some leave its and some obedience moves where he could be successful. The flakes went away and the tail began to wag!

    I’m about a quarter of the way thru the e-book! Please keep wonderful stuff like this coming!


  8. Jenny Ruth Yasi says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 2:16pm

    I’m not sure I get the science behind “anchoring” ?

    I have often wanted to beg trainers to help me break a new situation + new dogs into smaller increments for my stress-downer dog. If only everyone would move their dogs away (or even turn them away) for the 30 seconds while she is doing her first run, my dog would find agility in new places near new dogs a lot more fun. Private and semi-private lessons are prohibitively expensive, but training in a new place, with new distractions, new lighting and sounds and scents PLUS unfamiliar dogs is lumping!

    It would be great if seminar leaders and teachers could understand the need to break anxiety-producing stimuli into smaller (even smaller!) increments for sensitive dogs, and to encourage, rather than reprimand handlers who reinforce those increments!


  9. Marsha Susag says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 2:00pm

    Hi Susan,

    Am enjoying your blogs.

    Regarding the small dogs and anchoring…..is it inappropriate to pick up the dog, tuck it under your arm and ignore it when it is stressing? My daughter-in-law has a min pin that does not have very good manners (she is taking it to puppy kindergarten so there is hope!). When Lucy starts to get snippy I’ve just been picking her up so that she cannot interact with the other dogs or people and ignore her. No petting, no eye contact, no baby talk or talk of any kind, no rewards.

    Thanks in advance for any advice.


  10. Theresa says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 1:48pm

    YOu look mahhhvalous, and relaxed and ready to do your best !!
    Great post , and thanks for sharing all that you so with us.
    We are blessed to have YOU in our lives !
    have a blast and may the best team of the day WIN !


  11. Jinger says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 11:31am

    I also love this blog. I’m going to invest in this book! After reading this I am realizing I’m part of my girl’s stress in the standard ring. Before reading this at our last show I decided to change up a bit what we do while waiting to enter this arena of stress. In hindsight I realized that she was a little better listener but still refused to get on the table. . I always knew she was stressed but had no idea I was a contributor to her stress. Thank you for opening our eyes.

    Best of luck to you!!


  12. Andrea says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 10:42am

    Love these types of posts where you explain learning, behaviour and training theories and concepts. Sharing your knowledge in this way is definitley putting good energy out into the universe and I hope it comes back to you double!

    Speaking of good energy, we’re sending lots your way for World’s. Have fun with the red dog crew! We’ll be cheering for Encore and Feature!



  13. Devora Locke says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 10:38am

    >> Teach your dog to stress and recover from it. <<

    Nine more priceless words from Susan!


  14. MJ says:
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 9:14am

    I have been reading the book as I have a young dog that gets stressed and does not tug or play near the ring, she will only take food.I am working on getting her arousal state up. Of course I have no problem in familiar locations. I have already started on some of the games and I thank you for the one about taking/removing the leash/collar and having the dog watch you.

    Good luck Team Canada!

    MJ also from a Mac


One Trackback

  1. […] So the question remains do you treat stress just like any other distraction in your training? My answer is a definite –possibly. First of all you need to be try to evaluate your role in your dog’s stressing. I think it is safe to say that most stress I see in dogs has been created. I wrote about this in the post Stressing Dogs and Weirdly Inappropriate Reinforcement and  in the follow up post Stressed: It is More than Desserts Spelled Backwards. […]

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