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Stress; Another Distraction or Something Greater?

Posted on 08/02/10 11 Comments

Recently our recall e-class came up against where “Stress” fits into the list of distractions you need to work through. I have written several blog posts on stress over the 2 years I have been blogging, if you do a search on “stress” you will come up with quite few. This one will add to the total.

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.

I am sure by now any of you with a “stressy” dog may be sitting there confidently thinking I am a self-righteous-boob for even considering such a ridiculous thought. But I know your dog training would get a lot easier if you were to entertain the possibility that I am correct.

I am talking about the dogs that stress both high (and get the zoomies) and  those that stress low (and seem to give up, sniff or just glaze over). You need to look at where the reinforcement for those dogs is coming from. Do you make it easier for your dog to be successful because she “stresses?” If you do, you are not alone because that is common contributor to stressing dogs.

Review the posts here on the blog on Planning To Fail for some keys to your success.

Certainly there is a stimulus that causes the original stress but it is what happens in response to the first experience that is important. Take dogs that are afraid of thunder storms for example. This is a real phobia. For some dogs it becomes so real they will not respond to cues or even take food. This is a point many stressing dogs can be brought to without you even realizing it.

Sudden onset fears, such as thunder phobias can be “counter conditioned” so that the dog can work through the stress. You effectively remove the stress for the dog. Counter conditioning often takes on the same look as distraction training at our school. It is creating a low level stimulus so that the dog can successfully function and make correct choices in the face of that stress.

A big part of your success depends upon how you use Reinforcement. The post  Are You Loved By A Wiener? addresses that to some degree near the end of the post.

So is there a difference between working distractions like a having another dog weave up behind your dog vs working a distraction like children when your dog is afraid of kids?

No, in both cases you need to lower the stimulus to a level where the dog can thoughtfully make choices. So would I work a “sit stay” and have kids screaming by if my dog was afraid of kids? Absolutely not, I would first work on the dog doing something she loved with kids near by such as swimming or tugging.

Encore used to so terrified of children I was unsure she wouldn’t bite at one point. Today she is practically bomb proof where kids are concerned. I certainly wouldn’t leave her unsupervised, but I am not longer afraid she will make poor choices and children are a fair distraction to any training I do with her.  My most recent challenge I am tackling is Feature’s fear of thunderstorms.

As I prepare for the Canadian Nationals this week I have asked a friend to write on the blog. She will be describing her “stressing” puppy and her path to overcoming this stress.  It is a great story!

Today I am grateful for new challenges!


  1. Nicola says:
    Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 4:16am

    My young spaniel is 2 and doing well at agility but we have frequent stops where I hesitate a fraction then she wont get going .. Or starts again and gets zoomies.. Im worried it’s stressing her and should I stop agility?


  2. Renae Kelly says:
    Monday, April 8, 2013 at 5:57pm

    I have a 3 year old female rottie who has weave issues in the ring. She does amazing in practice but get her in the ring and she stresses and acts like she has never seen a weave pole in her life. Sadly I belieave I created this issue.
    Here is a little backround: Last year I lost my heart dog to a horrible disease (she was gone within a week). Anyway I was in a bad state for a long time and sadly I shut down my baby dog and I will take responsibility for that. I have gotten her back to where she is working at the level that she that she should be at but the weaves are still a remaining issue. Sometimes it seems that she stresses at them and other times it just looks like she passes by them without even seeing them. I believe I have created a habit of her not doing them at a show. Looking for any advice on what to do to help get her through it. The biggest issue is I can’t seem to recreate in practice what she does at a show.


  3. Patsy Needham says:
    Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 1:17pm

    I have a 5 yr old pom who does agility. She will go to shows and does great and now she has the zoomies all the time in the ring. I dont know what to do! Can I fix this problem. I do love doing agility and she seems to love it too.I hope this is fixable! HELP!!!!!!!!!!!


  4. Scott says:
    Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 2:53am

    Stressing low is usually talked about more than stressing high.
    When you have a fast young dog running around an agility ring it doesn’t take much to bring out the zoomies.
    Would like to hear more of your thoughts on dogs that stress high.


  5. CHarrison says:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 5:40pm

    I too cannot access any material. I have emailed Jason – hope he is able to help soon. Don’t want to fall behind!


  6. Tammi Stone says:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 9:30am

    Help I’m stressed, day two and I get to see nothing. I am logged in and can not even go to see the comments, no lessons I am very disappointed I feel I am falling behind. My computer crashed last week and I am on my husbands computer. Does that make a difference?
    Please help me i am falling behind.


    • Barbara Klonowski says:
      Monday, August 2, 2010 at 10:11am

      I am having the same problem———-I see nothing . Are there videos somewhere?


      • Susan says:
        Monday, August 2, 2010 at 10:59am

        Yes Barbara, if you can’t see the videos than please contact Jason AT webmanna DOT com

    • Susan says:
      Monday, August 2, 2010 at 11:14am

      Tammi please contact Jason AT webmanna DOT com he will help you with any technical issues.


  7. Helen says:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 6:34am

    ‘Do you make it easier for your dog to be successful because she “stresses?” If you do, you are not alone because that is common contributor to stressing dogs.’
    Hi, thanks for this, Bob knows to go pick up the dumbell… at training one week he’ll go do it all fine. Other weeks he runs out and starts sniffing instead. When he does this we have been going back to basics with him, ie making it easier for him! He can do the ‘shut down’ not playing thing as well if he want to! What do you suggest I do? Do I just go get him, end of game? Sit and watch others. Mind you we are having a six week break at the moment so come September I may have a ‘brilliant’ dog!
    Thanks for all your work! Having a brilliant time with this.


    • Susan says:
      Monday, August 2, 2010 at 8:10am

      @Helen, this weeks blog posts should help you out . . . stay tuned!


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