Stress; Another Distraction or Something Greater?

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!

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