By Caroline Spencer canine behaviourist www.happyatheel.com
Rowan has just written a fabulous article about how cortisol and adrenaline work and ultimately when unbalanced they work against our health and wellbeing. We have these same chemicals in our bodies as every other animal, for a very good reason, however when we do not manage the world around us effectively both us and our animals suffer mentally and physically.
Many behaviourists write about trigger stacking in our dogs, encountering triggers of fear throughout their day with you. This stacking is not limited to visual stackers, we also have to be very mindful of stacking from sound and the other unseen sense but never the less very influential to health, is that of smell. Dogs sense of smell is phenomenal compared to ours, research figures state many different variables from 10 to 100 to 1,000,000 better sense of smell than ours. So take your pick, but the upshot is, you’ll never be able to fool your dog when it comes to how you are feeling or how everyone around you is feeling also.
However adrenaline and cortisol are not only released when we are mentally stressed, but we release it during exercise… it’s our Flee, fight, flight hormone and when we run we release this even if we are not running away from danger. Think about it for a second, fundamentally running is for getting away from a threat as quick as possible, also adrenaline stacks up in order that the dog ( as instinct depicts) can chase and down prey. It’s our and their survival hormone.
So, imagine yourself walking towards a sheep with your dog and you’re anxious that your dog will chase it … your dog can sense your change in smell, you’ve release adrenaline, for all intents and purposes this is for a speed chase for a joint of mutton, (we eat to survive). Same goes for danger threats, you see a dog and you’re worried it is aggressive, or concerned as to how your puppy or dog will react … whether you’re doing the right thing as you’ve had some much conflicting advice. You’ve already started stacking a trigger for your dog before you’ve even tightened a lead. You may have even ventured out on your walk in a less than relaxed state. ( we fight or flee to survive)
So keeping a check on your F,F and F hormones is paramount to communicating effectively with your dog. If you’re out of your comfort zone then so is your dog. If you’re upset, angry or anxious it’s all going to get up your dogs nose and into those receptors before you can nanno blink.
This is the main reasons why I only to 1-2-1 consultations and not group training classes. Even if your adrenaline is low, is the adrenaline of the person or dog standing next to you low? Have they just been for a long run? Have they just had a difficult drive to the venue? Anxious about being shown up and doing the wrong thing ?
Education is not just about being taught age appropriate skills, because quite frankly if it was it would work for everyone and every dog robotically. No dog is thick as much as no human is thick either. It’s about individuals and their own unique make up, how they tick and how they learn. So when you think you’ve found the best environment for training and its going pear shaped, stop and think about the reasons, generally you won’t be able to see them but most certainly you’re dog will be smelling them.
Above all else, in order to live a relaxed life and learn effectively and get the best out of that life you need to feel safe where you are and who you’re with. So if you’re a dog and live by your nose and all the information that, that gathers 24/7 however positive the education, it’s not going to work if all the information is clouded with the stink of adrenaline from you and those around you.
My next blog is about what to be mindful of when exercising and educating your dog to keep learning fun for both without stacking up confusion, frustration and fear by keeping things simple and as stress free as humanly possible.