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When stress isn’t stressful

Much is now written about stress in dogs – in fact it has become a bit of a trend for dog trainers to be told that dogs should be greeted sideways on, with narrowed eyes and a substantial amount of lip licking. The idea behind this is that the dog will recognise that you are using non-threatening signals in greeting.

While this is a nice theory, the practical reality is that very few humans in the ‘real world’ are ever going to say hello to your dog like this. While it may not be ideal, most dogs are greeted by well-intentioned human hands coming straight towards them – and this is something that they need to learn to cope with and enjoy if they are to manage in our world. For most dogs, this happens very easily so long as human hands and greetings are associated with food, toys, treats and pleasure, and we should regard it as a priority to socialise and expose puppies to all kinds of human greetings early on. We should also make sure that we can spot when our dogs are trying to tell us that they find a situation uncomfortable – and for this reason, I have made my webinar “Signals of Pre-Emptive Aggression” available as a recording. Just sign up here to watch it…

A balanced view

We must also remember that some stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Mild stress and frustration is often a part of learning something new: as so many TV contests, such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ demonstrate so well! As we all know, a gentle state of confusion is relatively common when faced with new information, the chance to learn a new motor skill, or when changing an established habit. This is not necessarily unpleasant: indeed, it can be quite exciting, as long as it doesn’t persist or become so great that we become overly emotional or want to stop the activity. For this reason, we should get away from the view that stress is always inherently damaging – it’s the amount and duration that really determines its effects, as well as a number of other factors: how we were conditioned to cope with it when we were young, how much predictability and controllability we perceive we have, and the resilience that we develop as adults. Maybe we should spend some time focusing on these aspects too. As my mother always told me, it’s not what happens to you that matters – but how you deal with it that counts.




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