Understanding stress

Stress is defined as the body's response to any physical or mental demand. The response prepares the body either to fight or flee. Stress increases blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and metabolism, and it triggers a marked increase in the blood supply to the arms and legs.

When stressed, the body becomes chemically unbalanced. To deal with this imbalance, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream in an attempt to re-balance itself. The reserve of these chemicals is limited. You can dip into it only so many times before it runs dry and the body loses its ability to rebalance. Prolonged periods of imbalance result in neurotic behavior and the inability to function. Stress takes its toll on the body, be it a person's or a dog's. When the body's ability to counteract stress has been maxed out, the stress is expressed behaviorally and physically. This is as true for your dog as it is for you.

Mental or physical stress ranges from tolerable all the way to intolerable — that is, the inability to function. Your interest here lies with the stress experienced during training, whether you're teaching a new exercise or practicing a familiar one, or during a test, like the Canine Good Citizen test (see Chapter 12). You need to be able to recognize the signs of stress and what you can do to manage the stress your dog may experience.

Positive and negative stress — manifestations

Stress is characterized as positive — manifesting itself in increased activity — and negative — manifesting itself in decreased activity.

Picture yourself returning home after a hard day at work. A mess on the brand-new white living room carpet welcomes you. What's your response? Do you explode, scream at poor Buddy, your spouse, and the children, and then storm through the house slamming doors? Or do you look at the mess in horror, shake your head in resignation, feel drained of energy, ignore the dog, the spouse, and the children, and retire to your room?

In the first sample response, the chemicals released into the bloodstream energized your body. In the second sample response, your body was debilitated. Dogs react in a similar manner.

Help, I'm hyperactive

So-called positive stress results in hyperactivity, such as running around, not being able to stay still, not being able to slow down, not paying attention, bouncing up and down, jumping on you, whining, barking, mouthing, getting in front of you, anticipating commands, or not being able to learn. You may think your dog is just being silly and tiresome, but he's actually exhibiting coping behaviors.

Why am I so depressed?

So-called negative stress causes lethargy, such as a lack of energy, being afraid, freezing, slinking behind you, running away, responding slowly to commands, showing little interest in exercise or training, or displaying an inability to learn. In new situations, Buddy either gets behind you, seems tired and wants to lie down, or seems sluggish and disinterested. These aren't signs of relaxation but are the coping behaviors for negative stress.

Dog Potty Training

Dog Potty Training

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