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Stress - Good or Bad?

In the field of dog training and canine behavior in general, we talk a lot about consent and convincing dogs to do the things that we want them to do. Maybe it’s luring or shaping or even capturing a behavior, but these methods all require some level of incentive to train and exist with us.

But in this bid to focus so much upon consent and commitment to work with us – maybe even for us – we fall prey to one of the most essential stimuli and experiences that all creatures must deal with at some point. That experience is stress. Not all stress is good, as not all stress is bad. It is simply a part of life that we must deal with and accept into our lives. Naturally, we don’t want to inflict stress on those that we love, least of all our beloved pets! But in this determination to protect them, we are doing them more harm than help. We have removed the stress so much so that when faced up with a stressful situation, our pets have lost the ability to keep calm and problem-solve their way through these issues.

Flooding is a kind of stress that stems from therapy. Its origins bear roots in the theory proposed by Thomas Stampfl and his work with combatting the extreme phobias that his patients would suffer from. The thinking behind his theory is that by subjecting patients to a prolonged period of exposure to these phobias, that the initial fear would begin to diminish. The same can be said of dogs. Flooding can be used to teach a dog that stress is an essential part of life and prevent it from transitioning stress into fear.

As it is with all things, we cannot use this method as a catch-all for training our dogs, but it can prove useful for several venues in our dogs’ foundational learning. This means that for dogs, flooding is not always connected to fear. Sometimes, flooding is connected to an unpleasant experience, perhaps even something the dog does not have a true aversion to, but just something that he does not want to do. For example, bathing your dog is something that needs to be done regularly to keep them healthy and in good standing with their hygiene. This is not scary for the dog, neither is it something that your dog is likely to ask for. Nonetheless, it is something that must be done. By bathing the dog regularly, we are teaching him that he can’t just run away from something unpleasant (stress) and that he has to manage himself whilst the event is ongoing. At the same time, he learns to normalize the experience and what was once perhaps a young puppy screaming and thrashing in protest, you now have an adult dog who will be fine to stand as you bathe him and not look upon you (or the bathtub) with resentment. At this point, you have desensitized your dog to this experience and this will serve to help you throughout the dog’s lifetime.

In conclusion, consent is a vital tactic to implement with our dogs, and it should make up for most of our dogs’ learning. But sometimes, working from a different angle can be a temporary solution for permanent results.

Warm Woofs,

Bash of Maximum Obedience

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