We all have a bucket with a hole in the bottom. We could call it a stress or arousal bucket, but it is so much more than that.
As long as the bucket is not too full or fulling quicker than it can empty, we stay on an emotional and behavioral equilibrium. If the bucket fills too high or even spills over however, we can see a whole raft of reactions and behaviour we don’t wish to see. Some dogs and some people have a large bucket that can take quite a lot to fill, whereas others have a much smaller bucket that will overflow quite quickly. Some have a large hole in the bottom allowing a good rate of emptying and others have an exceedingly small hole finding it much harder to let things go and regain an equilibrium.
The easiest dog will be one with a large bucket and a large hole at the bottom. These are the dogs that can handle most situations and remain fairly calm and, if excited, can regain composure fairly quickly. On the flip side, a dog with a small bucket and a small hole will be a difficult dog to handle and live with and normal life for this dog will be incredibly stressful.
The good news, however, is that we can affect the size of the bucket and the size of the hole through games and training. More on this later.
What may a full bucket look like?
It is important to note that not all dogs will express themselves in the same way when their bucket is filling or overflowing. Some dogs behave with active type behaviours and others do the opposite and seem to shut down and switch off.
- Reactive to other dogs, people or noises
- Excessive mouthing or chewing
- Excessive jumping up behaviour
- Restless, struggling to settle or relax
- Frequent zoomies
- Frequent excitable barking or barking at everyday events
- Destructive behaviour
- Not interested in play
- Lost interest in food/treats
- Seeming disengaged/switched off and unresponsive to requests or training
Now lets consider the things that could pay into the bucket. Although this will to a certain extent be individual for each dog, there are many commonalities. It would be easy to assume that only negative or stressful events would pay into the bucket, but this is not the case as you will see below.
There are principally 2 bucket filling factors to consider.
- Pain or discomfort of any kind, which is why vet checks are essential if the behaviour of a dog changes.
- The events and lifestyle of the dog on a day to day basis. These are often not big or catastrophic events but many small micro triggers. This can make it difficult for owners to understand why a dog may suddenly react in a certain way to a situation, or why the dog's behaviour changes over time as there may not have been any notable changes to the dog's life.
We will now focus on the lifestyle and events aspect, as this is where you as an owner has the biggest influence to change things.
Bucket filling events:
- Deliveries to the door
- Barking or noise from neighbours
- Seeing other dogs on walks, if perceived as scary or stressful for your dog
- Children playing around or interacting with the dog
- Repeated ball chasing
- Excited play with other dogs or owner
- Agility training and other excitable training
- Days out with family and to new surroundings
- Left alone at home
- Other dogs in the house
- Getting over aroused around feeding time and food
- Chasing birds on walks
- Seeing cats
- Crowds of people
- Car travel
- Loud noises
- Bitch in season (progesterone)
- Rebukes and reprimands
- Owners’ emotional state
- Family arguments
- Lack of clear boundaries and leadership from owner
- Inconsistent handling and feedback from the same person or different family members
- Vet /grooming visits
- Disturbed sleep/ not enough sleep
The list of potential micro triggers feeding into the bucket is endless and will, as I said, look different for each dog. The important thing to realise is that even positive things can feed into the bucket and contribute to filling the bucket up.
I am sure we all have experience of our own bucket filling with micro triggers over the space of a few days or weeks, until we suddenly respond very strongly to a fairly innocuous event or reach a stage where we are physically restless and find it hard to relax.
- DRAW YOUR DOG’S BUCKET. IS IT SMALL OR LARGE AND WHAT IS THE SIZE OF THE HOLE?
2. MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE EVENTS THAT PAY INTO YOUR DOG’S BUCKET ON A DAILY OR REGULAR BASIS. REMEMBER TO INCLUDE BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EVENTS.
NEXT TIME WE WILL LOOK AT HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR DOG BY:
- Reducing the input to the bucket allowing for it to empty.
- Growing the bucket and making the hole bigger