I have been thinking a lot lately about stress, raising puppies, and frustration.
Recently I had a conversation with a respected behaviourist and we debated frustration and how much is acceptable for your dog to experience. I think that it's acceptable for well balanced dogs to experience a level of frustration during training and perhaps life in general without this being damaging to them. For example, in trick class we use free shaping exercises, those of you who have been to my classes will know I'm pretty damn strict when it comes to free shaping as far as helping the dog goes, and I would be more than happy to say that all the dogs participating in this exercise get frustrated- is this a bad thing? I don't think so- as long as you are not frustrating a dog that is likely to resort to an unwanted behaviour, or the dog starts to find the exercise too de-motivating to join in I don't see the problem. When I was a kid I wanted a horse, my dad told me to write a business plan, which was really frustrating because I wanted a horse now! I wrote that business plan and still didn't get a horse- even more annoying! Do you know what though?- it made me more resilient, taught me better life lessons and big news....it didn't kill me!
Then there's stress...so so much emphasis is put on not exposing puppies or adult dogs to any stress, allowing them to disengage the instant they feel uncomfortable and I'm starting to think, actually, this isn't totally ideal.
Iv seen loads of pups recently, from working line Dutch herders fed around gunfire, to farm dogs and puppies brought up in a house with puppy culture.
My opinion of stress in human terms may be different to yours...I believe it's really healthy. If you can experience stress, push on through it with a level head, and come out the other side smiling I genuinely think this makes you a stronger person, agree or disagree, whatever.
For us that's sort of ok because we understand why we are going through stress, and we know there will be an outcome sooner or later, dogs don't necessaraly know that but I do think they need to be prepared for it.
I met a lady with four dogs at a village (not dog) show recently, there was loads of other dogs there and it would have been cool if your dog is totally fine with other dogs but as I approached her to say hello she warned me her dogs weren't allowed to greet on lead, something they had taught since a young age at puppy class. It stunned me a bit, I was like, ah, cool ok, *stepping back with my dog* and that night I thought and thought on it, why the hell would you not want your dog getting used to greeting other dogs on lead? How is she gonna make sure they never do? What if they do? How will they know how to cope? Her dogs weren't reactive I may add...so that posed a conundrum in my long term thinking log.
Then there is the puppy culture method (which I love- this is not me slagging it off) but I do wonder how productive it is minimising puppies stress to a level when they are young...
I'm very strict about my protocols when raising my puppy, I'm not cool with him meeting dogs that aren't 150% nice, I wouldn't put him in a situation that terrified him but I defiantly would expose him to small amounts of stress deliberately with the aim of making him resilient to overcoming it as an adult dog. Examples of this are, I would teach him to be teatherd, when I work my dogs they need to be teatherd for 30-60mins while I attend to other jobs like calving cows which defiantly don't need the assistance of a dog.
I would take him to events, shopping centres and shows, expose him to noise, hustle and bustle, meeting other dogs on lead *shocked face*
Because in the long run this is what I want to be able to do with my dog, I want to be able to take him places, do cool things with him, meet people and dogs and him be fine with that, and big news, he is! I must add, when I'm undertaking this socialisation / stress innoculation / what ever you want to call it, it's planned, prepped and an awesome experience for the dog. Obviously if a puppy is anything less than well balanced I would change this plan specifically to him.
It's great that we are learning more about the risks of stressing them out, and what causes problems but at the same time we risk forgetting that the world isn't stress free for our dogs and we can do them a favour by helping them cope with that, I'm not in any regard endorsing punishment or flooding methods, this is a thought about plan, implemented by a dog trainer, let me know if you want advice on this.
What do you think?
Caption: Working Trials Top Team. Dogs, people, babies, malinois!
Bryony is a qualified dog trainer from North Somerset.