Over Arousal / Reactivity

Most people now know that the physical effects of  reactivity / stress / fear etc can last for up to 72hours after the event but what many people do not fully appreciate is the physical effects of over arousal.

Over arousal is often put down to drive but isnt the same thing. Over arousal is often not recognised for the damaging thing that it is and is therefore often not dealt with appropriately, if at all.

Arousal refers to a dog’s level of excitement and emotional control.
Highly aroused dogs experience the same as dogs that are stressed.

When people think of stress they think of bad things being the cause however there is both distress and eustress (bad and good stresses) but even good stresses become bad stresses if overdone. Over arousal causes increased heat rate, respiration and blood pressure and the release and build up of stress hormones. If you consider that you regularly partake in activities that cause your dog over excitement/over arousal then your dog may well be experiencing a permanently physically stressed state. Bodies are not supposed to experience this state permanently.

Here’s my personal experience of an over arousal journey. My dog Kodi loves water and loves retrieves so when I put the two together I get trigger stacking which leads to over arousal. In laymans terms excitement + excitement builds to double excitement which then = over arousal. When I first took him to gundog training and we would go to the swimming section he was a little over excited, as the weeks went on the anticipation built until he was out of control before we even arrived at the water/swimming site. I stopped taking him.

Years later we tried hydro, again the water + pool toys was a bad combination and over 3 sessions he got progressively worse, he would drag me from the car, drag me around the pool and down the ramp, throw himself in and now he was a nightmare even when the pool toys were not in use. He manically splashed around searching for them, couldnt really see what he was doing for the splashing and would accidently claw me in his frantic state. I stopped taking him.

I had, had him enough years now and over those years attended many behaviour and training courses and had trained hard in dog training & behaviour, over that time I had learnt so much more about canine behaviour and I therefore knew what I needed next and thankfully I found this in a lovely small but friendly hydro place called Waterhounds. I discussed what was happening and what I wanted to achieve, in short I didnt care about his actual swimming but his frame of mind.

First session was manic! They even had to hide the pool thermostat as he thought it was a toy! Cath and me worked with him to teach him to simply float in his life jacket, to let the tension out and just accept the water and when he did so he was rewarded with a small swim, in 1 hour I think he only got two as he took so long to be calm! But I was happy as even achieving calm once was progress.

Over the weeks we returned and worked with both Cath and John and slowly Kodi was learning that relaxation = reward, everything was kept positive and supportive and slowly you could see that the over arousal was leaving and he was beginning to enjoy swimming in a whole new and much better way.

Last week I took him again, he was happy and excited when we entered but walked nicely with me, after his pre pool check and shower he went up the ramp, waited without restraint for me to enter the pool, walked down the ramp and waited for me. I got out a toy……………yes a toy and we laughed as we remembered the one day when he was still toy free and someone accidently showed him one whilst he was in the pool and our faces were pictures of horror in anticipation of his melt down! He waited on the ramp whilst I went to the other side of the pool and I popped the toy down and went back to him then said ‘ok’ and splosh in he dived, took the toy and swam beautifully, relaxed, happy, listening and in no way over aroused! I could have danced with joy!

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