Living alongside any dog can sometimes be stressful. And, if that dog happens to be a passionate predator who LOVES to chase, then the cortisol levels of their human are likely to be raised even higher too. In this article, I want to show you, how you can lower your stress-level by using ‘islands of realxation’ and how this will also affect your dog, your training success and daily life.
This article is dedicated to dog owners and dog professionals! If you are a dog pro, keep an eye on these boxes to gather some deeper extra-information.
What stresses dog owners?
There are many reasons, but when it comes to predatory behaviour, typical reasons are:
- Owners are concerned about the high risk of wildlife getting injured or killed by their dog.
- The dog barks and lunges at every squirrel or frequently disappears, trying to track a deer. This is stressful for their owner, who may be worried that their dog won’t come back or that they could get injured while chasing something.
- We care about what other people think about our dog’s behaviour and what they think of the way we try to control it.
- Owners feel the pressure of having to endlessly entertain their dog each day to try and get them to calm down.
- Owners try their best to solve behaviour issues but don’t see any improvments. This is also very stressful and frustrating.
How does Stress affect us?
Now that we understand some of the causes of stress, we can take a closer look at how this prolonged high-stress level can affect us:
- Just like our dogs, we tend to feel more on edge and less tolerant of things we can usually handle well.
- We may try and manage this stress by looking for quick and easy rushes of dopamine (e.g. by checking the fridge, eating unhealthy snacks, making impulse purchases online, or playing silly games).
- We may take things more personally and feel upset or annoyed by things that wouldn’t usually affect us in this way.
- Because we are not in homeostasis (our body’s normal hormonal balance), we may experience health issues like headaches, nausea, stomach pains, etc.
PRO-TIP: Remember that clients with highly prey-driven dogs probably feel stressed because of their dog’s behaviour. So, they may already be at the end of their tether when they come to you for advice. So, to keep their motivation level high, begin with exercises that are easy to implement and lead to quick successes rather than a whole program of significant adjustments. This can make it easier and more achievable for the client instead of them feeling overwhelmed by the work ahead.
How Do We Get Back Into Balance?
To reduce long-term stress levels and restore a feeling of balance and well-being, we need to learn how to help our dogs. This is where Predation Substitute Training (PST) comes in! It provides safe outlets for your dog’s predation needs and teaches them how to behave calmly around wildlife. It also gives you the knowledge to effectively interrupt uncontrolled chasing and hunting behaviour.
Using PST can help your dog feel less stressed too, because they don’t feel the desire to be constantly hunting. This allows them to switch off, relax more readily, and actually enjoy their walks instead of continually being on the lookout for something to chase. In turn, this should reduce our stress levels too. Happy dogs = happy owners!
However, there is something we can do to benefit both our dog and us – Establishing islands of calmness.
What are ‘Islands of calmness’?
An island is anywhere you and your dog can be together for a couple of minutes without many distractions or interruptions. Examples could be; A nice bench on the edge of a park, a rock at the top of a hill, a quiet country lane, in the middle of a field, etc. These islands should be in an environment that doesn’t trigger your dog. These are potential places for that extra bit of quality time for you both to decompress during the day.
The island of calmness should be just that – calm! You and your dog should both feel comfortable and relaxed on your ‘island.’
What happens on these islands?
Just do, whatever helps you and your dog relax!
- Catching that first or last ray of sunshine
- Listening to birds chirping, people talking in the distance, or your latest music playlist
- Breathing in all the scents around you (freshly mowed meadow, wet leaves in autumn, rain on a warm pavement, freshly baked bread from the bakery in your town, etc.)
- Enjoying a sandwich (you), a natural chew (your dog) or some fresh fruit (both of you)
- Sprinkling treats on the ground for your dog to sniff out and eat.
- Bringing their favourite blanket for them to relax on.
- Calmly stroking or cuddling your dog (if they are comfortable with this!) You could even do some gentle basic massage on your dog, but only if this is relaxing for them!
How Often Should We Use Islands Of Relaxation?
That’s quite simple to answer: As often as you wish to and as long as it feels good! Take the pressure of walking further distances to try and wear your dog out, and instead use your time for a bit of togetherness with each other. That is the definition of relaxing quality time with your dog!
Relaxation is especially important for dogs with a passion for predation. Dogs like this can find their external environment exhausting. The scents, sounds and movements of the outside world can be very over-stimulating for them, making it much more difficult for them to switch off and relax.
So, sometimes less is more! Less intense exercise and more relaxation opportunities can help your dog be happier and more contented. Taking the time to actually enjoy your dog’s company will benefit both of you! So find yourself an island of relaxation as often as possible – your dog will thank you for it!
Don’t go far, go deep! Create your own islands of calmness and enjoy it together with your dog.🐾
Written by Sonja Rupp (Team PST)
Predation Substitute Trainer and Canine Relaxation Specialist