Un-Still Life With Cavaliers: One Stress, Two Stress, Distress, Eustress

Posted by on Jun 3, 2015 in Blog, General, Training | 1 comment

I ended my last post with a quote from Dr. Seuss, so it seemed fitting that I use a Seuss-like title while hopefully recalling some happy childhood memories (or maybe parenting or grandparenting memories to be realistic about the demographics of me and my audience.)  Today’s topic is stress, and that is because today is another Dog Agility Blog Event!  A number of talented dog trainers, handlers, instructors and writers are all blogging about stress.  And me too!  You can see a list and a link to their blogs here.   Check back later as more will be posted throughout the day.  One-fish-two-fish-dr-seuss-877122_636_800

Before I give you my thoughts on stress and dog agility let me make a disclaimer:  I belong on the receiving end of mental health services not the providing end, so take this with a grain of salt.  Unless your health insurance company wants to cut me a big fat check, in which case I’m fully qualified and I’m sure I can put a couple of letters before and after my name for good measure.  Just not as many letters as my dogs have.

Supposedly there is stress that is good for you, “eustress.”  It motivates, excites and focuses you, and helps your performance.  I have another name for that:  “coffee.”  I’m much more familiar with “distress,” the bad kind of stress, the kind that worries you, negatively impacts your performance, can make you sick.  It’s not helpful to your dog either.  And that’s the point.  I want to talk about stressed dogs, but what I’m really talking about is YOUR stress.  Yes, YOU!

So let’s get one thing straight.  There are dogs who are stressed by their environments, challenges, or other dogs.  But I think the majority of stressed dogs are stressed by their peoples’ reactions to environments, challenges, other dogs, and COMPETITION.  To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar (not a dog trainer as far as I know,)  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”  The first step to managing your dog’s stress is to manage your own self.

Let me give you a simple visual example.  If you had to perform a complex series of tasks as quickly as possible (see, you’re the dog in this scenario) which one of these guys would you want “helping” you:

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 9.59.06 AM  OR     Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.00.00 AM  ?      I bet your dog can read these facial expressions too.  So before you are too quick to decide that your dog is the problem, see if you can look more like the guy in the second picture.  Or I’ll send over the guy in the first picture to straighten you out.

There are lots of good sources for mental management to help you.  Web sites, online classes, videos, books, including dog-agility specific experts.  I’m not one of those good sources.  Check out some of the other blogs from today’s event.  Stress is a very common problem in sports, the workplace, the home and life in general.  There really is a lot of information available about overcoming “distress.”  So take it on like a problem with dog training.  Research it, talk to others, come up with a plan to manage your stress.  Own it.

Then go to a trial and put it into practice, like a newly retrained obstacle.  I have my own techniques, I can share a few:  Look at your dog and think about Dr. Seuss.  Or Shakespeare maybe if tragedy makes you laugh, who am I to judge?  Picture the ring crew naked (guess you’re not going to volunteer to be ring crew in my class anymore are you?)  Sing a song as you bring your dog to the start line (70’s tv show theme songs are excellent for this.)  Say your favorite nickname for your dog over and over as you enter the ring.  Let your dog see your happy self.  Laugh out loud, even if it’s going to be a train wreck nobody cares.  Trust me.  I have laughed and I have almost thrown up.  Laughter tastes better.

On that note I’m just going to sing a little as I smile at Gib.  Gib was born in a penthouse apartment in New York City and came to live with us in Vermont.  He has an excellent theme song.

green-acres-tv-show“Green Acres is the place to be…”


And for more perspectives on stress, don’t forget to read the dog agility blogs here.

– John Marcus, N.Q., L.O.L., W.T.F., Blogger Honoris Causa, Uncertified Counselor

All Major Insurances and Credit Cards Accepted.  Cash, Food or Beer Preferred.  Comments on this post will be moderated and closed seven days following publication.  Don’t stress about it.


One Comment

  1. I really like this blog on stress. I’m reading them from top to bottom of the list. So far yours is the funniest and actually very helpful: singing and/or repeating dogs name as a mantra. I’m
    going to try that.
    Agility trials are much less stressful than everyday life.


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