Window of tolerance part 3
The window of tolerance is a very clever tool that a clinical professor of psychiatry, Dan Siegel established back in 1999. This window looks into how we as humans are described best in a state of arousal in which we can thrive and function, especially following trauma.
Of course because the window of tolerance is another tool that we can apply to further understand dog behaviour a model of a window of tolerance was researched with dogs to understand their ability to function and thrive and where this landed within the window and where dogs were placed for hypo and hyper arousal. Two very different states.
Dog behaviour can be so complicated to understand and for most guardians the language is very different in observation of the behaviour. Guardians may tell us the dog is an embarrassment to walk, or the crying and pacing is becoming annoying and interrupting sleep.
Instead what we see are the underlying emotions and what is driving the emotions. Positive emotions means that a dog may want to engage with a stimulus such as play, or predation (chasing a rabbit) or even engaging in scent work, a negative emotion means that the dog is avoidant of the stimulus and feels that they need to protect themselves from the stimulus, they could be experiencing bereavement, grief, pain or unwellness or a feeling of not being safe. (1)
Many of the "problem behaviours" we are told about in clinical settings are actually emotions that are simply trying to protect themselves from feelings of danger, feeling unsafe or fear.
It's really important that we understand that reading from blogs is extremely generalised and not individualised to your dog.
But what we can do is discuss how we can meet dogs' needs and strive to prevent them from escalating into hyperarousal or hypoarousal.
To help prevent dogs from entering hypo or hyper arousal states, it's important to provide them with a balanced lifestyle and meet their physical, mental, and emotional needs. It's all about maintaining a balance, routine and lifestyle that makes your dog feel safe and comfortable and you are also happy with your dog.
One of the main concepts people understand about dogs or link to dogs is walks and exercise and yes this absolutely is important for healthy growth and development but it is also important to be mindful of the emotional bucket, trigger stacking and of course the window of tolerance, so if your dog has a negative experience on a walk or even at home it is really important to allow them 72 hours for rest and recovery.
Here is a summary blog I wrote to fill you in with in depth detail should you wish to learn more: Your dogs emotional bucket blog https://www.facebook.com/100057373879884/posts/632791141976676/?sfnsn=mo
During rest and recovery it is really important to offer but not force mental stimulation, this can aid in promoting deep sleep, emotional regulation, soothing and calming your dog, which all contributes to the emptying of their emotional bucket and reduces their trigger stacking. This can also prevent hyperarousal too. You can engage in gentle training, interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and scent games are great ways to engage a dog's mind. Providing regular mental challenges can help them stay focused and offer them alternative behaviours that are also going to meet their biological needs.
Many guardians report their dogs are in a state of hyperarousal both in the home and on walks, this can look like excessive barking, barking out the window, barking at sounds, chewing, digging, mouthing, grabbing the lead on walks, resource guarding, fighting with other dogs either in the home or on walks, fence fighting, hyperactivity when the harness and lead are presented for a walk, biting and grabbing the lead on a walk, counter surfing, separation anxiety and so much more.
So let's look at the home first: Incorporating activities that promote relaxation can help prevent dogs from entering hypoarousal or hyperarousal. These can include providing a calm and safe environment, using calming music or pheromone diffusers, and offering quiet spaces or cosy beds where the dog can relax. This can also look like working on a specific individualised plan for separation anxiety, providing an enrichment garden for engagement away from the fence, for an area dedicated to digging and engaging in sniffing.
This can also of course be mental enrichment and stimulation such as licki mats and puzzles or this could be engaging in gentle play or training with your dog, giving them one to one time or even sitting and reading to them. It's all about offering alternative behaviours before the escalation of arousal and creating a calm and safe space for them to relax and feel safe. This can also promote deep sleep which can prevent many behaviours that escalate and guardians struggle with.
Many over tired dogs just like a toddler can become aroused in either direction because they do not have the ability to self regulate. Sleep can also be disturbed due to having their bed in a high traffic area of the home, minor adjustments to the home for your dog, can make the world of difference. Window film is a brilliant and inexpensive way to prevent rehearsal of barking out of the window.
On walks working on calmness and lowering arousal before going out for the walk, can help to change the dogs arousal levels so you leave the home in a calmer state and this also prevents rehearsal of lead grabbing if this is due to hyperarousal. If lead grabbing is due to fear and feeling insecure this is due to hypoarousal and it is really important to set clear communications with your dog, where they can communicate to you, what is too much and what isn't. Such as a dog in the distance, utilising pattern games from Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt can be a huge help in learning how to empower and effectively communicate with your dog!
Being predictable and safe can be a big help for your dog, if the home is chaotic and there is no predictability, this can be stressful for a dog. Keeping to a routine as much as possible and a calm home can be a big help, rows and upset can also cause your dog to enter into hyperarousal and hypoarousal states.
Avoid overstimulation, we all like to do things with our dogs, but we have to respect them for the individual that they are. They maybe a homebody and introverted and they may find loud noises, crowded areas, or unfamiliar environments stressful, altering their arousal state. Be mindful of your dog's sensitivities and gradually expose them to new experiences and stimuli to prevent overwhelming arousal. Very much like humans, you may enjoy nightclubs and your spouse or best friend may hate them and enjoy curling up with a book, dogs are just as different as we are and it is important to understand the kind of personality your dog has to meet their needs.
Regular veterinary care is so important to ensure your dog is not hiding pain or unwell, regular check-ups can help to identify any underlying medical conditions that could contribute to hypo or hyperarousal. Addressing medical issues promptly can help maintain a dog's overall physical and mental well-being. Health checks are not the same as a booster vaccination visit, you have to book a health check separately. For dogs ages 7 and over it is recommended they have a health check at least once every six months.
When dog's feel the escalation to a bite there will be a trigger, even if one is not immediately identified. Even if your dog seems depressed, quiet, lethargic or very sleepy, during hypoarousal dogs can show aggression, although it is less common compared to hyperarousal. So a quiet and withdrawn dog is not necessarily a good thing!
In some cases, aggression during hypoarousal may be reactive or defensive. When a dog is in a hyperarousal state, they may feel vulnerable or threatened and react aggressively to protect themselves. For example, if a person or another animal approaches or touches a dog while they are in a hypoaroused state, they may respond with defensive aggression.
It's important to note that aggression during hypoarousal can also be a sign of an underlying medical issue or pain. When dogs are in pain or discomfort, they may display aggressive behaviours as a way to communicate their distress.
If you notice aggressive behaviour by your dog, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog behaviourist. They can help identify the underlying cause of the aggression and develop a suitable treatment plan to address the issue.
Dog behaviour is so vast and complex and can be hard to understand but a multidisciplinary approach and support from professionals can help to identify the motivation for the emotion.
Remember, every dog is unique, and it's important to understand their individual needs and thresholds. If you are unsure about managing your dog's arousal levels, seek guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviourist who can provide tailored advice and support.
Panksepp J. Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford University Press; New York, NY, USA: 1998.
Title: FEELINGS Thermometer for dogs and subtitle We need our dogs in the optimal zone to thrive.
A grey background infographic with a thermometer to the left hand side. The thermometer is blue at the bottom, green in the middle and orange on the top. There are 6 text boxes in colour code parallel to the thermometer. There are 3 Wolfdog cartoons on the thermometer. The blue zone has a cream and grey Wolfdog howling with the label hypoarousal in black text.
The Wolfdog on the green middle of the thermometer is a charcoal and cream Wolfdog on his back playing with a Kong toy. The label says optimal level.
The Wolfdog on the orange section of the thermometer is charcoal and cream, sat with a purple teddy in his mouth with the right ear chewed. The label in black text reads: hyperarousal.
The first text box parallel to the bottom of the thermometer is light blue in colour and in black text reads: Shut down, lethargic, possibly not eating, possibly suffering with depression and distressed.
The second text box parallel to the lower bottom of the thermometer is darker blue in colour and in white text reads: Fatigued, sleepy, little motivation to move, not really interested in exercising or enrichment.
The third text box parallel to the middle lower of the thermometer is light green in colour and in black text reads: Optimal level. Able to cope with stress effectively (eustress), optimal ability to learn and respond to cues,thriving!
The second text box parallel to the higher middle of the thermometer is darker green in colour and in white text reads: Able to be present and demonstrate curiosity, able to self regulate emotions, able to listen actively and engage.
The text box parallel to the bottom of the orange section of the thermometer is light orange in colour and in black text reads: Hypervigilant, high state of arousal, humping, lead or barrier frustration, mouthing, dilated pupils.
The first text box parallel to the top of the thermometer is dark orange in colour and in white text reads: In a state of fight or flight, lunging, barking, growling, high risk of bite, unable to engage, piloerection, stiff body.
Second image description: A comic book strip with two windows on the left hand side representing hyperarousal states. The centre title reads "Window of tolerance and meeting needs". Under this reads muttsnmischief.com
In the first window a green and black comic background with a grey and cream Wolfdog in a play bow to the front of the screen. The lower window has a green and black comic background with a grey and cream Wolfdog growling with piloerection. A starburst text box says: Scared of escalation of growl or bite. A white label at the top says: hyperarousal.
The centre window is a pink starburst comic background. The lower image is a Wolfdog in a Doggy Enrichment Land, the middle image is a Wolfdog on his back playing with a Kong, the top image is a Wolfdog sat playing the chair game with their handler who is in a Wheelchair.
The right hand windows have a pink and white starburst comic background. The top window is of a cream and grey Wolfdog howling. The lower image is a grey and cream Wolfdog growling with piloerection. A starburst text box says: Scared of escalation of growl or bite. A white label at the top says: hyperarousal.
For Mutts & Mischief
If you enjoy my blogs and
would like to support my
work, you can support
me by buying me a Coffee!