Arousal Levels in Dogs

arousal levels in dogs

arousal levels in dogsAfter a recent seminar by Suzanne Clothier, I’ve really been reflecting on how arousal plays a role in behavior. I had not really thought about it before. I have seen lots of people use play as a reward for correct behavior. Suzanne has really made me question my choice in raising arousal levels.

One of her examples was a calm and collected German Shepherds who was doing a herding test. The dog had never herded sheep before and this was the test to see how the dog would take to it naturally. She said the dog went from calm near the owner’s feet to high intensity once released after the sheep. It had surprised the instructor that such a calm dog had become so intense so quickly. This dog had had obedience training and quickly came back when recalled, but it left the instructor with some questions.

Suzanne concluded that drive has nothing to do with arousal. That a calm dog can have more drive than a highly aroused dog who isn’t thinking straight. In fact, increased arousal increases the chances for mistakes (on the dog’s part). This really made sense to me and I’ve been observing my puppy and dog since the seminar.

To Encourage Play or to Encourage Focus

So now I am at a cross road. Do I encourage play and excitement or should I work on calmness and focus? How should I approach arousal levels in dogs? Honestly, I’ve not come to a conclusion yet. There are amazing trainers on both sides of the fence. I am leaning toward limiting arousal in training for now. It makes sense to me – I’d rather have a calm, listening, and focused dog than a hyper one. I agree with Suzanne that dog’s are born with the drive they will have even though some training can slightly increase it.

Clark the Cardigan CorgiWhen it comes to my new puppy, he is extremely driven to chase and catch the toy at the end of the flirt pole and yet he was able to control himself from chasing kids on bicycles on our walk the other day. When he gets over aroused during our walks he will do “zoomies” in circles around me. When this happens, I get his attention and throw treats in the grass for him to sniff out. When he does nosework, he calms down extremely fast and has incredible focus. This brings his arousal level down so that he can focus again. I am really looking forward to seeing how awesome this little guy turns out like! :)

I think, no matter which side of the fence I land on, that I will always consider the dog’s ability to change arousal levels quickly most important. If a dog can become aroused and then calm down quickly, that is the key to a thinking and controlled dog.