Life is pretty exciting for dogs!
Think about the swings in excitement, up and down, presented just by normal daily comings and goings.
This might include the excitement of seeing their family, getting a meal, noises outside or at the door, other dogs in the area barking or seen out on walks, people coming and going, car travel or trips out & about, joggers or other moving things, lots of sniffs and squirrels, not having enough time or space for eating or resting, and being tired, bored, cold or hot.
All of these goings on, that are completely normal and not necessarily negative, cause swings up and down in their body’s responses and emotional reactions. Stress responses, can be good or bad, and prepare the body to deal with challenge; physical, emotional, behavioural and so on challenges.
There might not be time between these challenges to allow for your dog to recover and relax again, so when piled on top of one another, the dog’s stress response may be bigger.
Life in Rollercoasters
While stress isn’t all or always bad, being wound up or stressed over longer periods isn’t pleasant and may be damaging for the brain and body. Remaining in a stressed, excitable or wound up state can most certainly have negative impacts on behaviour and behavioural health.
When we engage the dog in an exciting or exerting activity or expose them to such situations, their body produces conditions that prepare them for the impending challenges. Some of these conditions in the body are essentially addictive…you’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies”, right?!
Canine adrenaline junkies, just like their human counterparts, may put themselves in situations where they can get their fix, even situations that wind them up due to distress, such as barking or lunging at scary things. And they need a bigger, harder hit every time.
This means these dogs are up and up and up and up, and may find it more difficult to come back down, to inhibit their behaviour, to respond to cues, and may be living in an ongoing stress bubble.
The more the dog engages in such activities the more their baseline for calm is raised and they can find it more difficult to settle or calm themselves, they might be on edge, they might lose it quickly and easily, they might be over-active.
We don’t want to stop activity or prevent excitement…’cos where’s the fun in that?! Instead we will think in rollercoasters to help prime the dog’s stress systems to engage and relax, engage and relax.
This will help the dog develop skills that allow them to calm themselves more efficiently after getting wound up.
But as much as we might like our dogs to be calm, they do need opportunities for crazy! And establishing a way to support them in this can help them cope better with the effects of daily life, and all the challenge that brings.
Make each day a Rollercoaster Day!
Consider ways to insert Rollercoasters and your established Wind-Down Routine across your dog’s day to help them deal with all the challenges that life in the human world presents.
Have Rollercoaster Outings too!
Think about how you might integrate Rollercoasters into your dog’s outings. Use elements of your wind-down routine to help them come down a little, before bringing them up again as you both adventure together.
Include mixes of activating and pacifying activities as you go; it’s very easy to encourage sniffing after more intense activity and then dialing it up again and bringing it down with more sniffing. This makes outings far more beneficial, enriching and tiring…but in a healthy way!
Play in Rollercoasters!
True play provides lots of opportunities to rehearse stress busting sequences, just like Rollercoasters.
Play can be tricky to define and while we certainly think we know it when we see it, our play with dogs is often misguided. We have ideas of what human-dog play should look like…things like fetch games…and when dogs don’t play this way we think they’re not that into play or toys.
As is so often typical of us humans, we often approach play in the way we think the dog should play or in the way we think the dog should enjoy playing. And this so often turns the dog off play, changes the nature of games and ultimately causes break downs in communication and relationship.
Improving toy play from intense fetch, to real interactive dog-led play takes some effort; you’re not just a ball launcher any more. You are an active participant in the dance of play with your dog. Check out this clip:
Play Challenges from #100DaysOfEnrichment for more:
When we do play with our dogs, we are careful to play in rollercoasters. This helps to prevent mis-communications between humans and dogs that can happen when things get exciting because humans and dogs often play differently.
Tug games, and variations of this play, are better toy based games for humans and dogs to play then a lot of fetch type games. No matter, we play in rollercoasters!
In this clip, Tayto learns to release the toy and sniff to help bring him down as tugging heats up, bringing him up again:
We can also apply some established behaviours to help bring the dog down again and respond to cues, in between play that brings them up, like in this clip:
Rollercoaster Games work brilliantly without toys too:
Play toy-searches when playing tugging or fetching games but most importantly, mix it up. We don’t do the same play moves more than twice in a row. For example, toss the toy for fetch, ask for a cued behaviour on return, tug and release, then hide the toy for a search. Mix it up!
Regardless of how you and your dog play Rollercoaster Games, the general procedure is some version of the following:
- start the game when the dog is offering calmer behaviour, for example, all four feet are on the floor, they are quiet
- if using a toy, introduce the toy low down so as not to encourage jumping up or grabbing – move the toy in an enticing manner back and forth
- tug, play, interact for a 3-count
- say your release cue (then toss food if necessary for sniffing)
- have a break sniffing, lying down, doing other cued behaviours for at least twice as long as the play portion (e.g. 6-count)
- when the dog has come down a notch, start again by initiating play
Check out Day 57 of #100DaysOfEnrichment for some Rollercoaster step-by-steps.
Rollercoasters are great, in the moment, to help your dog do better with feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
When they’re ‘up’, provide them outlets for the crazy that come from you. This provides a release for them and may allow you to harness their responses, so you can more effectively guide them toward healthier behaviours.
By playing in Rollercoasters, and Rollercoaster Games, you are also practicing for these situations. Your dog is learning to respond and redirect, channeling their feelings, when overwhelmed or excited. All though fun and games, bringing many other benefits to your communications and relationship together.
Forget about obedience and traditional “training”; instead, think Rollercoasters!