Published with the consent of a fellow Concept Dog Trainer. She speaks from the heart to describe what some of our dogs must feel when arousal levels are too high albeit from a human perspective.
Have you ever been in the position of needing to make some kind of public performance? Maybe playing a musical instrument, dancing, gymnastics, making a speech etc etc? You practice and practice and practice and become just about perfect, then you tootle off to your performance and a little bit of Adrenalin kicks in and you turn into a dribbling quivering incompetent wreck? I think it must be like that for our dogs. In my younger days I was desperate to play Irish jigs on a penny whistle at the local pub folk night. I was good - really really good, but with an audience, even the pressure of trying to record myself, just blew it all to pieces. I learnt the skill but I never learnt to think in arousal.
I am a total wuss when it comes to theme park rides - it’s phobic it’s so bad, even really tame rides. In the summer of 2016 I accompanied my partner and his 2 kids to woodlands in Devon determined to start to kick this phobia in the teeth. I went on the water flume thingy first - the tamest of the 3 - it petrified me, but I emerged triumphant and so happy with myself. Now overly confidant I arrived at the pirate ship swing boat - I was definitely hesitant at this one but reasoned that if I sat in the very middle I’d go slower and lower than the other riders and I could do it.
The fear set in before the thing completed its first baby swing and I can remember getting eye contact with the woman operating it and saying “let me off - please let me off”. She didn’t of course. After that I cried, I begged my partner to make it stop, and I told him I was going to die. I believed this with all my heart and although he was lovely and put his arms round me from behind, he tried to reason with me. You can’t be reasoned with in that state. Now I love the bones of that man, but the more he tried to reason with me, the more I could’ve swung for him. If I’d been a dog he’d have got bitten for certain sure.
I know it’s helped me to stop and realise what this level of arousal feels like. I couldn’t have followed any instruction in that state for £million. The next day (we were camping there), I couldn’t even watch the kids on that ride. It definitely took 72 hours for my bucket to empty.
Could you feel the writer slipping into an area she knew was beyond her control, yet she could not overcome her reactions? Now think about your dog. They too experience super high arousal, sometimes to an extreme. If our compartmentalized brains struggle to think clearly when over aroused, can we expect our dogs to think clearly in their frenzy?
Thank you Tracey Cross for sharing your words with my readers. They are powerful and vivid, and I am honored to share them.
Rebecca Porter has been fascinated by dogs for decades, but it took a frantic mixed breed to send her on a journey into innovative and real life solutions in dog training. Supported by a global team, she brings back the good news: Dogs can overcome nearly every struggle if you know how to reshape their brains through games.