Dog behaviour explained… the ‘stress bucket’

There’s no doubt about it, the pressures of 21st century living can be stressful for our dogs (as well as us). And, just like us humans, how our dogs cope with these stressors differs from individual to individual.

One of the most common questions I am asked by dog guardians is: “Why does my dog may react to something one day and not the the next?” It can be difficult to understand why a dog appears to cope with something one day, but not the next. However, just like us, a dog’s ability to cope with all that life throws at them, depends on many factors. The ‘stress bucket’ is one of way explaining this. It is also sometimes referred to as the ’emotional bucket’ and is another way of looking at trigger stacking.

The ‘stress bucket’ concept

The ‘stress bucket’ is a concept which comes from human psychology. It was created as an analogy to help measure stress tolerance and is just as applicable to dogs.

Just like in humans, the size of your dog’s stress bucket is influenced by a combination of their genes, early environment, learning history, life experience, and overall physical and mental health,

The ‘water’ in the bucket is a combination of all the stressors/triggers in your dog’s life. Each time your dog encounters one of their triggers, their ‘stress bucket’ begins to fill. If your dog has no way of coping with each stressor, their bucket will soon become full, to overflowing. Typically, this is when they will begin to react in the presence of another trigger.

Often, when a dog appears to cope with something one day and not the next, it is down to how full their ‘stress bucket’ is on that particular day. It is important to remember that your dog’s stressors may begin in your home and that their bucket may already be half-full before you leave the home.

Managing your dog’s stress bucket

So, how can you help ensure that your dog’s stress bucket does not fill-up and overflow? Start by making a list of the activities and things (aka the ‘good stuff’) that your dog enjoys in life and a separate list of all the things your dog finds stressful and scary (aka the ‘bad stuff’). Managing your dog’s stress bucket is a balancing act, you want more of the ‘good stuff’ going into the bucket, as it provides an outlet for the ‘bad stuff’. If your dog experiences too much ‘bad stuff’, their bucket will soon fill-up, and reduce their ability to cope with stressors.

My handy infographic explains this in more detail and can be downloaded by clicking here or on the image. I hope you find it useful.

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A dog's stress bucket explained