If you’ve spent any time around me you have heard me say something to the effect of, “Arousal and aggression are linked.” It seems to be a mantra that is one of my soap box issues and I say it at least once every time I give a seminar.
- It’s the reason I don’t want to roughhouse with dogs too much.
- It’s the reason I don’t want play at the dog park to go uninterrupted for too long.
- It’s the reason I stress that daycare staff need to supervise the dogs.
- It’s one thing I want everyone who deals with dogs to understand.
Arousal and aggression are linked! But what does it really mean?
Arousal is a state of energy in which a dog is excited and on high alert. This could be because he is happily playing and having fun, or it could be because he is getting stressed and overwhelmed. Either way arousal may show up in the form of a faster heart rate, a tense body, barking, mouthiness, jumping, spinning or a general lack of impulse control.
Arousal in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. However, leaving arousal at a high level without doing anything about it could be a problem because arousal can spill over into aggressive displays.
Think about it like this sports analogy. Ever seen hockey fans watching a high-energy hockey game? Ever notice how excited some of the fans can get? Yelling, screaming, cheering on their team…and then just as quickly, that energy can turn into an angry mob with fists flying. There is a tipping point that can spin the arousal into a spiral of aggression.
Parents of small children understand this concept. You watch your children on the playground so they don’t get “too wound up” because you know that “too wound up” can create problems. One minute your child is playing and laughing and the next minute someone is shoving someone else and tears are flowing.
This happens with dogs too. Arousal can lead to aggression if we don’t give the dog a break.
- So the jumping dog might begin to nip.
- The barking dog might begin to lunge.
- The running dog might begin to chase and snap.
Like kids on a playground, it is helpful to keep an eye on the play and give brief time outs from the activity to ensure the arousal doesn’t get out of control. Free for all play without interruptions aren’t good for children, and they aren’t good for dogs either.
Interested in a getting your puppy started off on the right paw? Check out my online puppy course!