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Don't underestimate stress effects

Back in March this year Nessa (my five-year-old GSD) was exposed to an extremely traumatic event involving her caregivers. The results of the event have meant that there have been several changes in her day to day routine. She had to temporarily live in a smaller dwelling with a limited garden, walks in a new wooded area and around a village with different stimuli she had not encounter before, A complete change in walking routine and the ability to have enrichment and training. Recently she has had to move again and her routine has changed again!

I constantly talk about how stress affects our reactive dogs, and I have now experienced personally how severe that can be.

Not only has she had to deal with the emotional trauma of what happened, and the emotional, stressful changes in her routines and living environment. She has also felt the effects of my own stress, anxiety, sadness and so on.

I have noticed several changes in Nessa due to this.


Her anxiety has gone through the roof, and she has been more insecure than normal. Every time I leave the house she is worried I am not going to return and becomes extremely distressed.


Linked with her anxiety she is very unsettled, and although German shepherds are known for being shadows, she is following me more than normal and panics if I go into the garden to go to the bins and back again.


She is sensitive to any low-level noise, it could be anything. This never used to be an issue.


Sudden movements from me or the children put her on edge and usually result in a bark or two.

Other dogs

Nessa has been nervous around dogs ever since she had a few unfortunate encounters. I have worked hard to keep her reactivity low level and this was managed well, with her being able to either sit and wait or walk by another dog without the need to lunge and bark or become fearful. NOT ANY MORE, now she is actually barking at dogs from a distance.

Why all these changes?

The answer is simple, stress build-up. You see when your dog experiences stressful events and general stress day to day they get stress build-up, just like us humans. That build-up affects our dog's ability to process information, and make rational decisions. It affects their confidence and ability to cope with things they are already anxious about.

But this has also had an effect on me. Yes, ok, I have been dealing with my own emotional roller coaster, but seeing the effect it has had on Nessa has really affected me. To add to this I have found myself procrastinating a lot. I have been extremely restricted due to the circumstances on how much time I can give her, I have not been able to implement the necessary decompression work with her to help her reset, I have not been able to give her two walks a day, I have not had time to play with her, or train her. Safe to say I feel like the worst owner in the world right now.

I am sharing this because I know so many of my clients and fellow reactive dog guardians get this feeling regularly.

But on reflection what does it accomplish? Nothing, other than the fact that you feel more shit, your dog is still coping with stress build-up and you go around in circles, blaming yourself, resenting your dog, and having no enthusiasm to get the ball rolling to make the change.

Why is this? We love our dogs without question, and we hate seeing them like this, we want to do right for them. so why do we find it so hard to get started? Well, one of the big reasons is overwhelm. Overwhelm of the challenge ahead. You see if I listed what I have to do with Nessa in order to help get her back to where she was it would look like this:

  • Create a new structured routine that I can stick to.

  • Ensure Nessa has an outlet for stress daily with decompression exercises.

  • Regularly do sound therapy work with Nessa.

  • Rethink walking locations.

  • Teach Nessa something new to build confidence and release happy hormones to subsidies stress hormones.

  • Re-visit foundation training with engaging and dis-engage work alongside some focus skills and lead work.

  • create a safe space in the house.

  • spend quality 1-2-1 time with Nessa to re-establish our bond and trust.

Wholey crap! That's a lot of stuff, right? And let's face it your day is already extremely busy and you have no time for anything other than getting what is essential done in your day. If you look at this BIG list it is sure to put you off. I mean it's exhausting just looking at it. And this is why we sometimes find it hard to get started. We create a barrier and are overwhelmed by the number of things we must do.

However, what if we did the following?

1st create your list of things you need and would like to do with your dog as above.

Take one point at a time and then further categorise those into manageable tasks.

For example, let's take creating a structure and routine. I would have to do the following:

1) look at the default work diary and see what are my busiest days, which days allow me more wriggle room.

2) what on my personal and work diary cannot be moved

3) what on my personal and work diary can be changed so I can create designated times for walking, feeding, play, enrichment, training etc.

Once I have a clear understanding of where I have time to implement number three I can now create times and days for each task.

Simple right! But what if this still fills you with dread, lets's face it, it's just another long list.

You can go one step further and reduce this even more. let's take sorting out the work default diary. you would now be looking at:

  • Get my work diary in front of me

  • Get pen

  • Get a cup of tea

  • look at regular patterns

  • see what days I want to do certain work tasks

  • Write it down in an organized fashion

This looks much more doable, right! Especially now there is a cup of tea involved and a potential cheeky biscuit to go with it.

Already I can feel the stress from myself reducing.

I suppose I have created two important points in this blog.

1) DO NOT underestimate the effects that stress has on your dog, it really does.

2) when looking at embarking on a rehab program or setting up new challenges or goals don't look at the big picture, set yourself up for success and break it down into easy to manage chunks.

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together" Van Gogh.

Thanks for reading.



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