What causes arousal in dogs?
Dogs, particularly border collies who are prone to extremes of emotion, can become aroused in all sorts of situations, from excitement at meeting new people, to fear of new situations or other dogs. The more intense the emotion the dog feels, the higher the arousal. Arousal in border collies is particularly a problem when dogs are prone to being fearful or frustrated in certain contexts and can often lead to:
- aggressive behaviour
- over-excitement issues such as jumping up
- inappropriate play where dogs become increasingly excited and rough
- excessively fearful responses
Therefore keeping arousal lower for these dogs is important.
What are the signs of arousal in dogs?
Signs that your dog is becoming more aroused and less able to control himself include:
- Dilated pupils
- Hair standing up on the dog’s back
- “Humping” other dogs, people or objects
- Inability to concentrate on the handler even when there is food available
- Panting and jumping up
- Alternatively, (depending on the situation), mouth closed and body tense
- Vocalising excessively
- Pulling on the lead
Think of arousal as a sink that fills up….
It’s important to keep arousal in border collies with problem behaviour as low as possible to prevent incidents, such as aggression, fear, over-excitement or inappropriate play from arising. If you visualise a dog’s arousal level as a sink filling up, then every time something he finds exciting or stressful will be like a tap turning on and the sink filling up. It can take 72 hours after a stressful event for a dog to completely calm down, so his sink may still be full from something that happened two days before, in a constant ongoing process. As soon as the sink gets to the overflow level, he is likely to start reacting. So, if a one-off stressful event like a visitor to the home occurs, and his sink is already almost full, it could tip over straight away and he will react. However, if it is empty when the person arrives, it will take quite a lot of excitement or anxiety to fill it to the level at which he reacts and he will be able to cope and listen to you much better.
Ways to keep the arousal sink low:
- Cover windows to prevent dogs from barking at the window
- Ask visitors not to ring the doorbell or knock and message you instead.
- Leave dogs in a different room until visitors are settled before letting them in.
- Having a range of enrichment options, such as filled kongs and other treat dispensing toys, snuffle mats, lickimats and chews or toys to play with.
- Keeping dogs calm and not playing highly arousing rough and tumble play sessions.
This may be why some days dogs are more likely to react to people and dogs on walks but be less reactive other days, or be more likely to be aggressive in the home than on other days.
If you’re experiencing any of the behaviour problems mentioned on this page, please get in touch for help.