Managing the ‘Stress Bucket’
In order to manage the stress bucket, you need to learn about your own dog’s bucket. We have already talked about making a diary to figure out what pays into the bucket, but there are some other things we need to consider.
How big is the bucket?
Some dogs have a much bigger bucket than others. For example, my 35kg cross breed has a tiny bucket! One 20-minute walk can be enough to over flow his bucket depending on what we encounter. Whereas, my little Staffie loves the hustle and bustle and it takes a lot to over fill her bucket.
How quickly does their bucket empty?
Imagine the bucket has a little hole in the bottom. Some dog’s buckets will have a much bigger hole and empty faster than others. Again, using my two dogs as an example, the big boy will take days to recover from an overflow. We tend to do enrichment at home and limit walks for him after a period of reactivity to lower his anxiety. Whereas, with the Staffie, a snooze in the car on the way home from a busy day is enough to empty her bucket.
Once you’re armed with all the info, we can start to plan how to manage your dog’s bucket. We have touched on this briefly already, but we can try to manage what pays into the bucket. Now, let’s be clear, there is no way you can manage absolutely everything that goes in that bucket. However, you can try to minimize the things you can control. If you know that on one particular walk there is a dog in a yard that always barks and upsets your dog, then take a different route. If you know your dog is anxious around cars, try walking them early in the morning when there is minimal traffic.
Next, we want to build a positive association with novelty, to help grow your dog’s bucket. For any sort of distraction, be that a car, birds chirping, a door shutting, anything that catches your dog’s eye, mark it with a que word like “yes” or “nice”, and calmly reward with food. You can also use meal times or treats as a great way of building confidence around novelty. Grab your recycling! Boxes and washed-out bottles, and scatter your dog’s food or treats in them. This is a great way to get your dog used to noises and textures that are otherwise novel to them. Depending on your dog’s level, you may want to start small and gradually introduce more items.
Finally, we want to help empty the bucket by spending time in calmness. There are three main ways you can promote calmness.
Active rest – This is when your dog is on a bed or in their crate just having a lie down, or even better, a snooze. This is vital to help your dog empty their bucket.
Passive calming activities –This is any activity that your dog can calmly engage in. It may be scatter feeding some treats in the garden, enjoying a lickimat or a long-lasting chew, or figuring out a puzzle feeder.
Implement a calmness protocol – This works by rewarding your dog for making choices associated with calmness. For example, if your dog takes themselves for a lie down, calmly reward them with some of their food.
Managing your dogs bucket can help with a variety of behaviour struggles, particularly those related to anxiety.