Stress - The Impact of Chronic Stress

Things are not always as they seem; The first appearance deceives many.

Good morning everyone, it’s 4.00am and I can’t sleep. I’ve had a rough night, tossing and turning, things running through my head – so much going on and so much has gone on.
I wonder if I am stressed? Or is it excitement? Are they the same?

Let me think about this for a minute…… (tick, tock, tick, tock) Nope it’s not excitement because it’s been going on for quite a while. If it was excitement it would have been and gone and I would be back to normal. But looking back at recent events in my life - the loss of my two beautiful girls, overseas travel, Health & Harmony Dog Symposium, study, work and a young dog in the house. Hell yes, I’m under chronic stress. And I know that because I am now getting over a bad bout of the flu that hit me from know where, I can’t sleep and I can’t focus.

Let’s take a closer look at this:
So what does stress do to us? Well, Stress itself is not the problem because we need stress to function, so that’s a good thing. BUT, when there is a constant build up of cortisol in the body, like when you are continually peaking, it will have a long-term effect on the body and brain and obviously lead to behaviours that seem a little weird, off or annoying. Sadly, continuous stress will cause long-term DAMAGE. Overtime, the brain will be unable to function at the level it needs to help us move through our day making good decisions, retain memory and make new memories. It will eventually affect us and everyone around us.

Let’s break this down a little further:
But first, let’s call it for what it is. I’ve heard it called excitement, naughty, hyperactive, highly stimulated, ADHD and loads more, but the fact is, it is STRESS.

With long term, continual Stress the brain shrinks. Yes, shrinks!!!  
So, if the brain is shrinking, how on earth are we able to function and cope in life?

Well, the good news is, we can rebuild, we can repair, and we can function as normal human beings. Whatever that is? There is a saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it” so we must get those feel good hormones flowing. It’s ok for us to get stressed, it’s ok for our body to go into flight/fight mode. We need stress to get through our day but not continuously for hours and days on end. We need rest, good rest, good food, calm activities, a purpose and to be understood. Stress is good when it is controlled.

Did I start off by talking about me? Yes, but this article is not about me at all. I can regulate my stress, ask for help and do my own work to heal my brain and my body – I am in control of me and my choices.

What I am talking about is dogs! I’m talking about understanding the huge impact this horrible thing called stress is having on our dogs. The older I get, the wiser I get, the more I learn and the more observant I become. Sometimes, I wish I was like many others and just oblivious to this epidemic in the dog world. Because we just love our dogs!

Dr Phil:
What the hell has Dr Phil got to do with this article? Everything, I record him daily, I love him.
He said something the other day that hit me like a bolt of lightning. He called it “Outrageous Overshadow” he was talking to a mother about the shocking behaviour of her teen. Yelling screaming, smashing things and not listening. He described it like this “When one person’s behaviour is so outrageous that it overshadows the behaviour of another” He doesn’t ask the child why she is behaving like this but more to the point, why not! just look at the parents behaviour and you will have the answer.

So, let’s get on to dogs. What is the difference? Absolutely nothing, zero, diddly squat! I am seeing more and more dogs with Learned helplessness and in a chronic state of stress.
This really saddens and frustrates me. I run workshops and keep my facebook page open to try and help people understand dogs, but sadly I am seeing first hand and on Facebook people that have done my workshop, who think they get it, but they don’t! They are not listening to me and even worse they are not listening to the dog. Lack of understanding is lack of communication and emotion. All it takes is the ability to listen, observe and communicate. Take your headset off, get off your phone, iPad, notepad and PC and listen to these dogs. They will tell you what you need to know about them and how they are feeling. Speak less, listen more and keep your hands off them. Learn “Calming Signals” be familiar with them, how they work and really understand them – don’t just see them, respond to them.

At the Complete Pet Company, I have a rule and it must not be broken. Some people may find me difficult. I am a stickler for standing by my belief system and that is the protection and wellbeing of ALL animals. This has been my life work, from a very young girl to where I stand today. It has led me to have many arguments, lose friends, business acquaintances, the odd customer and even family members. I don’t scratch backs and kiss feet to stay in circles of business or otherwise. Never have, never will.

But what I do know about myself is that all of this comes from a good place, a place that is filled with Empathy and Compassion, a place that will help anyone that wants to be helped, a place where you can come time and time again until we get it right.

Getting it right means patience and sometimes going out of our comfort zone.

I will give you an example:
I have a dog that comes into work to get her nails clipped. The owner originally came to me because no-one could get near her feet. Her nails were long and had begun to turn which eventually would be painful and damaging and prior nail clipping sessions were not fun for her at all. I explained to the owner that the way I work is slow, building TRUST and it will take as long as it takes. She agreed. We started off with one nail, yes one nail. Six months later, it may actually be longer, this dog is excited when she turns into the street, can’t wait to get inside and runs to wherever I am to greet me. Nowadays, she has all her nails clipped in one go. We still tread cautiously, and we still sweeten her up with treats and honey, but she TRUSTS me. This can all be undone so quickly by someone pushing the dog to get the job done.

The sun is awake and my animals are calling so time for me to finish. Before I do, I really need all of you to sit back and think about what you are doing to help your dogs, friends dogs, dogs you work with, the dog next door, the dog down the road or the dog you meet on the street or in the park.

Observe the way you interact, observe the way they interact, what are your expectations, are you listening, are you demanding, are you controlling, are your dogs just fitting in with your busy schedule, what is life like for them and finally, ask yourself honestly, how would you like to be your dog?

Written by – Jenny Golsby
Complete Canine Communication


If you would like to better understand your dog, their signs and signals, please visit our events page for information about our workshops.