Cortisol is the stress hormone, and after a dog fight, the thing that your dog needs the most? Is a cortisol break.
A “cortisol break” is trainer talk for taking time off and allowing your dogs stress levels to come down.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone, it is known as the stress hormone.
You and I have it your dogs have it. Everybody has it. And it is what is responsible for the fight or flight response. It increases the sugars in the blood, it’s increases brain function and directs the blood flow to more appropriate places that ‘survival’ might need (I.e. away from the stomach!)
So how to we take a cortisol break? Here are my favourite ways to do so!
What Can We Do For Cortisol Breaks
We can take advantage of the fact that there are some things in our dog’s world that will naturally bring in a calming influence. Okay, they will bring calmness and they will encourage our dogs to just take a more sedate approach.
And this this goes for like whether your puppy doesn’t want to sleep. This goes for like, hundreds and hundreds of scenarios, but it’s always worth repeating it in these situations so that you guys have the information to heard.
And two of those things that are very, very good for bringing down stress levels and dogs are things like sniffing and licking.
This the licking part is why some anxious dogs will overgroom themselves, okay, they will lick their paws until they’re bored as a way of self soothing, you know, like a kids suck their thumb! It’s just like that.
But as opposed to letting them focus on their paws on unhealthy ways of calming themselves down, we can actually harness that into an activity.
There have been toys and things created so that you can do this at home with very little issue. Things like Kong’s.
If you have ever used Kong and you struggle with calm or you think your dog doesn’t like Kong’s, it’s probably that you’ve done it wrong, I can say that from experience, I was one of those people that started off going, “Oh, he doesn’t really like it”, and essentially, I’d made it too hard, too quick. We’ll help you guide you through and get your dog to enjoy that again.
Alternatively, but in a similar vein, toppls, buffalo horns, again, fill them in the same way, let them enjoy it. And initially, don’t make it too hard. But that that process of looking, will soothe, it will relax, and it will help stabilize.
Essentially, we’re just trying to take a rocky, rocky ship and bring it back down to a nice calm sea.
Scatter feeding, taking advantage of their nose, take advantage of their nose and making them work and sniff for their food or for random treats, is always going to help, okay, because sniffing, again, is something that relaxes the brain. And I’m not going to get too deep in the science of it, because you don’t need to know the science.
But it does help to get them to enjoy the time and take a little bit of patience with what they’re doing, which again, just brings them down.
This also works with snuffle mats!
Lickimats, similarly to your Kong, your buffalo horns, and your toppls, they are going to encourage your dog to lick a surface. And again, create that soothing, that self soothing approach that we want to capture right now. Okay.
Reduce your barriers.
So we create a lot of natural barriers in our Dog’s Day. And some people. For example, if you are one of the people that ask your dog to sit before you give them their dinner, whilst I would recommend this, you know, as a real life reward scenario, after a reaction, stuff like that might not be something you want to do, because essentially, it can become a frustration increase.
And that can help support the cortisol, as opposed to help reduce it. So remove barriers wherever you can, anything that you think is going to add frustration, or add irritation into your dog’s day. Take it out as just even for 24 hours, it’s just going to help bring them down that little bit quicker, as opposed to helping them sustain that momentum, essentially.
Long Lasting Chews
And long lasting true so again, Buffalo horns, cow hooves, pizzles, all of that stuff. Anything that is long lasting and chewable is going to help relax is the same as like when you use a stress ball in your hand. But for your dog shows, and like, you know, our dogs have increased in well, some most dogs have very powerful muscles.
Working those muscles, gives, essentially, a release of endorphins that will help to counteract the cortisol, not directly indirectly. But again, this is science that I don’t need to be going into you with you guys. Just, you know, it is a case that it will just help bring proof.
We don’t need to be like reducing barriers and things we don’t need to be. We don’t need to be engaging in the thing that ticks them off right now.
Because again, like if our cortisol level is high, and it’s already at a 10, it drops to a nine and then they see the neighbor’s dog. And the dog just barks through the window, that’s enough to put them back up. And that’s enough for them to go, oh, no, this is dangerous, and I don’t want to be here and it’s a problem. And we’re trying to avoid that. So if we can avoid triggers do it.
Escape The Real World
remember the secure fields are a thing. And in the US there are sniffspots that are very, very similar. But essentially, there are places you can go with your dog that is secure, that is a place that is an area that is just for you for that hour, or however long you book it.
It will give you the opportunity to go outside and take a break, because goodness only knows it’s really stressful. And try not to swear. It’s really stressful when these situations happen, not just for your dog, but for you.
Sometimes a secure field can just give you both that little bit of extra space to go, ah, embrace, and remember that your dog is not a demon, not actually that problematic, they are not abnormal, they are just scared.
Okay, it’s not, I think with reactivity, particularly that we tend to like, blow things out of proportion, because it’s so scary.
I dealt with it recently with a client, but it’s almost like you fall out of love with your dog.
Because they are so stressful. And everything you do with them, you have to think five steps ahead – and it’s stressful.
A secure field is just a way to not think five steps ahead, it means you can actually just get them out of the car, as once you’ve watched the other one drive off, get out the car, hop into the field, throw a ball around, run around, do whatever the hell you want to do.
Remember: It’s OK To Take A Break For You.
Not all cortisol breaks need to be for your dog.
You are welcome to take them too.
Life as a reactive dog parent is tough, and stressful. This cortisol break? Can totally be for you.
If you need help with your reactive dog, and you want to train them through this problem? Let me know, I’m here for you! Also, go check out Rebarkable Reactives.
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021’s worlds’ best pet blog!