Stress in Dog Training

Stress in dog training, is it necessary or not?

Stress in dog training was a topic touched on in one of our conversations on this Facebook page about the Banning of Training Tools .

One of the participants there, Mike, had a few words to say so I invited him to share them here on my site.

My personal thought is there is a significant difference between stress and distress, and this is what we must be conscience of in our training. It is my opinion that short term stresses designed to increase our coping abilities are a good thing. I believe that is the case for us and for our dogs.

What are your thoughts on stress in the paradigm of dog training?

Guest post:

Stress is something we all live with on a daily basis. Though is stress always such a bad thing? Ask yourself, when you hear the word stress what do you think of? For most the thought of high blood pressure, or ripping your hair out in frustration quickly comes to mind.

In the same way when one hears the word electricity we are often preconditioned to think of it in a negative context. I know I did when first hearing about remote collars, having been curious enough (or stupid perhaps) to stick a fork in a socket!

So we are left with the questions, can negatives have an upside? Is stress always such a bad thing?

Is stress always bad for mans best friend?

I believe in small doses it is not. It can even be beneficial. Many people work better under stress, and I am one of them. The same applies to dogs. On a daily basis we ask our canine companions to endure various stressful situations. Such as moving, bringing them into loud and busy environments, blasting our favorite songs, and the list goes on. So why is it that if stress happens in the name of training we are so quick to call it cruel? I understand that if taken to extreme it can cause psychological damage, but there is a happy medium. I believe it is important to teach our dogs how to deal with stress and how to respond in stressful situations.

Many positive trainers would have you believe that any compulsion used in training is too stressful, equates to abusive, and is morally reprehensible. There is a prevailing belief that all the answers to our training problems lie with cookies and praise of behaviors that are desired and ignoring behaviors that are unwanted.

This may be an extreme example, but imagine I walk up to a person with a fear of bats (the flying kind), holding a great big bat in a locked room and I am going to throw chocolate chip cookies at them while I do it! Is that really going to make them feel any better or make their stress go away? Of course not, they would need to be desensitized, and conditioned to act calm in such a situation.

The same is true when working with a dog that has anxiety, or aggression issues, avoiding stress is not only impossible, it is also counter productive. We can do our best to minimize it, but some is required to help the animal overcome such behaviors and be able to cope in our world.

Stress subsides when a dog (or anyone for that matter) begins to understand what is being asked of him/her, and what he/she should be doing. This is why I personally believe a leash correction is less stressful to a dog then negative punishment (which in simple terms is the removal of a treat as a punishment). A leash correction is a clear way of communicating to a dog they did something wrong. In the same way that a clicker is an auditory marker for a correct action, a correction is a physical cue to tell the dog they did something wrong, and does not need to hurt to work (in the same way a clicker works, but does not hurt).

Ask yourself, when are you more stressed? In a situation where you have black and white instructions on what to do, or in a situation with limited information when you are unsure of what to do?

The use of punishment techniques in dog training have become a controversial issue in recent years. Long standing training tools such as the prong collar, or remote collar are being labeled as barbaric. Though when rational thought prevails, it is easy to understand abuse does not stem from a tool, but from the one using it.

Take a knife for example. It is dangerous or not? I believe it depends on who is holding it and what the intent is. It could be used as a weapon or to carve the next Venus de Milo

It is the same with any dog training collar. Using a tool judicously to aid a dog’s understanding of what to do or what not to do may add some stress to the learning process, but once the learning has occurred there is no longer stress. There is comprehension and with that comes increased confidence and decreased stress over all.

remote collar training
Mike & friend.



  • Very nice article Mike

    Want to see a high level of stress? Look at a pointing dog waiting his turn at a field trial. My old guy is so stressed he’s actually shaking, not out of fear but because he wants to get out there and do his thing! High drive dogs deal with a lot of stress.

    • Excellent point. Intense desire is stressful. Knowing how to harness that desire and teach a dog self control and the payoff will come…always brilliant! Welcome to the blog, nice to read your comments.

  • Thank you Diane. A good example of how this is true from my life involves my dog, and my neighbors. He was over at my place one night for a party, and at this point in time my friend Simba was just a little puppy, around twelve weeks old or so. He grew concerned over my puppies reaction to the commotion, and loud music. I assured him it was fine, and that he needed to get used to it now. He persisted to the point where I had to explain to him that I was working on desensitizing him to loud noises. A few days later I was in his garage helping him with a few repairs. His dog was sleeping on the floor, and we decided to crack open a beer and get some music going. Sure enough when he turned on the music his dog flew out of there like a bat out of hell. She refused to go near the noise, and was exhibiting many stress indicators. Now my boy is a year old, and is not phased by loud music, or noise. A little stress in the right context can go a long way to ensure confidence later.

  • Nicely done, Mike.

    You are spot on in assessing the information of a well-placed correction relative to the stress involved in the “guess what I want” style of training.

    I firmly believe the dog in full possession of the facts is an informed, happy dog.

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