The Stress Funnel

“My dog is unpredictable.”

“My dog will pass three dogs perfectly and suddendly react to the fourth.”

“Some days my dog is great and other days they react to everything!”

Sound familiar?

Dogs experience stress every day.  This is not always a bad thing.  There are plenty of good stressors in the world.  Playing fetch, going for a run, playing with a dog friend; these are all good forms of stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is a physiological response to a change from your dog’s neutral state.  Stress hormones are released to prepare your dog for a flight, fight, freeze or fool around response.

Too much stress leads to a dog’s brain becoming less flexible leading to a decrease in ability to cope with stress.  Meaning your dog is more likely to react to exciting or scarey things!

The Stress Funnel

Think of a funnel, where water represents the stress in a dog’s life.

Activities that trigger the stress response fill the funnel while calming and decompression activities drain the funnel.  Balance is important.  Too much stress and the water overflows (reaction)!

Filling the Funnel

Both good and bad stress will fill your dog’s funnel.

Examples of good stress:

  • playing with dog friends
  • fetch
  • group classes
  • guests

Examples of bad stress:

  • pain/health issues
  • exposure to scary things at too high of an intensity
  • anything under the good stress list that your dog does not enjoy

Draining the Funnel

Examples include:

  • decompression walks
  • quality sleep
  • calming food puzzles (sniffy, licky ones)
  • chew items
  • snuggle time on the couch

The Importance of Individual Differences

Every dog is an individual and no two stress funnels will be identical.  How a dog responds to stress, what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy; this all impacts their particular funnel.

Dogs with low resiliency will have a funnel that fills more quickly than a dog with high resiliency.

What Can you Do?


1. Understand your dog’s signs of stress

Learn to read your individual dog.  If you are not sure how, ask a Certified Dog Trainer for help.   Common signs of excess stress include:

  • frantic behaviours
  • inability to sleep
  • excessive chewing
  • reactive behaviours

If you notice your dog experiencing continual signs of stress, the stress funnel is out of balance and it needs to be addressed.


2. Learn what calms your dog

Some dogs find touch reassuring and calming.  Others find it stressful.

Decompression walks are beneficial, but they look different for all dogs.  Some dogs can go on a hike with a group of dogs and still decompress.  Whereas, other dogs need solo hikes.

Sniffy food puzzles are wonderful but need to be at a difficulty level that does not frustrate your dog.

Understanding your dog is essential to ensuring a balanced stress funnel.


3. Get help if needed

Stress is complicated!  If you think abour your own life, can you relate?  Have you ever over reacted to a situation?  The good old saying of “crying over split milk” is the perfect human example of an over reaction for no reason other than you are over stressed.

The stress funnel is the reason why a comprehensive approach to training is required.  Very rarely is “reacting to people” a product of fear alone.  Reactivity needs to be approached from many angles, all which stem from the foundations of what stress is and what causes it.  If you find your dog struggling with reactivity, seek help from a Certified Behaviour Consultant that understands and values a comprehensive approach to dog training.