Dog Resilience: What It Is and Why Is It Important?
What is resilience? The definition of resilience is: "The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties." You may be wondering why this is important to dogs? Resilience is important to dogs because the more resilient they are, the more balanced and happy they will be. In fact, the same is true for humans!
Have you ever wondered why one dog can get startled by the vacuum cleaner and determine that all vacuums are evil, but another dog could be startled by the same thing and never has an issue with vacuums?
That is because the second dog is more resilient than the first. As humans, we can definitely relate to this too. It is the reason some people can experience a tragedy and move on when other people experience the same tragedy and dwell on it for a long time (sometimes their entire lifetime).
Our dog’s resilience can be determined by many factors.
A few of those factors include genetics, early socialization (or lack of socialization), fearful events, exposure to many new things and training techniques. If you have ever met a fearful puppy you realize that the fear likely is at least in part genetic, especially if the puppy has not had any negative experiences in its life. Without early intervention and positive life experiences, this puppy it as risk of having little or no resilience.
Dogs that have little or no resilience often live a life full of fear and anxiety. When a dog is fearful or anxious they will often go into “survival mode” when they feel threatened. The typical behaviors that are expressed when a dog (or person) is in “survival mode” is fight, flight or freeze. Flight and freeze can be problematic but when a dog exhibits fight, the human-dog bond can be seriously hindered. When dogs go into the fight response they will often bark, lunge, growl or bite whatever they are afraid of. These dogs often get labeled “aggressive” when they are actually afraid and lack resiliency.
Although building up a dog’s resiliency can be difficult, it is possible. As with everything in life, prevention is best. All puppies should be socialized early and often, all puppies and dogs should be trained with positive, force-free techniques and if a dog experiences a frightening situation, be sure to help them overcome the fear as soon as possible. When a dog lacks resiliency due to genetics, it can be more difficult and may require medication to help them overcome the extreme fear and anxiety. If your dog or puppy appears to lack resilience, it is important that you seek help from a behaviorist or a trainer who has special training to help with this problem.
Lack of resilience is not a “training issue” it is a mental issue; therefore, you need a professional that is similar to a therapist rather than a teacher. If you have little or no resilience in difficult situations you would not go to a teacher, you would seek help from a therapist.
By understanding resilience, you will be able to understand your dog better.
If you have a dog that never seems bothered by anything (often labeled “bomb proof”) you will understand that they are very resilient in strange or difficult situations. If you have a dog that startles at everything and never seems to “get over it”, you can recognize that your dog is lacking resilience in those situations. Neither dog is good or bad, they just are who they are. As dog parents, it is important to recognize why their dog behaves the way they do so they can have empathy and compassion for them. This awareness also allows you to know when you need to seek help from a professional.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as a handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West. Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State.
She is a "Registered Veterinary Technician," a "Certified Professional Dog Trainer" (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers" and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Shannon's dog training philosophy revolves around force-free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal. Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training.