We humans tend to perform best when we’re not overly stressed yet there’s still enough pressure to motivate us. In other words, humans require just the right amount of stress to do their best. In that sense, dogs are just like us. And the right amount of stress depends on mood, environment, and more.
According to a study by researchers at Duke University, they found that a little extra stress and stimulation makes hyper dogs crack under pressure but gave mellow dogs an edge.
In other words, a little stress can be good, but only in small doses. Up to a certain point, stress is too much for a pup. Just like us.
So, if a task isn’t demanding or interesting enough, it’s hard to stay engaged. Sound familiar? However, if a task is high stakes with too much pressure, the outcome can suffer. This certainly applies to your pup when learning to do new things.
How was this theory tested? Science Codex states:
Researchers challenged dogs to retrieve a meat jerky treat from a person standing behind a clear plastic barrier that was six feet wide and three feet tall. To get it right, the dogs had to resist the impulse to try to take the shortest path to reach the treat — which would only cause them to whack into the barrier and bump their heads against the plastic — and instead walk around the barrier to one of the open sides.
So could the pups get their treat?
Well, the researchers tested 30 different dogs, with age ranges of 9 months to 11 years. In addition to that, 76 assistance dogs were tested as a second control group. The results were interesting: “Both groups of dogs were able to solve the puzzle. But the optimal amount of stress and stimulation depended on each dog’s disposition.”
Researchers also said an increased level of excitement helped naturally calm dogs maintain focus and stay on task, while naturally excitable dogs only took longer to complete the task when they were further stimulated.
If your pup is overly stimulated, it’s hard for he/she to focus on a task that needs to be completed. This also has great insight for dogs that are trained to be service dogs, but it should also be kept in mind for a happy, healthy, day-to-day life.
Check the experiment out for yourself in the video below!