Marrying into a farm family was tough on Gramma.
She had the patience (and tribulations) of Job, but she carried on with a smile most days. She kept her sanity by maintaining a spotless kitchen floor… even if she had to mop three times a day to keep up with muddy boots, feral children, and the occasional sickly calf that spent the night in the house.
But even a saint has a breaking point. I don’t remember all the details of that day, but I do remember that she got a flat tire on the way home from church, served a full lunch to a table that complained about the cake, and my cousins and I used her favorite aloe plant for first aid.
So when we had a water fight that overflowed into her dining room? The dam broke. She picked up her broom and chased us out the door.
Trigger stacking and buckets:
Dog trainers talk a lot about trigger stacking and buckets. Trigger stacking describes all the little stresses that build up during your day, until you’re finally pushed over your limit– just like my Gramma.
You can also think of your stress tolerance as a bucket. Good or bad, everything that happens during your day puts a little more in your bucket. If it gets too full, it spills.
Everybody has a bucket. Some people’s buckets are 50-gallon drums. Other people, bless their hearts, have thimbles. But we’ve all got a bucket, and anyone’s bucket can overflow.
Your dog has a bucket, too.
Good and bad things all take energy. A long hike, noisy houseguests, a sore paw, an exciting trip to the pet store… it’s a mix of fun and struggles, but it all goes into the bucket.
And those things might not all be from one day. Have you been traveling for several days? Have you been pet-sitting? Had a change in your work schedule? Some things stay in the bucket longer than others.
When your dog is grumpy, destructive, or won’t listen, it’s worth asking, “How full is Chowderhead’s bucket?”
Emptying the bucket:
How you empty the bucket depends on how it got filled. You’re looking for ways to reduce stress and stimulation. It’s okay to experiment, because what works for one dog may not be right for the next dog.
Use your best judgement. Look for patterns. And look for small opportunities during the day to pour a little out of their bucket.
- Exercise, but don’t overdo it. Heavy exercise can actually add to what’s in the bucket. Walk half a mile or toss the ball for 2-3 minutes.
- Go on a slow walk and let your dog sniff every blade of grass. Sniffing reduces stress hormones in dogs. It provides variety and entertainment. Relax, and let your dog’s nose decide where you go that day.
- 30-60 seconds of training. Keep it short and sweet. Quick sessions give your dog a way to be successful and for you to offer praise and rewards. Success builds their confidence, and their bucket can grow over time.
- Puzzle toys. Brain games are powerful to burn anxious energy.
- I tied a tug toy to a tree in the backyard. The tree flexes as they tug, and the leaves make noise that adds to the fun. This was a fabulous workout and stress reliever for my dogs.
- Licking mats and snuffle mats. Licking and sniffing relieve stress in dogs, almost like meditation. The food they find activates their parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system.
- A time out or scheduled nap in their kennel. You can also throw a high-value chew toy in with them.
- Sitting quietly together while you listen to music or read.
Many dogs aren’t great at sensing when they need to decompress. By keeping an eye on your dog’s bucket, you help them stay out of trouble and support their well-being. You help them relax and be the Best Good Dog you could ask for.
If you have other good ideas to share, please include them in the comments! You might have the perfect solution for someone else. And if you’d like pupdates when we publish, there’s a subscribe link on the home page.
Snuggles and teeth,
Mokey, Rayvin, and their minion, Bree