June 3, 2015

Eureka! Stress and Zoomies

I’ve had several helpful light bulb moments in my dog training career. One of these moments came when a trainer made the off-handed remark that my high-drive Rottweiler was “stressing high” as she ran in a circle around the ring (also known as the zoomies) after missing a weave pole entrance. I had never heard of stressing high and understanding the concept helped me better evaluate dogs in training.

Stressing Up (or High) versus Stressing Down (or Low)

Different dogs exhibit signs of stress in different ways. Your dog may slow down, sniff the ground, or avoid obstacles–these behaviors are found in dogs who stress low. However, other dogs react to stress with greater speed and excitement which may culminate in racing around the ring while ignoring the handler, also known as the zoomies. Zoomies are a sign of stressing high.

Why Does it Matter?

Recognizing this behavior as stress is important because it helps us create a training plan to address the underlying issue! When beginner handlers see the zoomies, they immediately try to control their dog, failing to recognize it as a sign of stress. Thus, they will often focus on recalls and often incorporate various forms of punishment or bribing to prevent the zoomies, which can be very embarrassing when they occur at a trial. I eventually realized that my rottweiler was taking laps after stress related to missing the weave pole entry, and so I focused my training on weave entries and our zoomies went away. As I gained experience as a trainer, I was able to show my dog that a mistake is not a stressful event, and that another opportunity for reinforcement is right around the corner.

How does your dog react to stress?

This post was written as part of the Dog Agility Blog Action Day where the topic was “Stress”.

PS: Have a video of epic zoomies? Post in the comments!

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  • I have a young dog who just started going to practice matches. The first run of the day,he will take off the minute we break from the start line, run a couple of laps and visit everyone and then come back. If I do 3 or 4 practice runs, he gets a little more focused every run and by the end of the day he’s really good. I don’t know how to work on this other than to keep going and hope he gets used to the stress of new environments. He occasionally does this his first run of the night in class too.

  • Need advice my blue Merle border collie. Has awesome skills but when she goes over last obstacle or through it she bolts to enter gate and then visits ring crew and judge. Can’t figure how to help her. I believe she is stressing high. She higher at trails then at class it’s like I have two different dogs. Taught her to target leash but won’t do it at a trial. But will at trial away from ring

  • My dog gets the zoomies during training especially if new dogs come. At one point she zooomed at the beginning of every class but then she would finally settle after a few circles around the field. She’s getting better but it’s still there. She’s a JRT and I wonder if she is sometimes just running off energy. She sleeps all day and then I get home and throw her in the car for a 30 minute drive where she sleeps again. What are some things I should do to help prevent this? We have our first trial in 2 weeks!

  • My girl’s stress release is to zoom and if an obstacle is in her path she will jump it. We went through a period when she didn’t zoom, but she has begun again. She is very talented when she is “good”. I ensure she gets a lot of acclimation time before her run, but as soon as she walks into the ring I can feel the stress coming up the leash. Perhaps she can feel my stress coming down the leash as I worry about whether she will zoom or not. I have changed to a running start, but she will still zoom.

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