Advice Blog

Dog A/A Help

Posted on December 21, 2014 at 7:10 AM

The human version of A/A most people would recognise as an organisation helping people with a dependency. Understanding Dog A/A is the gateway to having insight into preventing problem behaviours and offering your dog quality of life.

Firstly I would like to explain dog’s relaxation and rest time. In nature most dogs would hunt and scavenge involving stalking, chasing, climbing, jumping, killing, eating etc. These activities would use up a lot of energy so the dog would naturally relax after releasing this energy and eventually rest. Domestic dogs have obviously evolved from this. Dog owners ideally strive to give their dogs a similar energy release but sometimes forget to fulfil rest or relaxation time. We have chosen to domesticate the dog and we subject them to our lifestyles which are increasingly removed from the nature where they originate. I’m making the point of mentioning this as so many dogs are deprived of a healthy outlet for their energy and subsequently they never achieve a true release of energy to completely relax. If a healthy and satisfactory energy outlet is not present that energy will manifest unhealthy and dangerous behaviours. The key when I am analysing or working with a dog is being able to know what the dog looks like truly relaxed. I can achieve this by installing a structure of exercise and stimulation followed by rest. For anyone unsure of what a relaxed and content dog looks like I have copied a picture below. Generally speaking I would anticipate relaxed tail, ears, body, eyes and breathing if the dog was relaxed. If I am aware of these aspects of the dog I can easily see the change when I present the dog to a situation or environment they may perceive as stressful.




First A – Anxiety

Most people are aware of anxiety in people; it can be defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. The level of anxiety is always in the mind of the beholder, so an everyday task for you could be somebody’s worse fear. Some people will even be familiar with dogs having separation anxiety which is just a specific time when the anxiety materialises. However dogs like people can go through anxiety regularly. Anxiety really becomes a problem when it becomes habitual and forceful. Physical symptoms include the dog whining, whimpering, shaking and panting. People often feel sorry for dogs when displaying these behaviours but the dog needs our help at this point not our affection. A common example is a dog that gets extremely excited or aroused simply on sight of a person. Unfortunately with some of the dogs I have worked with this definitely goes to obsessive/forceful category rather than just friendly. If for any reason the dog cannot get to the person behind a door or in crate we see the anxiety set in. All due to this anticipation of seeing a person but not being able to get to them.  

The key whether coming out a crate, exiting a car or leaving the house is how you allow the dog to move forward. I am only moving forward or rewarding the dog when the dog is back to being relaxed. I do not want to be a source of excited stress on the dog simply by sight. 

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Second A – Adrenaline

(see for more informaiton)

When presented with anxiety the often dangerous coping mechanism is adrenaline a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that increases rates of blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism and prepares muscles for exertion. Physical symptoms in your dog include pupil dilation, fixation, rigid body, frantic movement, increase of energy and breathing. Like anxiety, adrenaline is part of you and your dog’s everyday life it again becomes a problem when it is uncontrolled and produced at unnecessary times. When we are exercising for example we will generally produce small and required amounts of adrenaline. When we are then surprised or presented with an immediately dangerous situation we will produce more adrenaline in order to tackle or avoid the problem. All of this is natural. However if we become irrationally anxious and respond with adrenaline we are likely to rashly respond to our situation in a panic rather than make a decision. Your dog is the exact same if they learn that an adrenaline response is a way of removing or coping with a situation or stress they will take it. This is when we start to see your typical problem behaviours of running away, snapping, lunging, charging, attacking etc. A dog in this state is not thinking about any action but simply responding in a panic.


Both A/A are interlinked but my definitions above are based on a threshold existing between anxiety and adrenaline. I will work with a dog displaying anxiety symptoms but as soon as I see it build to adrenaline symptoms I know I need to reset, slow it down or rethink. Erratic adrenaline responses are preventable. I often here “there was no warning sign” prior to an incident or behaviour problem occurring. If you know what your dog is like relaxed you then just need to be aware of the any anxiety symptom and that is your moment to act. Control the situation before you get an eruption. Dogs need help not pity. In my experience A/A has been permitted and learned behaviour. It is often unnecessary and irrational for our dogs to have these responses so we must communicate that clearly to them in order for them to live less stressful and healthier lives. Ensuring a healthy diet with sufficient and regular exercise can definitely help. There will undoubtedly always be stress in our daily lives but ensuring it is limited and has as little impact as possible is what I aim for with my dogs. The most beautiful affection you can give a dog is a content and natural fulfilled life absent our society’s stress. As our culture grows on convenience your dog does not so spend the time to live harmoniously together.



Derek Bryson

Paws for Walkies

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