The Five F’s of reactions to stimuli by a dog are all signs that a dog is unhappy, uncomfortable, or something isn’t right in the dog’s world. When you see one of these signs, you should take it seriously and not do anything to provoke the dog.
Most of us have heard of the term “Fight or flight response.” It refers to the body’s reaction when it is under stress. Depending on the situation, an animal’s body may prefer to fight to defend itself, or it may get itself in gear and flee the scene. Hormones are released, adrenaline is rushed into the body to help it prepare itself, all in response to the specific stimuli the animal (or human) is facing.
Your dog also reacts to stimuli. In your dog’s case, when he is faced with different stimuli, depending on what it is, he may experience the fight or flight response. Believe it or not, an animal’s first response if usually to run away. When that isn’t possible, that’s when he has to convert the flight response to the fight response.
In addition to the signs you might recognise, such as flight and fight, there is also the freeze sign. When a dog freezes he usually stands still or rigid. He may have a fixed look in his eye. Some dogs may hold their breath. This is not a good sign as it is usually the precursor to some action on the part of the dog, such as an attack. If you see a dog freeze in this way you need to step away calmly and quickly to give the dog space and, hopefully, lower the stress on the dog.
If it is your own dog that freezes, such as on a walk or refusing to get into the car, if you continue to push this situation it is possible that your dog could bite you. If a dog feels pushed far enough to freeze, he is feeling a lot of stress and he may lash out. Learn to read your dog’s body language.
Another of a dog’s reactions to stimuli is fainting. Real fainting is rare but it can happen. You can also see a version of fainting that results from freezing. When a dog has become frozen and you continue to badger him to make him do something, he may drop to the ground and refuse to move. A dog that does this is under extreme stress and he may bite.
The final dog reaction to stimuli is fooling around. This may sound harmless but it is a definite sign that your dog is under stress. Dogs who “fool around” may jump up, lick you, roll over and show their stomachs whenever they see you. They are feeling stressed and this is their way of coping with it, by constantly seeking your approval. A dog that is behaving this way also needs to find some healthier ways to release stress before behavior problems develop.
If your dog is showing any of these reactions to stimuli then it’s up to you to find some healthy ways to handle the situation. Remember not to push your dog beyond his limits. Dogs, as well as people, have a limit on how much stress they can handle, and it’s different for each dog. If you know something causes your dog stress, back up and do something less stressful. Try things a different way so your dog will be more comfortable and confident. Try not to put your dog in situations which will overtax him and always be mindful of his mental and physical comfort.