SPARCS 2015: “Dogs for a New Century: Using Canine Science to Reduce Stress in Dogs and People” with Steve Zawistowski PhD, CAAB

SPARCS 2015: “Dogs for a New Century: Using Canine Science to Reduce Stress in Dogs and People” with Steve Zawistowski PhD, CAAB

steve sparcs 2015


Positives of Dog-Human Relationship

Dogs provide non-judgemental respite in a complex world. Examples of beneficial dog-human relationships:

  • Autistic children – helps with socialization.
  • Military veterans
  • Students facing exams
  • Busy professionals – bring your dog to work.

The Other Side of the Dog-Human Relationship

  • Dog Bites – Children bitten by dogs. Usually family dogs. Good dog has been great with the family for a long time. Big event/celebration. Stressed dog reacts unusually to known child due to trigger stacking.
  • Behavior Issues
    • Household destruction – does not reduce the person’s stress.
    • Compulsive behaviors associated with stress

Products that help reduce stress are endless. Some products may actually contribute to some stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is an inferred internal state. Stress denotes a real or perceived perturbation from physiological homeostasis and psychological well-being.

  • Distress is when the animal cannot cope with the stress.
  • HPA axis & Fight/Flight Response – Adrenaline is short-term response. Cortisol is longer term response.


Arousal and Context

sparcs stress

Arousal is neutral. Context (cognitive interpretation) and arousal determine the emotional response.



  • Chronic Eustress (Ex: Good housing)
  • Acute Eustress (Ex: Playtime)
  • Acute Distress (Ex: Sudden injury)
  • Chronic Distress (Ex: Poor housing – old shelter design)

Arousal & Behavioral Performance

Low arousal leads to low performance. Some arousal is necessary to success. However, once arousal becomes too great, distress sets in, and performance declines. Higher skill leads to higher tolerance of stress and a better ability to perform well under higher levels of stress.

Treatments for Stress

Common stressors:

  • Foreign people/dogs
  • Fireworks
  • Injuries
  • Impoverished environment

Common Treatment:

  • Desensitization
  • Counterconditioning
  • Operant conditioning
  • Medications

SPARCS stress 1

Treatment Ideas

  • Work on arousal and cognitive interpretation separately.
  • How does breed effect arousal?
    • Do beagles respond more strongly to smells?
    • Do guard dogs respond more strongly to strangers?
  • Modern dogs are not using the skills they were bred for anymore.

Future Dogs

  • Better understand dog’s mind.
  • Better understand bonding with people and dogs.
  • Better breeding for companionship.
  • Better roles for dogs – working dogs – search and rescue, drug detection, etc.

Take Home

How can we provide opportunities for Eustress?

  • Puzzle toys that are too hard can cause distress.
  • Cats can get distressed with laser pointers because the cat cannot ever “catch” the laser. Make the laser pointer lead to the treat so that there is an end to the chase.
  • Provide pathways for the animal to find fulfilment.

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