Have you heard of a cortisol break? It’s a term that’s often used in discussions about fearful and reactive dogs, and it’s an important one.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that helps the body respond to stress in many animals, including humans and dogs. It’s sometimes called the ‘stress hormone’ because levels of cortisol in the body spike during times of high stress.
Cortisol is naturally present within the body and isn’t ordinarily a cause for concern - a small amount of stress (eustress) can actually be helpful in some situations for motivation and problem solving. However, elevated levels of cortisol can have harmful effects - causing increased blood pressure and heart rate, muscle tension, and effects on the digestive system. This is why your dog might experience a racing heart, stiff body language or tummy problems during or after stressful events. As well as these immediate effects, long term overproduction of cortisol can result in dogs experiencing kidney damage, diabetes or Cushing’s disease. Scary stuff I know, but important to know about.
A cortisol break refers to period of time where we limit or eliminate stress triggers from the lives of our dogs to allow cortisol levels to return to normal. This can mean skipping walks, avoiding busy areas or saying no thanks to that hectic family visit.
So, if you have a dog that’s reactive or sensitive to triggers, taking a break every once in a while could help them a lot. If you’ve had a stressful walk, take the rest of the day or a few days off and focus on calming indoor activities instead. If you’ve had builders in and your dog has been stressed about it, take a quiet few days to get back to normal. Most dogs don’t need to go for a walk every single day, and observing your dog’s mood and stress levels and adapting your plans accordingly can work wonders.
If you’d like some help or advice about how to use cortisol breaks effectively, let me know 🐾