What is frustration?
- The feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something.
- Occurring due to the prevention of progress, success, or fulfilment of something.
How might a dog tell you they are frustrated?
- Bark (demand bark)
- Forcefully paw / nose poke
- Grab / shake / rag
- Bounce on their front feet
- Lunge forward
- Use rapidly escalating behaviour
- Think toddler tantrum
These behaviours are typically designed to either help achieve the goal, or as a displacement behaviour to help the animal cope with the frustration they feel.
Is frustration bad?
- Frustration is essential in small amounts to generate perseverance and determination. But excessive amounts create a negative emotional state and are detrimental to welfare.
- Very commonly contributes to behaviours which owners don’t like.
- High levels of frustration associated with increased risk of aggression.
Tendency to experience frustration is highly variable between individuals. Some dogs show high levels / poor tolerance from very young age. But for others it can be learnt and progressive over time. High levels of frustration are more common in certain breeds/breed lines where high levels of perseverance are desirable and selectively bred for. High levels of frustration can be interlinked with overall mood and wellbeing, the animal's lifestyle and their physical health.
Behaviour Issues commonly associated with Frustration
Frustration might be the only cause, or only part of the problem:
- Resource guarding = Frustration about a perceived threat to the dog’s control and possession of a valued item. Below are some commonly guarded resources:
- Personal Space
- Barrier frustration.
- Separation related distress.
- Lead ‘reactivity’
What is so frustrating about being a dog?
- Lack of choice and control
- When/where to walk
- When/where/what to eat
- When/where to toilet
- Who/how/when to socialise
- Lack to ability to express themselves & be listened to
- Lack to outlets for natural behaviours
- Stressors such as busy, noisy environments and lack of privacy / peace & quiet
How can we help?
- Let them be dogs & do dog stuff!
- Express natural behaviours (digging, swimming, chewing etc)
- Give them a choice of hobbies and plenty of time to practice them
- Focus on what they want to do, not what you think they should be doing. What do they genuinely enjoy?
- Encourage active participation and a sense of control
- Minimise frustrating situations
- Waiting for food
- Waiting for a walk
- Being able to see but not access things
- Gradually build up their tolerance to these things as needed. But avoid until they can cope.
- Teach them what you expect from them and be patient.
- Predictability to avoid unmet expectations.
Never forget that behaviour is communication, always try to identify what they are telling you & why.