Effects of Eustress and Distress on Dog Behavior: The Stress Curve

Not all stress is created equal. This chart shows how a dog's ability to perform a behavior can be influenced by both eustress ("good" stress often related to arousal due to excitement and anticipation) and distress ("bad" stress often related to fear or anxiety).

When experiencing eustress, there is an ideal peak performance level where the dog can perform a behavior quickly and with sharp focus. However, higher levels of eustress can also cause the dog's behavior performance to worsen, leading to a state of frustration and ultimately distress. Once the dog is experiencing high levels of distress, he/she may go into a "fight, flight, freeze, or fool around" stress response, at which point he/she has limited capacity to perform the behavior.

When a dog is not performing a behavior in a certain environment or situation, rather than labelling the dog as being "stubborn," "dominant," or "disobedient," we can consider how eustress, distress, and frustration levels may be effecting his/her ability to respond. We can then modify the environment to decrease the dog's stress in order to improve the dog's ability to process information and perform the behavior.

Alice Tong

CPDT-KA, KPA CTP


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