Physical compression of space = Emotional compression, which can lead to fight/flight response if your dog feels trapped
Trigger points: Front door and other doorways/thresholds, car, bed, crate, fence, barrier, leash, tie-out, etc (all create physical compression of space)
Why this concept is important: Your dog’s threshold (emotional capacity) will go DOWN according to the amount of compression he feels. This can lead to “unexpected” events where your dog acts more aggressive or fearful than he does when not under compression. It’s also important to recognize when your dog is “denning” himself because he’s seeking safety. If you don’t have a crate for your dog, he may go under a table, beside a couch, onto a chair, under a bed, or find some corner of the room that feels protected.
You and anyone who comes into contact with your dog should leave him alone when he’s in his “den.” Call him off his bed, out of his crate, or away from the couch if you want your dog to interact with you. The very first dog bite I received as a child was because I didn’t understand this concept. A shy corgi was “hiding” under a bench on a pier and I reached under the bench to pet her. NOPE! This dog was “denning” not only under a bench, but up against the corner of the pier. She was doing so because she was feeling shy, insecure, and seeking safety.
Dogs should be allowed to seek safety and refuge from social situations that make them uncomfortable. This is how they self-regulate and cope with stress.
Please be aware of your dog’s stress signals and help them mitigate the stress as best you can. Sometimes that just means leaving them alone, and sometimes it means helping them out of the “den” in a positive way that gives them back their agency and self-efficacy.
Now, this doesn’t mean that EVERY dog who uses their crate as a den will become reactive or stressed when in a compressed area. A lot of very well adjusted dogs love their crate because it gives them a chance to decompress and just chill out. It’s a natural, biologically appropriate behavior that many dogs display when they are perfectly balanced.
In my next article I will discuss multi-dog households, compression, and why we don’t play indoors.