The term resilience encompasses many things, but generally means the ability to cope.
Emotional and psychological resilience (for us and our dogs) is defined as the ability to remain flexible in emotional response or behaviour despite pressure from the environment, sometimes through long periods of time. Maintaining wellness and avoiding distress.
To understand resilience and how it's currently viewed - consider the following three points:
Trait theory assumes that an individual is naturally resilient as part of their overall nature. This specific theory is linked to genetic inheritance and how the chemistry in an individual brain works. In studies on serotonin - within people -, it has been found that some people have a variant of the gene 5HTT, and naturally produce more serotonin, thus, are more able to stay calm and relaxed during stressful times. Other people have been found to have a variant of the 2-adrenoreceptor gene, leading to excessive production of the adrenaline. This means that they may respond more than others to any stress trigger in the environment, than others.
As with nature and nurture though, only some of an individual’s behaviour has a genetic basis. There are many other factors that define personality and decide the individual’s ability to cope.
Protection as a contributor to resilience is the receipt of parental warmth. When a child is fully parented with protection from stressors as they grow, they are thought to become naturally resilient as they reach adulthood. This is a baseline of growth in secure circumstances.
In canine terms, protection can be considered excellent breeding, and excellent socialisation through the early growth and sensitive periods. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scope and capacity for that to go wrong. Everything from puppy farms to early isolation can lower the dog’s resilience through deprivation of protection.
Learning resilience is the third possible point that makes up an individual’s coping profile. This is the bit I’m most interested in. Improving our own resilience means that we work on ourselves in a way that creates internal peace and strength. This includes many lifestyle habits in the long term, and most importantly peaceful acceptance of both our own emotions and stressors we experience in life.
Improving a dog’s natural resilience is about carefully managing exposure to their stressors, at a level they can cope with. It’s also about growing their self-esteem and belief, so that the dog knows they are safe in the world. Some dogs have much more resilience than others, and your own dog’s behaviour will be undoubtedly based on his ability to cope, and on his ability to stay strong and calm in his current environment. The basis of resilience is adaptivity.
If we look at the three ways to obtain resilience above, we can all learn it. We are always learning and all we need to do is replace the habits of yesterday with healthier ones of today – which is something I have done myself with life changing results - and something we can successfully incorporate into the lives of our dogs.
A Note From Sally:
There are so many opportunities available online to change our lives, but few to accept and make peace with ourselves. Similarly, people will offer a lot of advice on changing dog behaviour, but often the overlook true understanding how the dog is feeling. We can buy all the programs in the world, but unless we go inwards, become resilient and recognise that it’s all an inside job, we will just go onto the next and then the next program – never quite getting to the personal peace that’s the ultimate achievement. To be resilient, we need to become entirely self-sufficient in our emotional state of peacefulness. The knowledge that everything will be OK no matter what, that’s resilience.
I’m so passionate about human and dog resilience that it has somewhat by accident become my life’s work. So subscribe to this website, my newsletters and see how I can help you both in 2020.