corgi running

Fight or Flight

Dogs have a natural fight or flight response, and much like any other species including the human this is linked to survival.

But what does it truly mean?

Well the definition is this; The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. It was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon. His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing.

More specifically, the adrenal medulla produces a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamines, especially. This response is recognized as the first stage of a general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms.

Fight or Flight in Dogs

With the release of hormones during the fight or flight response can causes a variety of physical and physiological changes in your dog.

The most significant change is the body’s effort to create an extra boost of energy to ensure the dogs ability to get out of trouble and if needed to survive. This change quickly increases the heart rate, breathing and blood flow to muscles. 

The side effects to this can be increased muscle tension, higher blood pressure, blood clotting, increased blood sugar levels and heightened senses.

While this brief response to a suspected danger is essential and may cause temporary changes, the effects of long term and prolonged stress in dogs can seriously undermine the dog’s immune system. Which is why we need to closely monitor the effects and the dog’s general response’s in these situations. 

Once the threat and fight or flight response is over then their body will go through what we call a resistance phase, this means homeostasis works on restoring balance and recovery. This is easy to spot as your dog will shake off the stress so to relax the tightened muscles. They will start to breath normally and the heart rate slows down.

This is exhausting for the dog as they release the stress, however if the stress continues for some time then this resistance phase must be repeated causing burnout which has negative effects on the dog’s body. The immune system is lowered, cognitive functions are reduced, and the energy levels are lower leading to lethargy.

Dogs can choose

Domestic dogs are not as tied to their instincts as Wild Dogs and they can choose to fight or flight, with the choice of fight or flight depended on the past experiences or situations. A dog who has always chosen to flight in the past, may one day decide to fight as his attempts to flight in the past were blocked and often unsuccessful. Similarly, the dog who has always chosen to fight first through stress and anxiety, given an escape route can choose to flight and often will.

You do however need to know that fight or flight are not the only option open to a dog, they can avoid or accept the situation, however that’s not what we are talking about here in this article.

Watch your dogs and try to recognise situations that may cause the fight or flight response. You can never always prevent it from affecting your dog, but you can try and help your deal with it better.