I've written before about how some stress is good for us humans; new research has confirmed that the same is true in dogs. I've said it before and I'll say it again - anxiety and stress are normal emotions. We all feel them everyday and it's a good thing. (It's just that sometimes, anxiety gets away from us a little bit and we start to feel it too often, too strongly, and too repetitively.) Two scientists, Yerkes and Dodson, figured this truth out years ago. They described how too little stress leads us to become basically ineffective couch potatoes. Think about how kids always take a couple weeks to get back into the groove in school after 2-3 months of summer vacation. On the flip side, too much stress leads us to burn out and may cause us to freeze up. For instance, how many of us struggle to answer a question in an interview that we could easily answer in the comfort of our home? According to Yerkes and Dodson (and many other scientists that followed), the sweet spot is in the middle. Not too little stress, not too much stress, but something that is just right (think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears). With just a little bit of stress, we are more productive and alert. When you think about when you were most efficient at work, at school, or at home, wasn't it when you had just a little bit of stress from some deadline pushing you along? The right amount of stress can actually feel good, like being energized.
Well in a recent study (that would have been a lot of fun to volunteer with I must say), researchers confirmed that the same is true in dogs. Researchers studied the impact of stress on two groups of dogs - average ones and super laid back service dogs. When the laid back dogs were quietly and calmly offered a treat from a researcher positioned behind a short wall, they obviously came to collect it from the research team, walking around the wall. When they were offered a treat in a very excited tone of voice with lots of hand waving, they ran around the wall and collected that treat significantly faster. However, the same was not true of average dogs. Average dogs tended to get stressed out by the extra excitement, and actually took longer to get the treat, having difficulty finding their way around the wall. This fun little research study is a great example of the Yerkes-Dodson relationship in practice.
If you find yourself stressed out from time to time, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to consider how that stress is impacting your performance. Is it too much stress? Are you actually less effective? Are your mindset and actions helping or contributing to the stress? Sometimes we add a whole lot of un-needed pressure (like "Oh my god I have to meet this deadline or my boss might fire me!" - confusing possibility with probability) that causes us to be overly stressed and less productive.