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  • Writer's pictureJaney C’s Pets & Me

Managing Frustration

Frustration occurs when a dog’s expectations are not met in a specific scenario. Managing frustration in dogs is essential for their well-being and teaching your dog healthy coping mechanisms for frustration is an important life skill.

Frustration can materialise in many different behaviours such as aggression, mouthing, excessive barking, jumping up and destructive behaviour. Frustration can be more common in adolescent dogs and can occur when a dog’s core needs are not met or if they experience inconsistent training.


Common causes of frustration include:

  • Lack of exercise/ boredom

  • Unmet needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, social contact, bathroom breaks)

  • Overstimulation or lack of stimulation

  • Confusion or misunderstanding commands


Ensure Core Needs are met

Before you begin to teach your dog coping mechanisms for when they feel frustrated, we must first ensure their core needs are met. Core needs will vary for each individual, for example; some breeds will require more physical exercise than others and different life stages of dog will require different amounts of sleep.

  • Daily Walks: Ensure your dog gets at least 30-60 minutes of physical exercise daily. (Where appropriate, taking into account physical health and behavioural concerns e.g. reactivity). This can include off lead time where appropriate for the individual.

  • Mental Stimulation: Ensure your dog receives daily mental enrichment. This could take the form of puzzle toys, play time, trick training, or scent work.

  • Adequate Sleep: Ensure your dog gets adequate, quality, undisturbed rest, both overnight and during the day. Adult dogs require around 14-16 hours per day and younger puppies around 18-20 hours per day.


Identify Triggers

Once you have addressed your dog’s core needs and made sure these are met, the next stage is to identify what triggers your dog to feel frustrated. This could be the sound of the doorbell, a family member entering the home, or picking up the lead to go for a walk. Make a list of each trigger to work through.



Counter Behaviours

Our goal when training a dog that experiences frustration is to teach them to do something else in response to the trigger. This is called training a counter behaviour. A counter behaviour is a behaviour that is more acceptable for us, that is incompatible with the undesired behaviour, but still allows our dog to reach their end goal, thus removing frustration.


For example:

Dave the dog becomes frustrated when greeting his family after they come home from work. When his family enter the home, Dave is desperate to greet them and jumps up at them. If his family ignore him, Dave becomes frustrated and will mouth on their arms. If his family say hello, Dave becomes over stimulated and will do similar behaviour.

A great counter behaviour here is to teach Dave to sit. His family teach Dave to sit and then ask Dave to sit down as they enter the front door. Once Dave has sat down he is no longer jumping at his family and they can say hello. Dave gets to greet his family and no longer feels frustrated so no longer mouths their arms.


Another example:

Fido becomes frustrated when people are eating at the dinner table. Fido wants his human’s food so will stand by the table and bark at them due to his frustration.

A great counter behaviour here is to teach Fido to go to his bed. His family teach Fido to go and lie down in his bed whilst they are eating dinner. If Fido is lying down quietly on his bed, he is not barking. Fido has learnt a coping mechanism for meal times and no longer feels frustration, so no longer barks.




As with all training, counter behaviours take time for your dog to learn and must be practiced regularly outside of when you need them. These behaviours will need to be taught, proofed against distractions and built up gradually until your dog is fluent in them. Similar to how we as humans learn to drive cars on quiet roads and empty car parks, not the M25!

This process often takes several weeks and during this preparation time your dog will very likely encounter scenarios that provoke frustration and not yet have the skills to deal with them. How we manage our dog during these times is important to prevent progress being undone. You cannot feasibly train your dog in every single scenario, so when we are not training we put management in place to limit their frustration and prevent them practicing undesired behaviours.



Examples of management:

Dave is learning to sit by the door to greet his family. They practice this several times a day in short training sessions. To help manage him whilst he learns this skill his family installs a stair gate by the front door so that Dave is kept separate as they enter. They also keep a pot of kibble by the front door and scatter this on the floor as they enter, to redirect Dave away from them and help him focus on something else, lowering his frustration and reducing any jumping up.


Another example:

Fido is learning to go to his bed whilst his family eat dinner. They practice this several times a day in short training sessions. To help manage him at dinner time whilst he learns this skill, his family put him behind a stair gate/ pen whilst they eat to prevent him accessing the table. They also provide Fido his dinner at the same time in a Kong so that he has something else to focus on, reducing his barking and lowering his frustration.



To help reduce how frustrated our dog feels in response to a trigger, we can introduce them to a de-sensitisation plan. A de-sensitisation plan breaks down a trigger into small, achievable steps. We gradually and repeatedly expose our dog to each stage until it no longer triggers frustration. Once we have de-sensitised our dog to each small part of the trigger, we then piece the trigger back together and no longer see a negative response.

De-sensitisation needs to be practiced regularly and slowly in short training sessions outside of when you need it. Don’t wait until you need the behaviour to attempt to train it! Desensitisation goes hand in hand with management and counter behaviours. All three are required to form success!


Example of desensitisation

Luna becomes frustrated when her owner picks up her harness and lead. Luna is excited to go on the walk and becomes over stimulated at the lead as this is her trigger. She will jump at her owner, mouth the lead and bark excitedly.

Luna’s owner must first ensure her core needs are met so Luna is provided two walks a day and is given daily enrichment and down time throughout the day. To manage her during these walks Luna’s owner scatters a hand full of kibble on the floor to redirect Luna as she puts her harness and lead on before going out the door.

Each day Luna’s owner practices a counter behaviour of teaching Luna to sit and wait by the front door.

Outside of her walks, at separate times of the day, Luna’s owner begins a desensitisation plan to de-sensitise Luna to the lead being picked up. Luna’s owner does this by picking up the lead and putting it down again several times. Eventually Luna does not show any response to this as it has been repeated so many times it is boring. Luna’s owner then progresses to the next stage of de-sensitisation and picks up the lead and walks towards Luna before putting the lead away again. This is repeated until Luna shows no response.

Over the next week Luna’s owner progress to the final stage of desensitisation where she picks up the lead, puts it on Luna and then takes it off again. This is repeated several times each day until Luna no longer shows a response to the trigger.

The final result of this training plan is that Luna’s owner can pick up the lead, ask Luna to sit whilst she puts the lead on her, and leave the house calmly for a walk with no resulting frustration.


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