At a glance.
- What is your chihuahua’s emotional bucket?
- Why is it important?
- What pays into it?
- Can we manipulate it?
What is an emotional bucket?
Some of you may be familiar with the term ‘emotional bucket’ and how it fills and empties over time, affecting our well-being and behavior. This is a concept used in schools a lot when you work with children. But very few people have ever thought about applying the same concept to their dog. But believe it or not, your chihuahua has one too. Simply put, your dog’s bucket fills with events and eventually overflows creating overspill behaviors.
Obviously, emotions will drain out over time, some dogs can do this quickly, but chihuahuas are not so chilled. Typically, they have a very small bucket with a very small hole, and they are not prone to forgive and forget!
How does the emotional bucket fill up?
A dog with an overflowing emotional bucket is likely to be one that is charging around all over the place, constantly barking at every sound or movement. This type of behavior is very typical of chihuahuas and as they get more stressed the behavior can escalate into nipping, biting, and marking in the house. Their bucket can fill over the course of a day or in a nano second if an exciting event happens.
Got more than one dog? Then each dog will have a bucket of their own and you also get a household bucket. For instance, each dog feels differently about the doorbell, but the act of one charging around when they hear it will fill the household bucket instantly and each dogs individually.
Why does it matter?
How full and how quickly your chihuahua’s emotional bucket empties will be affecting not only their behavior, but their longer-term health as well. A dog that spends most of its time in fight or flight mode is healing less, as the parasympathetic nervous system that deals with healing will shut down. Things that affect the state of your dog’s emotional bucket is 1, the size, and 2, how big the hole that allows emotions to drain. The average chihuahua has a very small bucket with a very small hole. Leading to constant high arousal and stress related behaviors mentioned above.
What pays into it?
It’s very interesting to start looking at the day’s events from your chihuahuas point of view and once you do it’s easier to see what sort of things pay into the bucket and how this will impact on behavior. Interestingly, good excitement from play or a long walk will have the same effect as a visit from the window cleaner. Once the bucket is full, it overflows, and you end up with a chihuahua that reacts.
As an example, a trip to the vet. There are many areas of the event that can cause your chihuahua’s bucket to fill. For some dogs it may start with putting on the harness, then going out the front door, or the car journey, the waiting room and being lifted against their will onto the table. The vet then goes to touch him and snap, it’s just too much for the dog and he growls or bites. It’s never just about the moment the incident happened, but all the smaller events that filled their bucket before they even arrived.
You may see form the diagram I have added training methods. If you are using an air horn or water sprays or e-collars then this will certainly be paying into your chihuahuas bucket.
Can we manipulate your chihuahua’s emotional bucket?
Once you understand the concept around the emotional bucket you can start to see how to manipulate it.
Think about what things send your dog into a tizzy and fills up their bucket and make a list of all the things that cause crazy excitement for your chihuahua, both positive and negative. It could be things like.
- Visitors coming in the front door
- The window cleaner
- The dog over the road barking
- Going for a walk
Once you have a list of the things that cause your chihuahua’s bucket to fill you can pick those events apart and work on them individually. So, for a chihuahua who finds being in the car stressful, you can put in a programme of training that builds confidence around the car. For things that you can’t avoid like the window cleaner you can either take your dog out while it’s going on or try and distract them by giving them a long-lasting chew like a hoof or ostrich spaghetti. What you wouldn’t want them to do is chase the window cleaner around the house jumping at the windows barking and snarling.
What you’re aiming for is a dog that spends most of their day in a calm state. This can be easier said than done with this excitable little dog. What we want to create is calm chihuahua who’s emotional bucket is more robust and has a larger hole so emotions drain our faster.
Read more on how to calm your chihuahua. But your homework is to have a look at your chihuahua’s day and decide what pays into their bucket sending them into a tizzy, and think how you can manage the situation. To get you started you can scatter feed which is a very useful technique. Read more about scatter feeding here.