The Neural Substrates Of Stress & Their Implication In Potential Prevention Or, Treatment Options

Following a recent lecture given by one of the worlds experts in resilience we felt the need to explore possible applications, treatments and strategies that can be adopted to help our animals make better decisions. We are particularly keen to explore the way sentient beings can be provided with a support framework, that will help them be more resilient to potential stressful events and understand what ingredients are needed to aid better decision-making. The aim is to help animals feel secure and less stressed. We can achieve this by being more consistent, communicating via reinforcement and building a mutual understanding that allows for specific knowledge of the contexts which have utility to the individual. I.E. What is important to one might not be important to another.

The more control an animal feels he has over his own environment through being able to communicate (training), the easier he will find it to make good decisions and the more resilient he will be. Studies in children with learning challenges show that just the act of being able to vocalise (without any other criteria) significantly reduced their stress and improved their behaviour. Dr Dennis Charney gives a great lecture, which is simplistic in its delivery and easy to follow.

Animal models provide evidence for understanding behaviour. Similarities between the two, brings about the prescription of resilience. From a neurobiological perspective this gives a compelling argument to our world of pets, particularly our canines. It is vital that we understand their needs and wants as they really do depend on us for everything. Animal models are used to provide evidence for the resilience prescription. If you are interested in learning more about the current evidence to demonstrate how a dog’s brain responds to us and how they think, we have launched the following course: Emotional Contagion & Empathy, The Neural Mechanisms & Evidence In Dog Behaviour

What is resilience?

It is the adaptation of an organism to maintain normal physiological and behavioural systems, despite being exposed to significant psychological stress.

The animal and human models look at the way that the peripheral and central systems are coordinated throughout the organism. Particularly focusing on immunity, neurobiological, endocrine, the central nervous systems and how behaviour brings about resilience to stress. A couple of articles that might be of interest to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of stress, attachment and critical periods (why we have to train dogs early) are: Somatosensory Development, The Psychobiological Substrates Of Attachment & Learning In The Critical Period & The Neuroscience of puppy development. Start before you get him home

The bodies successful application of adaptive stress response systems serves to maintain homeostasis. The biological mechanisms are collectively termed “allostasis”. This essentially means that physiological variations have to occur to maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium (homeostasis) in response to stressful situations. When allostasis becomes disproportionate to the situation, or does not cease, the mechanisms that once served a protective function, become pathological. This is called “allostatic load”. In the dog world, we often talk about trigger stacking. The result of this is damage both psychologically and physiologically. The organism will have an enhanced susceptibility to many disorders/reactions (Charney 2004).

We have put together an essential dog training resource pack with posters, training schedules, socialisation posters, habituation protocols and information resources for dog trainers, vets and behaviour people etc. Please go to the following link to get your posters Essential Training Resource Guide

See samples below:

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Having a comprehension of these allostatic mechanisms will help us to protect and prevent unwanted problems before they occur. According to Charney (who is a great fan of mothers) having some stress, particularly in the developmental stages (for dogs this is the first 12 weeks) will help the animal to build up resilience. This is the critical time where you can expose his little brain to varying degrees of context, sound, sight, noise etc. This is the basis of the 7 day survival series for dog owners. This will get them on the right tracks with their resilience training. These are designed to help owners set their dogs up to succeed.

The puppy 7 day survival guide takes us through the first 7 days of owning a pup and it is the crucial time to get that pup used to many different environments, potty training, basic training etc. All of the training schedules are available throughout the 7 day series. The format of this series is to give you a short video every day, a training task to complete and then the next day you will move onto a new exercise. At the end of the course you will get a certificate to say you have survived the first 7 days of owning a puppy, setting your dog up to be left etc.

According to Charney, there needs to be some exposure to challenging situations in order for to be able to adapt. Whilst the concept of this is relative (we all have our own view of what is and what is not stressful) with dogs there are key things you can look out for that will tell you how he is feeling about his current situation. Step by step body language instructions are shown in day seven of this series. This includes an interaction with an unfamiliar dog, body language explanation etc. The recall guide is vital for any dog owner and teaching a default recall-sit protocol, in the presence of ANY perceived trigger, will prevent your dog from getting into nasty situations. That way you can assess the safety of the situation yourself and you can help set your dog up to make great decisions. He will learn to trust your judgement, it will make his environment more stable, more predictable, it enhances your communication/bond and then he will learn that he can always defer to you.

There is a whole topic here to consider and we suggest you look at the neurobiological mechanisms of attachment article if you want to find out more Attachment, Development and Emotion- A Neurobiological Perspective

Resilience comes from the allostatic mechanisms in the HPA axis (hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal) and the interplay between the nervous system, immune system, endocrine system and the brain. Organisms adapt through a complex interplay within these system to help build psychological resilience to stress.

Early Experiences:

Inoculation against stress can be carried out in a number of ways. Please see our 7 day puppy survival guide to find out more about setting your dog up in the early stages. Habituation, socialisation & training  are essential tools in our handbook that will help animals promote resistance to stress.

These methods are centred around early exposure in the pre and postnatal periods. Stress that is related to prenatal periods are those associated with the glucocorticoid system and for example food deprivation & postnatal stress can be issues surrounding care or separation. this results in altered glucocorticoid activity. If early life stress is prolonged this affects he HPA axis and the glucocorticoid response. The brain structure is altered, affecting emotion, learning, cognitive processes and behaviour (Lupien et al 2009).

To use a chemists analogy, if you add an acid and a base together quickly you will get an explosion. If you slowly titrate them you will get a salt plus water which is relatively inert. What we are saying, is that moderate stress will give more adaptive responses later in life than those exposed to severe stress. This has been demonstrated with experiments in primates and rodents. Parker et al 2005 demonstrated using squirrel monkeys that were separated from their mothers for periods, actually show great enhanced development during their cognitive stages. They showed emotional, cognitive tolerance to novel environments. They were more exploratory and resilient to stressors.

Studies in rats have shown that early separation gives them a blunted HPA axis response to stress when they are older and improves cognitive abilities. Too much separation created the opposite effect and created despair type responses particularly in monkeys (Young et al 1973). To understand the neuroscience of puppy development please find the following article (please note the ages at which pups leave their home, varies across the world, in the UK it is about 6-8 weeks currently and other places in Europe are around 16 weeks, this has been a matter of debate with this article, so seemed poignant to point this out, so as to inoculate against the time that could be better spent understanding the neural mechanisms rather than this one small part of the article ENJOY): The Neuroscience of puppy development. Start before you get him home

We have two pre-recorded seminars which focus on the neuroscience of behaviour: This covers the basics of neuroscience, anatomy, neurotransmitters, DNA regulation and the current research papers. We talk about punishment, why we do not use it and what works from a neurological perspective to help us to teach the concept of replacing unwanted behaviour. We have a beginner and degree level seminar. You get a certificate of attendance which is downloadable once you have watched the seminar. Please contact us for CEU’s Introduction To the Science Of Behaviour (Beginners) Seminar & Introduction To the Neuroscience of Behaviour On-line Seminar (Degree level)

Stress that is chronic and unpredictable (CUS) has been useful to help us understand resilience in animal models. Krishnan 2011 exposed animals to stress for a period up to 7 weeks. This included shocks, restraining, light disruption, food disruption and water restriction. The environment was made unsafe, unpredictable and unstable. What comes to mind here is the use of punishment and aversions in training our dogs. Things like shock collars and corrections serve no purpose to help an animal deal with stress and they do not teach the animal anything other than the fact that the environment is unsafe, please find explanation in the following article:  The Science Behind Punishment & Why It Does Not Teach Anything

Stress which is brought about by chronic social defeat (termed CSDS) has similar phenotype to the CUS. A study conducted by Golden et al in 2011 used exposure to an aggressive rodent. They found that the bullied rodent developed depressive symptoms, metabolic problems, weight gain and insulin insensitivity. They found that there was a milder phenotype in the more resilient mice. This was only treatable with antidepressants. Please see the following article: The Relationship Between Stress, Aggression & Resilience

Evidence shows that there is sex and age differences in rats and how much stress males can undergo, compared to females. This type of stress causes depression and anxiety related behaviour, anhedonia, despair, less approach to novel items, decreased grooming, aggression and decreased sexual behaviour. The only way to reverse this behaviour (according to Willner 1997) is chronic antidepressant treatment. Due to the sex and age differences that seem to correlate with resilience it makes sense that investigation of the neural and hormonal basis of stress needs further exploration.

Cryan and Mombereau 2004 looked at the learned helplessness model. They exposed rodents to inescapable foot shocks and found that more susceptible animals displayed helplessness and were less likely to move away from the shock. There are behaviour and physiological changes associated with this paradigm, including weight loss, HPA dysregulation, hippocampal reduction (in the synapses). This model is reversible with antidepressant treatment and does not last as long.

The neuroendocrine explanation of resilience:

Stress induces the autonomic nervous system and the pre-ganglionic neurons of the sympathetic nervous system in the spine that project to the pre and paravertebral ganglionic neurons. The neurons stimulate the release of adrenaline from the adrenal medulla (where they terminate) and noradrenaline from the sympathetic nerve fibers (they terminate on the cardiovascular and visceral organs). These bring about activation of the autonomic nervous system in response to stress and lead to a change in the heart rate and vasoconstriction.


Stress activates neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus to secrete corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) and arginine vasopressin  (or AVP)). This is in the HPA axis. CRF and AVP are released into the hypophyseal portal system via the median eminence. This is important because it connects the hypothalamus with the pituitary gland. The anterior pituitary gland is then stimulated and releases ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone).

ACTH helps to mobilise energy stores during stress, by activating glucocorticoid synthesis and release from the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex is innervated by the sympathetic nervous system. The ANS and HPA communicate and glucocorticoids bring about the stress response which is dependant on the mediation of the ANS and is also responsible for vasoconstriction. Kearns et al 2012 have used the administration of glucocorticoids as a treatment they believe could possibly control the fear response and fear memory consolidation.

*The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for the fight or flight response

Dehydroepiandrosterone (comes from the adrenal gland and also made in the brain, it leads to the production of androgens and oestrogens- male and female sex hormaones and is a precursor to androgens such as testosterone but has some androgenic activity of its own) or as it is known- DHEA releases cortisol in response to stress. This counters the effects of glucocorticoids. Human studies have looked at the ratio of DHEA/Cortisol and how they correlate negatively with the severity of symptoms (Yehuda et al 2006). It is thought that DHEA has a protective role in times of stress.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is co-released with noradrenaline from sympathetic nerves. This has a major role in emotion processing and depressive symptoms. Negatively perceived stimuli activate the prefrontal cortex (PFC), low expression of NPY increases neural responses to negative stimuli within the mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) and anterior cingulate cortices. This appears to be genetically influenced.

The reproductive hormones in the Hypothalamic Pituitary Gonadal (HPG) axis have a prominent role in resilience to stress. The age and sex related evidence indicates that there are hormone fluctuations during growth and development that have a major part to play.

Oestrogen supports cognitive processes, is involved in catecholamine and monoamine neurotransmission, regulates expression of transcription factors and neurotrophins (Epperson 2014). It is also involved in the activation of the stress response in the brain and influences the reward circuitry. This is dependant on the menstrual cycle stage. Oestrogen levels when low or when they fluctuate lead to vulnerability. This could be due to the increasing levels of MAO-A (Monoamine oxidase A is an enzyme involved in breakdown reactions of the amines such as dopamine, norepinephrine & serotonin) This is an enzyme involved in programmed cell death and oxidative stress. Some studies have linked the gene that encodes for MAO-A in psychiatric disorders and anti-social behaviour.

Testosterone is potentially a positive resilience factor for males. It has a strong correlation to social connections, feelings of positivity and low levels have been found in males suffering stress.  Testosterone has emerged as a potential pro-resilience factor in men (Russo et al., 2012). Some studies have suggested testosterone as a treatment mechanism (Pope et al 2003)

hakira amri phd

Image from Hakima Amri PhD

Liu et al 1997 showed that handled rats display more licking and grooming behaviour. This correlated with the stress induced plasma levels of ACTH and Corticosterone. The hippocampus expresses more glucocorticoid receptors, greater sensitivity and feedback on the CRF & AVP. Further research has implicated the role of thyroid nerve growth factors, transcription factors, epigenetic factors and serotonin activity. This effectively attenuates the way that the HPA deals with its response to stress. The psychobiological substrates of the endocrine system are summarised here and Panksepp’s famous work on affect and the role of endogenous opioids (plus oxytocin) will be discussed further but here is a brief overview of this system Somatosensory Development, The Psychobiological Substrates Of Attachment & Learning In The Critical Period

There is evidence to suggest that the sex hormones have an effect on how resilient an organism is to stress. This is highly complicated, time dependant and developmental. Studies using animal models show that females have greater cognitive resilience to stress. This is due to the sex differences in hippocampal morphology & corticosteroid receptor sensitivity between the sexes. Stress affects learning, immunoreactivity (male rat hippocampus) and dendritic growth. It was shown in male, but not female rats. Most research has focused on the maternal environment. Rodgers et al 2013 showed the role of paternal stress in susceptibility, mice with fathers who were exposed to CUS showed HPA hypoactivity and his affects paternal sperm and expression of RNA. There is a complex interplay between genetics, environment and epigenetics in stress resilience.

The immune system has been considered with the proposal of the “cytokine hypothesis of depression” Maes et al., 2009. This simply states that the abnormalities which are observed such as: HPA axis activity, decreased neurogenesis, neurodegeneration, serotonergic dysfunction of signals and oxidative stress- would indicate that there is some kind of inflammatory response and cytokine release in response to psychological stress. Cytokines are released by leukocytes and are proteins which get released at the site of infection. Crossing the blood brain barrier and are involved in sickness behaviour such as withdrawal, disinterest in food etc.

Corticosterone works to repress the immune system when stressed, this is compromised in more vulnerable mice but resilience is maintained in more confident mice. Studies provide evidence for animals which links stress and vulnerability to the sympathetic nervous system and how it mediates leukocytosis. Trying to elucidate the immune mechanisms of resilience is an interesting prospect, as it would be feasible to target peripheral systems with monoclonal antibodies and this could be a much more targeted approach. Therefore giving us more exact answers to the mechanisms involved.

Cytokines get into the CNS via Vagal nerves

*the Vagus nerve is cranial nerve X is responsible for keeping the parasympathetic nervous system in check, it is responsible for the gut instinct and the only nerve that has fibers going to the brain, and few the other way round. It seems to work independently- see the neuroscience seminars for further explanation on this Introduction To the Science Of Behaviour (Beginners) Seminar & Introduction To the Neuroscience of Behaviour On-line Seminar (Degree level*

and the neural pathway. They go across the humoral pathway and within the microglia and resident brain macrophages. Inflammation influences behaviour by activating the HPA axis, glucocorticoid-induced atrophy and excitatory plasticity of synapses. Stress induced inflammatory responses involve the Interleukins (these are a group of cytokines and involved in the immune response).  Sapolsky et al 1987 showed that stress induced by IL-1B (a type of Interleukin) modulates HPA Axis, stimulates release of CRF from the hypothalamus and then release of ACTH.

Macrophage is a type of white blood cell that ingests foreign material and key in the immune response.

Microglia mediate the immune response and act as macrophages. They clear debris from tissue via phagocytosis (in broad terms they eat the cells)

The mesocorticolimbic reward circuitry, is the main area of interest when we discuss resilience. It serves adaptive mechanisms that help to focus attention on rewards that will ensure the survival of the individual. This brain area contains neurons from the hippocampus, Nucleus Accumbens (NAc), amygdala, Ventral tegmental area (VTA), Medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), lateral hypothalamus and the lateral habenula.

Please see image of the brain circuitry involved in resilience and stress. Image from Charney et al

brain circuitry


The VTA neurons release dopamine (in response to reward, consumption and also in response to aversive stimuli). These neurons project into the GABAergic MSNs (medium spiny neurons) of the NAc within the ventral striatum. There are two pathways that travel between the NAc and VTA direct and indirect. This pathway has been implicated in depressive states. This has been represented by a reduction in activity and also volume.

There are epigenetic and transcription factors in the reward circuitry that implicate resilience to stress and behaviour. One of the factors is called FosB. This is upregulated in the NAc in response to stress. Overexpression is associated with behavioural resilience and antagonism is involved with susceptibility. Phasic firing (burst firing in response to a stimulus as opposed to tonic irregular firing) of neurons in the NAc, projecting to the VTA, brought on by stress, is sufficient to bring about depressed behaviour. Normal dopamine firing, activation and signallimg seem to be allostatically maintained in resilient mice. The mechanisms driving the susceptibility seem less understood. There seems to be some involvement in the potassium channel currents (K+ channels play a crucial role in action potentials, bringing cells back to their resting state). This is a potential therapeutic angle?

For a basic understanding of the neuroscience of behaviour, using evidence from current animal models, further explanation of the brain areas discussed and the relevance to behaviour, please go to the following pre-recorded online seminars: Introduction To the Science Of Behaviour (Beginners) Seminar Or Introduction To the Neuroscience of Behaviour On-line Seminar (Degree level)

Glutamate and Neuropeptide Y (NPY) has been shown through genetic mapping to be involved in the neurotransmitter response to signalling stress and therefore in susceptibility to anxiety. The interaction between genes and environment is a better way to explain individual variations in stress resilience. Polymorphisms (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNP’s) were most significantly observed in the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase. NPY is also a factor in determining susceptibility. The great news is;  findings from rodent models are generally consistent with other animals. An animal in a state of chronic stress will have a loss of synapses on the glutamatergic neurons in the PFC and remodelling of synapses also occurs in the NAc, Christoffel et al 2011. Mice that are vulnerable, show increased density in the NAc MSN’s glutamatergic synapses which indicates that the presynaptic release is altered.

Shown below: Courtesy of Charney et al

Pfau_Figure 3

Evidence from the PFC shows agreement with the current models of stress resilience. The parameters of anatomy, physiology, allostatic mechanisms and firing patterns needs further understanding. These should be studied in more resilient animals so we can fully understand the changes that occur in reward circuitry.

Colin Stopper at the University of British Columbia has identified a brain region called the Lateral Habenula (LH). It is very small and sits near the pineal gland. It has been shown to link to negative behaviour and is fundamental to the process of how decisions are made.

Image courtesy of Nature

lateral habenula rodent

The LH it would seem is responsible for potentially life altering choices. It was originally thought to be part of some kind of punishment system, but it was found to be the area responsible for subjective preference. When the LH was inactivated, it was found that rats did not really have a preference for the larger or smaller rewards on offer.

It is not necessarily a breakthrough as a treatment model for stress related behaviour, more of a relay node that seems to play a critical role. It connects several brain regions that are implicated in mood control (such as the VTA and the Raphe Nucleus). We know it plays a role in mediating states relating to mood, reward and motivation. Especially those that are negative or aversive. There has been some evidence of antidepressant action when it’s activity is manipulated. In a food shock experiment with rodents it was found that there was an increased activity in the habenula and this was correlated with activity in other brain regions such as VTA, Hypothalamus etc. There seems to be a group of brain regions that are involved in sensitivity to stress and this involves the habenula and lateral septum.

Please see suggested pathways:

Image from Nature

reward processing lateral habenula image courtesy of nature

There are several pathways involving habenula. Neurotransmitters on the LH, are glutamate, GABA, acetylcholine and vasopressin. Some evidence suggests that dopamine and 5-HT are involved. What we need to know is, how these systems regulate motivational behaviour and how this could help us gain more of an insight into therapeutic strategies.

In summary:

  • Psychological stress is shown to alter the way that the brain functions
  • There are psycho-biological mechanisms involved in the way animals are resilient to stress
  • You can use training, habituation and support networks (social groups) to support and enrich any organism to enable resilience.
  • Please see our instructor level training courses which will provide a support framework to enable your clients to make better decisions with their dogs, reinforcing desired behaviours and promoting more consistency and resilience in their every day lives.

This is the chart that Charney suggested (based on his research) to be the elements important for resilience.

resilience prescription southwick and charney

Resilience prescription:

  • He suggests training regularly in multiple areas (contexts).
  • Training rigorously brings about change and it requires systematic and disciplined activity. This will help to build emotional intelligence and physical endurance. These are important aspects in the ability of an organism to cope and be resilient.
  • So, having a dog and not training him is not giving him the best environment to become resilient.
  • Helping to get some important behaviours under stimulus control will help him have better impulse regulation.
  • Putting together a fun reward based protocol which sets him up to succeed, will help him to make great decisions.
  • Helping him to learn what you do want as opposed to what you do not want, will reduce stress, reduce time and increase your bond.
  • People do not have to go overboard, just ten minutes a day, something is better than nothing and using capture type techniques instead of forcing or luring will be a better learning experience because the animal is empowered by his own decisions.
  • Training will also help to build consistent boundaries that give the  environment more stability and making it more predictable (as mentioned in the stress inducing tasks earlier an unpredictable environment with lots of uncertainty can lead to stress)
  • Recognise the character strengths in your animal. What does he enjoy doing? can you find a way to engage with him with something he enjoys.
  • Please try to recognise that there can be a fine line between this and obsession to the point of constant over arousal states (as frequently seen in people who think that throwing a ball for hours for their dog is doing them good, sometimes this is making a problem and stressing the dog out).

Ideas are:

  • Kong’s,  work, training the basic commands with food, hiding things, affection, verbal praise (these last two should always be in your tool kit), finding hidden objects, trick training, listening to what your dog wants, exercise, rest, space and sleep
  • Learn to recognise when your dog is needing space, teaching him a nice safe place to settle where he might benefit from not being disturbed. Never allow your children to jump all over him or treat him like a toy, this is where bites come out of nowhere (they never do).
  • Studies on rats that are habituated to being handled show that they demonstrate more affectionate behaviour towards each other. This is great evidence to show how the benefits of affectionate, compassionate handling will greatly enhance the quality of your dog’s life and teach him how to pay it forward. Somatosensory Development, The Psychobiological Substrates Of Attachment & Learning In The Critical Period
  • A satisfactory, respectful relationship which is supportive, understanding and mutually beneficial is far more likely to bring about a more resilient pup. As mentioned in the lecture, some stress (with these foundations in place obviously) will help provide them with more of a foundation of resilience. Charney says it is not necessarily time specific. However, with dogs, evidence shows that in the critical period there are some things (like bite inhibition although there is speculation about the timescale for this learning) that should be learnt before a certain time. What is more important, is that the environment provides good learning experiences from mother, breeder and owner.  The Neuroscience of puppy development. Start before you get him home
  • It is also found that, if there is a lack of social support, functioning relationships, insecure attachments, poor socialisation and communication there is  greater cognitive avoidance and less resilience to stress. Attachment, Development and Emotion- A Neurobiological Perspective
  • Strength is obtained through relationships, friendships, communication and a perceived safety net in times of stress. This is one of the reasons why it is imperative not to punish your dog if he vocalises in the presence of other dogs. You can teach him to avoid, you can show him to give another behaviour and you can even avoid interactions all together. Inhibiting any desire to communicate (because that is basically what he is doing even if you think he is being aggressive) is going to suppress and make the behaviour worse. If you give him the perception that he cannot communicate (turning off his signals with punishment) and make him feel that he does not have a safety net in a times of potential stress, he will be less resilient and probably more reactive.
  • Charney promotes the importance of physical exercise. This improves mood, increases self-esteem and has many knock on effects such as neurogenesis, cognition, regulation of emotion, immune function etc.
  • Role models are important. Always lead by example. You will be surprised just how much great behaviour you can foster in your pup if you show him love, affection and understanding. Never serving to turn off his behaviour. Why Do Dogs Yawn The Neuroscience Of Empathy
  • Practise to face fears. This would be useful only with a qualified veterinary behaviourist. We are great fans of learning and practising the skills necessary to move through fear. This has to be done so that allostatic load is not reached (or trigger stacking). The habituation schedule in the critical period should be worked through to help with stress inoculation. Remember, if your dog is showing disproportionate responses, take him home, give him a cortisol holiday and get medical and professional help (please choose someone who does not subscribe to alpha, dominance or pack theory methods). We need to understand Tinbergens 4 levels of analysis to make appropriate decisions regarding behaviour modification: Dog Emotion, Cognition, Evolution & The Domestication Hypothesis
  • By punishing reactivity (which is communication) you are not helping your animal to develop active coping skills. You can train and reinforce an alternate behaviour and above all, the outcome should be that you minimize the appraisal of threat and create a positive rewarding environment which is consistent and has predictability. The Science Behind Punishment & Why It Does Not Teach Anything
  • To develop resilience then it is likely that exposure to manageable stress in the developmental stages (seen in squirrels, rodents, dogs etc) is associated with reduced behaviour and hormonal responses later in life. The higher degree of control an animal has over his own stress the better the outcome.
  • The more rewarding the environment the less likely you are to get learned helplessness (which comes with punishment experiments). The more optimistic your animal will be about exploring and the more resilient he will be to stress.
  • As humans we seem to be more resilient if we embrace a moral compass, have set core beliefs, have faith and spiritual beliefs. Obviously dogs do not have that. You are their world and your are their set of core beliefs. They need you to provide a stable framework for them to develop agency over their own brains. Our following course explains how we understand the brains of dogs and answer the question as to whether they have empathy Emotional Contagion & Empathy, The Neural Mechanisms & Evidence In Dog Behaviour

Resilience in a nutshell:

Resilience comes from environmental, genetic, physiological, developmental and psychological factors. If there is a genetic predisposition, the environment seems to play an important part. Development is always key, but not necessarily a determining factor. Social support networks and a safe environment with plenty of training and physical stimulation are all factors determining resilience. In the HPA axis, genes relating to certain types of receptors have been shown to be involved. Increases in noradrenaline increases anxiety, decreases in NPY, increases in cortisol, increased CRH contribute in some way. Increases in DHEA leads to resilience and the genetic factors involved in the serotonin transporter gene has behavioural and genetic implications in resilience too. Testosterone levels are shown to decrease in extreme stress, not to mention the immunological responses that seems to play a major factor. Psychobiological mechanisms still need much understanding. The take home message is that the environment alone could reverse earlier chronic stress experiences if the support and appropriate training is achieved (and pharmacological intervention where appropriate). Charney is a great fan of mothers and a great fan of helping animals work outside their comfort zone. This is only relevant without impingement on the cognitive load of the animal. Allostatic loads have many negative effects including brain plasticity. Communication, socialisation, exercise, challenge and training seem to be the key factors pertaining to resilience, from a behavioural perspective.


Please note, these are our own interpretations of the data, any suggested interpretations or edit suggestions are greatly received and any new information that is relevant to this subject would be greatly enjoyed. If you have any further suggestions: Email 


Coping and PTSD symptoms in Pakistani earthquake survivors: Purpose in life, religious coping and social support

Adriana Feder, Samoon Ahmad1, Elisa J. Lee, Julia E. Morgan, Ritika Singh, Bruce W. Smith, Steven M. Southwick, Dennis S. Charney October 2, 2012; Accepted: October 23, 2012;

Mickey BJ, Zhou Z, Heitzeg MM, Heinz E, Hodgkinson CA, Hsu DT, Langenecker SA, Love TM, Pecifia M, Shafir T

Stohler CS, Goldman D, Zubieta J-K, Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011

Tsai J, Harpaz-Rotem I, Pietrzak RH, Southwick SM., Psychiatry, 2012 Summer

Lateral Habenula in Stress and Resilience Neumaier, John F. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States

Increased metabolic activity in the septum and habenula during stress is linked to subsequent expression of learned helplessness behavior. Mirrione, Schulz D, Lapidus K, Zhang S, Goodman W, Henn F.

The Role of Habenula in Motivation and Reward 2014 Marc Fakhoury and Sergio Domínguez López


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