Relationship Between Stress, Aggression & Resilience As A Function Of Environmental Predictability

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Graph shows the estimated relationship between these variables.

If you would like to read further about the neuro-mechanisms of resilience, please see this article:

Neuromechanisms Of Resilience & Its Role In Dogs. Alternatively, you can view one of our online seminars on the neuroscience of behaviour (particular focus on dogs) using the following links: Introduction To the Science Of Behaviour (Beginners) Seminar OR Introduction To the Neuroscience of Behaviour On-line Seminar (Degree level). We analyse the latest behaviour research findings, cover anatomy, physiology, neuro-mechanisms of the seeking system and the implication of the vagus nerve (Cranial Nerve X or CNX). Each course will gain you CEU’s, you get a certificate and access is for life.

Our newest course has just been launched on the neural mechanisms of emotional contagion and empathy. All of the current research has been evaluated in this short course with video experiments, downloads, resources and interpretation of complex data. Here is a link to the course: Emotional Contagion & Empathy, The Neural Mechanisms & Evidence In Dog Behaviour N.B. (we are offering a 50% discount on this course as an introductory offer for a very limited period) discount code: Emotional50

Graph Explained:

As environmental predictability increases (there is more stability in terms of what the animal can predict), the less stress-related the responses will be.

Predictability means that the animal can express itself, communicate and make decisions. Training IS communication and allows an interaction between the sender and receiver.

As a function of an animal being able to predict his environment, he will be less stressed, less likely to develop aggression, and he will be more likely to show higher degrees of resilience in environments which are challenging to him.

Each organism will be different in the ability to cope with stress. Early experiences shape how an animal deals with stress later on. This is why early habituation is VITAL. A puppy needs to be exposed to many environments before it is seven weeks old: See: The Neuroscience of puppy development. Start before you get him home . Dr Garners prescription predicts that even past the critical stages of development if certain foundations are in place in terms of the environment then there is much hope for recovery.

The prescription and mechanisms for an animal to build resilience (his ability to cope with stress) require solid foundations. Here is an article if you want to read about this further: Neural Mechanisms Of Resilience & It’s Role In Dog Training

Some examples of these things are:

  • A good sleep. This means, they have a nice place to rest which is quiet and peaceful
  • A place to go, to get away from things, this is hugely important for trigger stacking: See ladder (part of the essential dog trainer’s resource poster pack) Essential Dog Professionals Resource/Poster Pack


  • Being able to communicate, being able to express yourself and a positively reinforcing environment provides a platform for us to have predictability. You can usually tell if the animal enjoys it because he wants to do it.
  • Also, when your dog is asking for something, why don’t you try following (AKA listening) your animal to see where he wants to go. For example,

Does he:

1) Need to go out,

2) Want a game,

3) Want a cuddle,

4) Some attention,

5) Fresh water,

6) Want to show you that he is hurting/poorly

7) Have an ear infection,

8) Have mat’s of fur that are causing his skin to be sore,

9) Want space to be on his own because there is too much noise/needs a rest

10) Wanting to show you things he is worried about

11) Want to just have a good old sniff (this is a huge part of a dog’s necessary daily activity anyway),

12) Want to take you to show you that someone is trapped down a well

13) Want to be exercised

  • Remember, barking, growling, avoidance and observable behaviours are designed to communicate a message. If the message gets the desired outcome and it is understood, then the animal has been able to express himself. Research suggests this REDUCES anxiety and stress.
We watched a fascinating lecture looking at research on people with brain injuries. It explained how, when animals do not have agency over their own minds (therefore they have developmental disorders). When they are given positive exposure to music or play, those that have no ability to communicate otherwise, will vocalise and make noise. This reduces stress on the animal and helps him to be more happy. This is because it is some form of social interaction, this is still a need, even when there is no ability to comprehend the world the way other con-specifics do.

EVERY single animal on this planet deserves to have his environment set up so he has agency over his own brain. This, is what are looking to achieve with our work. We are helping to build communication so that we can reduce frustration…

Research suggests, that high arousal situations, negatively impair executive functioning (brain region responsible for higher order control and thought processes relating to self-regulation). This is due to self-regulation impairment and ego depletion (ego is a psychoanalyst term for sense-of-self).

When brain function is impaired (particularly in this way), organisms look for environments with less variation, they look for orderliness. They have a requirement to be in an environment with less change. This functions to help them regulate. A possible explanation for the development of stereotypical, rigid or, vacuum type behaviours perhaps?


Stress and aggression decrease, as predictability increases, and as predictability increases, so does resilience. Therefore increasing our ability to deal with stress. When an animal is under stress, he looks for more predictability in his environment. This helps him to regulate himself (have agency over his own mind) and to deal with the stress. This is why, teaching your dog a nice safe place (like a crate or a little den somewhere in the house), is VITAL!!! This is also why, training techniques that cause stress, are unnecessary. Life is stressful enough, right?

This book, wonderfully titled “Animal Madness” Dr Laura Braitman gives a wonderful account of “How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery, Help Us Understand Ourselves”.. See below for more information:

 Published Articles:

Courses & Seminars:

Our Employers: Marmalade & Tango

positive reinforcement training in dogs

 Please Click On: Authors Biography, to find out more.

Upcoming Articles:

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Upcoming Courses:

  • Neuroscience Of Puppy Development- A short course to cover the neural mechanisms of puppy development.
  • The Neuroscience Of Emotions In Training/Behaviour – A course covering the basics to help you understand and consider affective states to help you approach your training from the emotional perspective of the animal.
  • Clinical Aggression (protocols, understanding, training) A practical course, covering all of the latest research to give you a science based approach to understanding these challenges.
  • 6 Week Gundog Course- This covers the basics to set your dog up with the foundations. This will get him ready to go into the field. We use clicker training and science methods only. We help you build your dog from reliable foundations of trust and a solid bond.
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  • Resource Guarding- A working protocol with practical tips. This will cover dog-dog & dog-human resource management and modification techniques to build trust and build positive associations


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

Adriana Federal, 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;

Donner], Sipild T, Ripatti 5, Kananen L, Chen X, Kend/er K5, Ldnnqvist J, Pirkola S, Hettema JM, Hovatta I. 59
2012. Am J Med Genet Part B 159B:316—327.

Mickey BJ, Zhou Z, Heitzeg MM, Heinz E, Hodgkinson CA, Hsu DT, Langenecker SA, Love TM, Pecifia M, Shafir T, 50 Stohler CS, Goldman D, Zubieta J-K, Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 February;68(2):158-166

Tsai J, Harpaz-Rotem I, Pietrzak RH, Southwick SM., Psychiatry, 2012 Summer; 75(2).’135-49

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

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis Plotsky, & Nemeroff, 2004).

Primates (Levine, 1993a; Heim, Owens, Plotsky, & Nemeroff, 1997).

HPA axis and the hormonal responses to stress during adulthood (Brunson, Avishai-Eliner, Hatalski, & Baram, 2001; Levine, 2000).

The set-point and magnitude of the responses to stress are under tight and intricate regulation (Joels & Baram, 2009; Walker & Dallman, 1993)

Hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors (GR) and hypothalamic corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH)(Heinrichs, Menzaghi, Merlo, Britton, & Koob, 1995; Rivier & Vale, 1983)

These hormones interact with GRs in hippocampus, PVN, prefrontal cortex, and pituitary (Peiffer, Lapointe, & Barden, 1991; Spencer, Miller, Stein, & McEwen, 1991; Swanson & Simmons, 1989)

Exposure of neonatal rats to age-appropriate physiological and psychological stressors such as cold (Yi & Baram, 1994)

David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel 1960s, How does the brain develop if vision is temporarily blocked?

Authors Biography

Relevant lecture from biography: 

  • 04/04/13 Uri Hasson, Ph.D. Psychology Dept & The Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University: Face to face, brain to brain, exploring the mechanisms of dyadic social interactions.



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