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THESIS: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – But Dogs Do

By Thomas Smith

ISCP graduate Thomas Smith looks into chronic eustress and its effects, mentally, physically and physiologically in dogs. You can download and read Thomas’s fascinating thesis through the link below.

Below is the abstract to the thesis, and the entire paper is available for download in PDF format here:

Download PDF • 1.03MB
Zebras on the plain



I attended a seminar where Steve Mann, IMDT who spoke about his 'rucksack walk' where he talks about his visit to Cusco, a city in Peru where he went to study the local dogs which famously populate the streets. He sat and watched these dogs for weeks and weeks and finalised that 'the dogs never ran'. They mooched about, sniffing things, being nosey, liked interacting and being around people, investigated sounds, sights and passers by. Thousands of dogs in a small space, that rarely had disagreements, had any massive behaviour problems, navigated roads and vehicles perfectly and engaged with people politely. And they never ran. Steve invented the rucksack walk to try to capture this concept with dogs in Western Society, by helping carers engage with their dogs at a simple level, as a form of mindfulness to connect. The gist is to mooch around slowly to a location with a few items in a rucksack, sit down on the ground and bring them out one by one for your dog to play with, sniff, eat, bite whatever. There is no real aim except bonding with your dog, keeping their arousal levels low and exploring the items together. I used to do this with my dog Dotty, before I'd heard of the rucksack walk, we would sit on the ground, I'd pick up sticks, leaves and grass to sniff, feed her things but it was more about engaging with her to make our little game fun so she wouldn't get so focused on the external environment which sent her into hyper arousal and her eyes would gloss over, her ears back, running about not listening to me, chasing birds! I realised if I could manage her arousal levels, she would listen to me, be more content, happy and some of her behaviour issues began to fizzle away without any behaviour modifications or training plans. Now, 6 years later, I have decided to formally explore stress, particularly eustress and how having chronically elevated levels can heighten behaviour problems and illness.



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