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How Does Cortisol Make My Dog Aggressive?
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How Does Cortisol Make My Dog Aggressive?

“Cortisol, a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone), is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. It is normally released in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress. Cortisol’s far-reaching, systemic effects play many roles in the body’s effort to carry out its processes and maintain homeostasis.” Dina Aronson MS RD.

Cortisol is an important part of your immune system. But like all chemicals it can cause havoc when there is too much in the system. Cortisol prepares the body for ‘fight and flight.’

When a dog is ‘over stimulated’ the Cortisol is released. It can take 72 hours for the cortisol to leave a dog’s system. So when you hear terms like Trigger stacking you need to think ‘2 – 3 days’ not the 10 – 15 minutes most people think.

Studies show that athletes have elevated levels of Cortisol. This could explain why it appears rampant in the dog agility world.

Dogs develop high levels of cortisol in their bodies for several reasons:

  1. stress
  2. a tumor in the pituitary gland that over-stimulates the adrenal glands hormone-secreting tumor within an adrenal gland
  3. the use of corticosteroid drugs

What Can I Do About Cortisol?

The best thing is to teach your dog to remain calm. Teach it Coping Skills, or Life Skills, so it can deal with situations in its environment. Most important, don’t make life miserable for your dog.

When I meet a new person I ask what the problem is, and what their goals are. Some people have lofty goals. They want to walk with their dog anywhere. They want to take their dog to the dog park. They want to compete in sport dog events.

The question that needs to be asked is, ‘what does the dog want?’  The dog may just want to play in the back yard. It is a safe place with no anxiety.

This is why some people never succeed in helping their dog survive stress. I’ve met several people who drag their dog outside each night. They watch for dogs, people and other triggers. They are on high alert. Their movements would impress James Bond, or any spy organization. The goal – go for a walk.

Neither the dog or the person enjoys this. If the situation happens repeatedly then the dog becomes more and more stressed, as more cortisol builds up in their system.  The dog never has a chance to return to zero level. There is no peace or rest for the dog.



Cortisol Levels In Hair Reflect Behavioural Reactivity Of Dogs To Acoustic Stimuli :Department of Animal Production, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari “A. Moro”, Strada Prov.le per Casamassima, Km 3 – 70010 Valenzano, Italy.

Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy: By Dina Aronson, MS, RD, Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 11 No. 11 P. 38


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