The concept of "arousal" when working with dogs

“Arousal” is an important concept—only when the dog is not overly aroused will they respond to cues properly (and only when not overly aroused will the handler be able to function well). If a dog is too aroused (or excited), the dog won’t be able to focus.

We teach the handler this ten-point scale to help them understand this idea in reference to their dog (see chart at bottom of page):

  • Arousal rate is 7 or more= Ready to play, but too high for working. If the dog is panting (and especially if the dog also has the whites of their eyes showing), the dog is probably excited enough that they're starting to get hard to control. Don’t try to work with them. Give the dog a nice long break on their mat until their arousal rate is at 3 or below.
  • Arousal rate is around 5 = Happy dog. At an arousal level of 5, their ears are probably up and their mouth is probably open. The dog is still easy to control, but we prefer to work with a calmer dog. If the handler has the dog do a down-stay, that action will calm them down to a nice 3 or less. If the handler is at home, put the dog on their mat until it's at a level 3 or less.
  • Arousal rate is 3 or less = Calm. If the dog's mouth is closed, the dog is usually much easier to work with. At the arousal level of 3, they have a little breathing room. The dog should be ready to work, but even if they start to get excited, they've got some leeway before reaching a hard-to-control level 7.

Reading the signs of arousal in dogs