When Good People Snap

I spent 22 years working with dogs as an enthusiastic amateur dog trainer. I worked in obedience, Rally, Agility, showing, rescue and rehab.

I did it for fun, and because I loved dogs.

And it made me a better human, too.

In fact, I learned a lot about humans from dogs and dog training. One thing I learned from Jean Donaldson in her book The Culture Clash, was about “The Bite Threshold.”

The idea is that even good dogs bite when pushed far enough.

And as people with dogs, it’s our responsibility to learn to see when “far enough” is coming too near.

To learn our dogs’ stress levels, and what adds to those levels, and see when it’s piling on and becoming too much.

For some dogs, their stress tolerance level is fairly low.

For others, it’s quite high.

However, add up enough stress, and dogs will hit the red zone where they are highly likely to bite. They may not. They may growl, or raise their hackles, or run and hide, or do ANYTHING except bite. Or they may not. Especially if running is not an option, or cowering is not making the stressor go away.

For example, take a look at Fido here. Fido is a good dog. He’s twelve years old, has never bit anyone, nor has he ever even shown signs of biting. He’s usually quite mild mannered.

And yet, today he’s reached his bite threshold.

How?

A. At 12 years old, Fido has started feeling his age a bit. For the past few months, he’s been waking up a bit stiff in the morning with arthritis. His people haven’t noticed yet, and Fido can’t speak, so it’s untreated. It’s not bad, but it’s there.

B. It’s been a bad year for fleas this year, and even though Fido’s owners are conscientious about keeping him protected, he still gets bit once in a while, and he’s slightly allergic, so it really bothers him. He got bit this morning, and he’s feeling itchy and unsettled.

C. It’s a rumbly day, with thunder in the distance. Fido HATES thunderstorms. HATES them. Like cowers behind the couch and drools hates. It’s not here yet, and Fido’s people are taking him on a walk. He’s on high alert.

D. There’s another dog barking at Fido from across the park. It’s a small stressor, but it adds to the list. On it’s own, it wouldn’t affect Fido. Added on top of everything else right now, it puts Fido at 87% of his bite threshold.

Poor Fido is stressed!

E. This can be literally ANY other stressor. A small child running up to Fido out of nowhere. A man with a beard (Fido is a rescue and doesn’t like men with beards). A loud noise to startle Fido. A trip to the vet (super stress!). ANYTHING.

And if Fido bites, his people will likely say, “The bite came out of nowhere!”

But it didn’t.

And humans are the same way.

Some humans have a low snap threshold. They snap often. It may not be a BIG snap, or a earth-shattering snap, but they snap.

Some humans have a high snap threshold. Like Fido. They almost never hit that danger zone. And when they do, it may not result in a blow up. But it may.

Because everyone has a breaking point. Even John Wick.

And so, when your normally cool friend who always takes care of everything with calm and aplomb finally hits that point, you might say, “It came out of nowhere,” or “This isn’t like you,” but that’s no more true for people than it is for dogs.

For example, Layla is having a rough day. You probably wouldn’t know it. Heck, she might not know it, because she’s used to managing things well and making shit happen.

But it’s piling up on her today.

A. She’s got a low-grade headache. Maybe she’s developing allergies. Maybe she’s got a mild sinus infection. But it’s there.

B. She didn’t get enough sleep last night. She usually sleeps like a rock, but for some reason, she was tossing and turning last night, and doesn’t feel rested.

C. It’s morning, and there is already a fire to put out at work.

D. John, the co-worker who should be responsible for taking care of the fire that he started is not in today. He called out sick, leaving this for her to deal with the angry client.

E. Sam just called to let her know that the weekend they’ve been planning for a month isn’t going to happen. He needs to work this weekend to meet a deadline. Again.

Layla gets upset and raises her voice.

And Sam is confused. She’s usually SO understanding. It’s never been a problem before. They are both busy people and they have always worked around these things.

He says, “Is it really this big of a deal?”

And pushes Layla into the snap zone. She yells and hangs up.

Sam says to himself, “Well, that came out of nowhere,” when it might have helped to think:

“That’s unlike her. I wonder what she might be dealing with to make her react like that, and how I can help. After all, I was looking forward to our weekend, too.”

Kinksters have a special stressor that others don’t have…

For kinky people, not fulfilling our kinks is a stressor.

I know that when we get into relationships based on kink, life can step in and make things less kinky for a while.

Just like in vanilla relationships (and all relationships) where romance and sexual desire might wax and wane, kink may wax and wane over time.

Kink, like exercise or zoning out playing video games, is for many people a stress relief. A way to bring themselves back from the snap threshold, and put life in perspective.

And when that doesn’t happen, that threshold might be a little lower, and the reactions might be a bit more extreme when they come.

I’m not saying that people have no responsibility for their behavior just because they’ve reached the snap threshold. We do. Of course. We always do.

I’m saying that when it happens to the people we love, it is a good thing when we can be a bit more understanding, and look at how we can help, rather than simply assume they are being some kind of asshole for no good reason.

What are your thoughts?

Have you ever had a friend totally snap on you, then after you reacted in kind, you found out that they’d had a significant stressor that put things in perspective?

Have you ever been so overloaded with stress that you’ve snapped at another, without even realizing, or having time to stop yourself?

Do you have any tricks you use to reduce tension from either side of this scenario?

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