Stress and Your Dog
How many times in the course of your relationship with your pet (be it a cat or dog) have you thought, “boy, that’s the life?”
What you see through your eyes is the life of ease, with no stress and someone to wait on it hand and foot.
For the most part that is true, but there are times in a dog’s life that they feel stress.
Just like us, dogs can feel stress during their daily routines.
Outside noises, being confined and boredom can cause minor stress.
If the stress cannot be released and is allowed to build up, trouble can rear its ugly head.
Actually, all living creatures feel stress and a lot of what we call stress is good.
Hunger for example is a form of stress and finding food relieves it.
What we are feeling when something is upsetting us, is the same thing animals feel and it really is distress.
How do you know if your dog is feeling “distressed?”
There are certain behaviors that start to appear and there are certain conditions that bring those behaviors on.
First, I will discuss the conditions because without the conditions there would be little distress.
Dog are creatures of habit, they love routine.
They want their environment to be predictable, they need to know what is expected of them and they expect you as their leader to keep everything under control.
So the number one “distressor” is changes in routine.
Followed by lack of socialization while a young puppy, excessive confinement, little or no attention, lack of exercise, unnoticed illness or pain, loud noises, and excessive punishment.
These, of course are only a few of the things that could cause your pet’s distress.
What are the subtle signs of distress?
There are many, some of which are hard to detect as they are part of a normal dog’s behavior.
This is where knowing your dog and building a bond is so important. If you have developed a strong relationship with your pet, you will be able to almost sense the subtle changes in its behavior patterns.
What are they?
Excessive barking or crying, pacing, constant licking of itself, shedding more than usual, chewing on itself or other things, not looking directly at you or at others, excessive panting or drooling, ducking its head, even yawning or excessive tail wagging can be a sign, along with trembling when it is not cold.
The more obvious signs are sudden fear of anything and everything, aggression such as growling, snapping or biting, and helplessness (lack of response, no energy or inability to respond to a command).
When a dog that is normally friendly starts growling, snapping or trying to bite, the distress has already taken hold, it is like the “last straw.”
Somewhere along the line you have missed the subtle signs and now you need to find out what is causing this distress.
Take a moment to go back over past weeks, this is where big changes in the normal routine come to mind. Have there been any changes?
New baby, a new person in the household, have you changed jobs, are your hours are different, is there construction going on nearby and the noise level during the day is loud? All these could be the cause of distress.
Has the neighborhood suddenly become a popular spot for children and their noise?
Children playing with the laughter and noise can be very frightening to a dog.
One of the reasons so many children are bitten or attacked by dogs is that the owner never noticed the subtle signs of distress.
It can’t be stressed enough that a dog and children should never to left unsupervised as it is impossible to know what might trigger a dog’s stress level and the result is a serious accident.
The best way to protect yourself and your dog from unpredictable circumstances is to be consistent yourself in your dog’s training.
What does that mean?
It means simply, do not allow your dog to do something today and then tomorrow say “no.”
If laying on the couch or bed is allowed one day and the next you have a fit because the dog is on it, you are confusing the dog.
If you do this in regard to a number of things around the house
and if you punish the dog on “your off days” for doing what it does on “your on days” a problem is soon to arise.
Dogs thrive on predictability and consistency from you. They need to know what is expected from them and they need to know what to expect from you.
In order to have a happy almost stress and distress free home for you and your pet, the rules of the road are: socialize your pet at a very early age, expose it to all kinds of experiences, some obedience training is necessary, be gentle and kind, give your dog the attention it deserves, exercise your pet (it’s good for both of you), bond and develop a close relationship and most of all pay attention to the subtle signs your dog gives you.
A caring and alert owner will be aware when something starts to be amiss.