Dog Stress… Is it You? Are YOU Stressing Out Your Dog?
We love our dogs so much that it’s sometimes hard to be a good dog parent!! Every little tremble, whine or whimper causes us stress and worry. Then we try to figure out what’s causing this unsettling behavior. But do we ever stop to think that WE may be causing stress in our furry pal, stress that is the root of their behavior? When we stop to think about our dogs’ lives we may realize that Fido might not have it as easy as we like to think!
None of us who love dogs would intentionally cause them dog stress. We need to give some thought and evaluate our animals well-being. To do this we can use what is known as “The Five Freedoms”. These came about after a study concluded in England. The study determined the basic needs for existence of all animals.
Let Freedom Ring
The first of these freedoms is to be free from being hungry, thirsty or malnourished. We have to look beyond just giving our dog food and water. Is it clean water? Is it appropriate, healthful food? Are we feeding him too much and creating obesity problems?
Second, is he free from discomfort? Does he have a safe, comfortable place to call his own, sheltered from excessive heat or cold? Is his hair long and matted, beyond his ability to self-groom? Do you notice and remove harmful things from his environment?
The third freedom is also important. It is to be free of pain, injury and disease, thus requiring regular vet visits and care. Dogs are stoic and by nature can avoid showing pain, so we have to be conscious of signs of trouble. Older dogs can suffer from the aches of advancing years just as people do. These older dogs might be in big pain and not showing it. They deserve the medications that are available to reduce their discomfort.
Let Your Dog Be a Dog
The fourth freedom is let your dog behave like a dog. He may sleep in your bed, watch TV with you in your recliner and be there when you need a friend, but he is still a dog. Behaviors that may leave you puzzled, impatient or even offended are part of him being a dog. Butt-sniffing, leaving and checking “pee-mail” along your daily route, licking to clean himself… These are not activities that you appreciate. But that’s just being a dog. Trying to “correct” these behaviors can cause a tremendous amount of dog stress. Dogs are social. They need a pack of some kind. He needs interaction with other dogs. Consider day care, the dog park, neighbors’ pets or another dog in your home for some social time. You do not have to get another dog to create a pack. A part time pack can be had from many of the sources listed above.
It sometimes is difficult to achieve a balance in our dogs’ lives. (Just like with kids.) We recognize that they need stimulation, interaction and activity. At the same time, we need to maintain awareness of the possibility of overdoing all this activity. This is crucial for our pets’ peace of mind and well-being. Dogs sleep an average of 17 hours a day, not because they’re bored but because this is what nature intended. Going here, doing that, visiting this person, catching that ball, playing with this dog can become overwhelming for them. They need 17 hours of sleep. Find the balance.
Be The Calm and Comfort in the Storm
Fifth and finally, we must be sure that our pal is free of fear and distress. Thunder and fireworks may not bother me, but can be stressing out my dog. Comfort him rather than shouting at him to settle down. If you get scared, do you want to be yelled at or shamed? Or would you rather have someone calm and comfort you? Yep, your dog is the same. Don’t harass or be mean to an already stressed and fearful dog. Be the CALM and COMFORT in the storm. Be their best friend, dog parent or helper at least in these scary moments. And these are just the most basic considerations; others are worth keeping in mind.
Dogs are people too – at least in the sense that many of the things that cause them stress are also problematic for some people. While dogs are not able to communicate through speech, they have sensitivities far beyond ours and they key on human behavior. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute and think how you would feel in their situation. Dogs see us as their pack leader, their go-to person, so it’s important to understand how things we do can affect them.
Step into your dog’s shoes for a moment. Imagine how you would feel if your mom, the person you want to spend all your time with, gathers her belongings and pulls the door shut behind her. You hear the car start and as it pulls away the realization hits you that you’re alone, all alone. You don’t know where she is or if she’ll be back. Without her, there are no walks, no treats, no petting, no comforting presence. I’ll bet you’d be anxious too! There are so many ways of stressing out our dogs. These things seem to be a part of our daily lives, but to our canine companions make no sense. They sense grief at the loss of a close friend, whether human or another pet. Arguments between their humans can be very upsetting at the dog level. They sense our moods and watch our reactions. A loud fight… might just put them over the edge.
Just as with our children, too much of a good thing can be detrimental. Consider these activities as good ones, however too much is still too much.
Too long at doggie daycare
Roughhousing too much with the kids
Playing fetch to the point of exhaustion
All these and more can be creators of an anxious and stressed out dog.
Is This YOU? Frustrated and Lashing out? Be Kind Anyway…
Let’s agree that there are dog behaviors we don’t like. In our frustration we may use tactics that increase the stress that causes the behaviors in the first place. Punishing your dog while training is a really bad idea. Causing pain or discomfort by using shock collars, or those intended to choke or poke with prongs creates confusion and stress for your dog. If your dog doesn’t “Get” what you are trying to get him to do, it’s on YOU! You didn’t communicate effectively with your dog. It is not your dog’s fault when you’re speaking Martian and all he knows is English. Make training tasks simple. Keep it easy and fun so your dog can have a win. Then give lots of praise and they’ll want to do it all over again.
Environmental factors play a big role in dog stress too. Changes in routines or the people with whom the dog must interact can be upsetting. Introducing a new animal in the house can really throw them. Take it slow. Multiple dog household? If you’re expecting too many of them to share an enclosed space, it can lead to aggressiveness and other undesirable behaviors. Close confinement with others may cause an anxious dog to react badly.
We need to always remember to walk in those doggie shoes. The things your dog finds disturbing are often the same things you would not tolerate for long in your own life. We love our dogs and want them to lead happy, comfortable and fulfilling lives. Making this happen is the responsibility of every dog parent. Be aware. Notice changes in behavior. What’s up?
It’s important to remember that he is a dog and will act like a dog. Sometimes to your dismay, we must keep in mind that dogs have sensitivities beyond ours.
Most importantly, always treat them with love and kindness.