Helping Your Pup Find His Zen: Lesson for Helping Dogs Stress Less

Pets, particularly dogs, can absorb the stress and tension around them.It can be hard for people to realize their beloved best friend can get just as stressed out as they do. So where does stress come from for your dog? Stress in dogs is often the product of a change in their environment.

Since your dog is a part of your life and as we know our lives will certainly not be free of change, we can expect that on occasion your four legged BFF is going to need to find a little zen.

While there is no need to worry about occasional, excessive or prolonged stress can produce the same negative effects in dogs just as it does in humans. This is because stress triggers your dog's internal defense mechanisms (yep, just like us!) making her heart pound and raising her energy level to the max!  It causes dogs their reserve strength just to cope and get by. This can affect a dog's resistance to illness and disease and she may get sick.

Canine Stress Reactions

So what are the signs of stress in your dog? Just like with humans, personality is a big indicator. You may see a more aggressive dogs take out their stress on you and your home whereas more shy or nervous dogs may turn their stress inward and make themselves detached. Here are some symptoms of a "stressed out" dog:

  • Bathroom Accidents- The number one sign of stress is house the onset of accidents
  • Barking-Excessive howling or barking both inside and outside the house can signal anxiety. The more that you yell at them to stop the more it actually makes them bark.
  • Irritability- If your dog begins to have behaviors like as growling, snarling and even biting it could mean there is something else going on.
  • Sudden Illness-Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and over eating are all signs to take notice of
  • Chewing and Biting Skin- allergies and skin reactions are some of the ways that dogs internalize what they are feeling
  • Destructive behaviors-Your dog may try and relieve her stress by biting, licking or chewing on herself, the furniture, your personal belongings and more.

 

How to Help Your Pet Cope With Stress

If you believe your dog's stress is caused by loneliness, boredom and separation anxiety, the best way to relieve it is to spend more time with her. Many experts have also found that an increase her exercise opportunities can help too.

Since dogs are social creatures they can suffer from loneliness just like us.  So make sure you make time to hang out. Even if it's just kicking back together on the couch watching the game while you scratch their ears.  Some dogs are calmed simply by being close to you.

Of course we all know that time spent with your dog is a win-win situation for both of you. There are hundreds, if not thousands of medical studies proving that people with pets live happier, healthier and longer lives.

Prevention

Set your dog up for success just like you would yourself. You can stop stress before it starts by having a clear consistent communication and training method with your dog. You should not only start obedience training as early as possible but also show them that you can be consistent with their care. Although puppies are more receptive to learning new discipline routines, older dogs can learn new tricks with consistent, prolonged training and great incentives.

If you are just giving a dog a forever home then know that from the moment you walk through the door with your new dog, you need to establish clear boundaries.  You should also set aside a safe environment for her.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Give your puppy or dog a crate of her own in which to feel safe. Everyone likes to have their own spot.
  • Set rules early to let her learn what is appropriate behavior and what is not.
  • Establish clear differences between your space and hers. If you don't want them on your bed for instance, then don't ever let them on your pet for any reason.

One of the the worst things you can do is punish your dog. You will only succeed in making her fear or resent you causing even more stress. Just like with a young child, the chances are she will wait until you are not around to act out the bad behaviors that you yelled at her for in the first place.

Fortunately for dog lovers, a dog's easily trainable nature works in your favor. You'll need to provide the three "Cs": control, consistency and companionship as much as possible.

Routine - More Than Just the Daily Grind

Routine something that we all do, even if we don't realize it. Routine is a key element in developing stress-free dog. Your dog needs a structure to feel secure and to behave appropriately. This is true for even the simple things like knowing when she will be fed, walked and played with. These can all go a long way to making her feel more relaxed and secure.

Routine is rooted in regular companionship too. Without it she will not adapt well to unavoidable life changes and feel abandoned.

Here are some situations that could disrupt your dog's routine and cause her stress:

  • Traveling (vacation, to the vet, for a visit to your local pet store)
  • New home (moving to a new home and being adopted by a new owner)
  • Dog shows/encounters with strange smells, people and other pets
  • Environmental changes (even something like painting a room)
  • Boredom (no activity opportunities is huge)
  • Your absence (lot's of overtime at work, new schedule or even because you have a new hobby or interest that keeps you away from home)
  • New family member or visitor
  • New pet, including new puppy
  • Changes in your own health

Here are some ways you can reduce your dog from stressful situations:

  • Creating a Safe Space
    • A crate can be a "safe house" for your dog when the world around her is shifting. Any time you travel, move, or leave your dog for short periods, put your dog in her crate with some comfortable bedding, a shirt or towel that has your scent on it, and her favorite toy. This is their safe space and it's all theirs.
    • If you are having a party or some other gathering, or introducing new family members into the home, confine your dog to one room where she has her bed or crate and allow her to feel safe rather than feeling that her territory is threatened by people she does not know. Always introduce your dog to new people slowly.
  • Keep up routines

    • If her stress is caused by moving to a new home let's say then before, during, and after the move try and maintain your daily routine with your dog. Make sure she has regular mealtimes and lots of walks, time with you and play breaks. 
    • Don't coddle her

      • If your dog seems nervous and fearful, don't speak to her consolingly. It seems like this would be the right thing to do but she may interpret this as positive reinforcement for exhibiting her stress. So better to just redirect and go for a walk or outside to play fetch.
      • New baby introduction

        • This one can be tough. If there is a new baby in your home and your dog is at all fearful or aggressive, always proceed with caution. Never leave your dog alone with a baby or small child, as neither fully knows how to react to the other. It's often a good idea to put your dog on a leash when she first meets the baby. This way if she gets excited you can correct her, and praise her when she obeys. We don't want any likelihood of sibling rivalry to be on the horizon!
        • Get regular check ups

          • If your dog still appears to be stressed after you have worked with her for a day or two, take her to the vet. Sometimes the stress may have aggravated an illness or caused one or an illness may initiate a stress-type response. Your vet can rule out any physical causes and should be able to offer suggestions on how to help your dog physically as well as from a behavior standpoint.


        By working to maintain the daily routine in your dog's life and keeping her healthy, active, stimulated and well fed, you can really make a difference preventing and treating stress she may feel.

        Don't you wish it were that simple for you? Sigh.....


        Richel Newborg
        Richel Newborg

        Author