Stress and Anxiety can have a very profound effect on your dog and it’s behaviour, and if you don’t know how to spot stress in dogs, you could be making his behaviour worse. What many owners perceive to be their dog behaving badly, can in fact be their dog’s response to a situation because of stress, fear or anxiety, which requires very different handling from a dog that is simply ‘acting up’. Some Symptoms of Stress in dogsDo you remember seeing your dog do any of these? Spend some time watching him, especially in potentially stressful situations such as training classes, meeting another dog for the first time, strangers visiting the house, seeing another dog on the street and many other situations that we perceive as normal, but our dogs actually find stressful at times.
Panting (especially if it’s not hot)
Shaking (as if shaking off water)
Nervousness – easily startled
Restlessness – unable to calm down
Pulling on the lead
Destructive behaviors – especially when alone
Over-eating – pica (eating inedible things)
Loss of Appetite and/or refusal to take treats
Skin problems – Allergies
Biting on the lead
Stress and anxiety is common among pet dogs, and is most often the root cause of behavioral problems. If we as owners can take a little time to learn to recognize when our dogs are feeling anxious, we would be able to make sure our responses to their behaviors are appropriate for how they are feeling, meaning not only a much happier, more relaxed dog, but also the prevention of further behavioral problems because of our incorrect handling of a stressed dog.
From The DOG’s Point of View: You have a dog that reacts to other dogs when he’s out walking, by barking and maybe lunging on the lead, your response to this is to pull him back, shout at him to be quiet, tell him off, maybe even smack him? Many dogs bark and react to other dogs when they are outside because they are AFRAID, it’s a stress response to a situation they feel uncomfortable in. Their two instinctive options when feeling threatened are fight or flight. They are on a lead, so they know they can’t run away, therefore their only option is to ‘scare’ the other dog away, so a fight doesn’t take place, and they do this by barking at it. So if your response to your dog’s behavior is to tell him off, from the dog’s point of view, when he see’s another dog, unpleasant things happen to him, so now he’s even more afraid of this situation which makes him want to make the other dog go away even more! The only way he knows how to make the other dog go away, is to bark even MORE ferociously at it, so it doesn’t come near him, and make unpleasant things happen. Your dog’s association with seeing another dog = unpleasant things happen to him, from you. So you can see clearly from this example, how an owner’s inappropriate response to their dog’s behavior not only fails to solve the problem, but in fact makes it worse. Stress, fear and anxiety are all common among dogs, as they are among humans, and how we recognize the stress and deal with it, will determine how well we are able to prevent, manage or resolve reactions to situations. Stress occurs when a dog is placed in any situation which he feels unable to cope with. This discomfort is relative to each individual dog, some dogs cope well in a training class for example, but for others it sends their stress levels through the roof to be in such close proximity to a number of other strange dogs. Acceptable levels of stress are present in a dog’s life all the time and are necessary to stimulate and encourage growth, but when these challenges become constant or unbearable, that’s when stress becomes a problem and the body reacts in a way that makes it difficult for the animal to cope with his experience. Stress is also something that builds, and overlaps into other area’s. So for instance, pulling on a lead is a stress inducing behaviour which raises a dog’s reactivity level by default, this will automatically make him more likely to react badly to any strange situation or strange dog that he feels uncomfortable with. As with humans, each dog will react to stress in different ways and at different levels. Something that may cause one dog to become stressed would not necessarily another, they each have their own stress threshold in every individual situation.
Possible Situations that Can Cause Stress in DogsPossible causes of stress in dogs can be many and varied, and as previously mentioned, are individual to each dog, some examples are:
Aggressive handling or training
Confusion (Owners not being consistent with boundaries)
Being left alone for too long, or too often
An over stimulating environment
Strange situations the dog is not familiar with
Strange people the dog is not familiar with
Strange objects close to them
Loud noises both in or outside the home
Travelling in the car
Visiting the vets
Scientific studies in human physiology have proven that stress leads to health problems, makes us unbalanced, irritable and aggressive, and so it is for our dogs. Behaviors such as Aggression, Destruction, Excessive Barking, Over Attachment and Hyperactivity are all likely to have stress as a large part of their root cause and these dogs are merely reacting to a situation in which they feel unable to cope. When we are able to recognize the symptoms of stress, we are able to work with behavior problems at a core level increasing chances of success.
Spend some time watching your dog, paying close attention to the subtle signals he gives about how he is feeling. If you think your dog’s problem behavior could be caused by stress, fear or anxiety, enlist the services of a professional to help you deal with the root cause of the problem, which in turn will lessen or even eliminate the problem behaviors your dog is displaying.