The credit crunch, global recession, bad news on the TV, too much work, not enough time… we all experience stress, don’t we? As humans, we know all too well what the symptoms can feel like – and how it can make us behave.
What causes dogs stress?
Of course, dogs don’t care about how much money they have in the bank, or whether they are going to do well in a job interview. What dogs care about is the present moment, but this doesn’t mean they don’t experience stress in everyday life. Sometimes the stress may result from obvious factors, such as illness or having to go to the vet, however, at other times the causes can be more insidious, and may require some detective work to discover them and alleviate them.
One little dog that I saw in my behaviour practice had become more and more withdrawn over a period of months. She would lie in her bed in the lounge and venture out only to visit the garden as quickly as possible, and to eat her dinner, before taking refuge once again. Her fully-fledged phobia of the world at large had started with a relatively minor stress – her owner leaving her in a neighbour’s garden for a day. She had done this with the best of intentions, as she was due to have builders in the house and didn’t want the dog to be upset by strange people coming in when she wasn’t there. The poor little dog had somehow associated the sound of planes overhead with her anxiety at being left alone in an unfamiliar place, and the problem had developed from there.
Other stresses may be caused by more common events. Family conflict, arguments, shouting, noisy kids, traffic, fireworks… you name it, it can all create or contribute to stress in our pets and if this is not addressed then it can rapidly escalate into a state that can cause have mental and physical implications.
What we can do to help our dogs?
Of course, some negative stress is inevitable in our everyday lives, and this makes learning how to cope vitally important. Puppies need to learn how to deal with mildly stressful situations early on, because those that work out how to cope with it and deal with it strategically will turn out to be more robust and stable as adults. Of course, we want to protect our puppies, but it is inevitable that even in the first weeks of life they will (and must) be subjected to very normal experiences that will cause them slight emotional or physical discomfort. Indeed, the process of weaning, leaving mum and littermates to come to a new home and routine first vaccinations all come into this category. The fact that the puppy successfully survives these experiences helps them to build neurological and emotional patterns and pathways that will stand them in good stead when other not-so-pleasant situations happen in the future. For this reason, it is important that we don’t over-protect our puppies, and instead make sure that they have sufficient amounts of good exposure and socialisation to be able to outweigh the odd less positive experience.
Can you spot some of the common signs of stress in dogs? Get your free download “20 Ways to Spot Stress in Dogs” from Sarah Whitehead by clicking here. And if you are an expert already, please share it with someone else who might find it interesting and useful. Thank you on behalf of dogs everywhere!