Dogs become stressed for a lot of different reasons, and many humans are oblivious to canine stressors because, well, we’re human! For example, dog-to-dog greetings involve a lot of circling and sniffing, neither of which is easy to accomplish while on a leash.
This is probably why leashed dogs often appear anxious when they encounter other dogs. They can’t greet each other in a natural manner, which means they can’t size up the other dog as friend or foe, and they can’t prepare to fight or run if necessary because they’re tethered to their human.
Another thing many people don’t realize is the extent to which we, as pet parents, create stress in our dogs. Some of the following human-induced dog stress triggers may surprise you.
How to Avoid Stressing Out Your Dog
1.Don’t punish her for being a dog — Your canine BFF is a creature of opportunity, and when you give her opportunities to “misbehave” by leaving irresistible items within her reach, she’ll take advantage. Don’t leave food or scraps where she can smell or see them. Don’t leave her alone with your slippers or socks. Ensure the only opportunities you provide your dog are ones that bring out the best in her.
2.Don’t tell him “no” without offering an alternative — If your dog is doing something he shouldn’t, telling him “no” will probably cause him to stop the behavior temporarily. But saying no to a dog without offering an alternative turns your “no” into a mere interruption, not a request or command. Unless you show him what you want him to do in lieu of what he’s doing, chances are he’ll be right back doing it sooner or later.
3.Don’t use different words for the same command — Many pet parents assume their dog has a full human vocabulary, and therefore knows that “drop it” and “leave it” mean the same thing, or that “get it” and “bring it to me” are the same.
Train your dog to respond to simple, preferably single-word commands (sit, stay, come, down, pee, poop, etc.) and then use those words, and only those words, to communicate. Otherwise, you’ll create stress in your dog because she knows you want her to do something, but she doesn’t know exactly what based on the words you’re using.
4.Don’t say the words “it’s okay” to your dog — Many dog guardians tend to say this phrase to their pet when something decidedly not okay is about to happen. For example, you’re driving your dog to the groomer, which is a place he loathes. You’ve driven him there often enough that as always, he starts to whine when the grooming shop comes into view.
And as always, you say, “it’s okay” in an effort to comfort him. The second you utter those words he knows without a doubt where he’s going, and his stress level goes through the roof. “It’s okay” becomes a verbal cue to panic. Instead, help your dog learn to relax and cope with anxiety-producing situations.
5.Don’t pull her along by her leash — Dogs who’ve been properly trained to walk on a leash don’t typically do a lot of pulling, so if you feel the need to constantly yank the leash to redirect your pup, it’s probably time to refresh her leash manners. It’s also important to anticipate that she’ll naturally stop and sniff as often as possible and pull in the direction of someone or something interesting.
Be understanding and tolerant and allow your furry friend a reasonable amount of time to sniff her outdoor territory and pick up her pee-mail without yanking her toward your destination.
6.Don’t restrain him while you hug or kiss him — Canines really don’t get these human expressions of affection and can be confused by them — especially when the hugger or kisser is a stranger. Also, since dogs are typically being held (restrained) while this happens, it increases their stress level.
Imagine how you would feel if someone much larger than you grabbed hold of you and wouldn’t let go. It’s not a good feeling and does nothing to generate trust, right? Unless your dog is remaining calm and still on his own while being hugged or kissed, it’s best to stick to stroking and petting, which most dogs can’t get enough of.
7.Don’t stare at her — Most people are uncomfortable being stared at by other people, so it’s easy to imagine how unsettling it might be for your dog. The canine species views staring as a confrontational signal, which naturally triggers a stress response. There’s no need to stare at your dog unless you’re returning her gaze.
8.Don’t point or shake your finger at your dog — The finger pointing/shaking thing is a universal stress inducer for dogs (and many humans). That’s probably because it’s usually done while you’re standing over your furry friend in a menacing manner, or while you’re speaking in a tone of voice that signals your displeasure.
Many a guilty dog look is the result of finger-pointing, but your pet isn’t so much feeling guilty as uncomfortable, wary, confused, and yes, stressed.
9.Don’t use the phrase “get down” when he jumps up — If like most people you use the verbal cue “down” to ask your dog to go from a sit to a lie-down, it’s not going to work in situations where he’s jumping up on you or someone else (or the couch).
Train him to stop jumping with the verbal command “off” or “paws on floor” instead. You’ll save your dog the confusion and stress that comes from trying to understand your command, and you’ll potentially save yourself or a guest from a friendly mauling.
10.Don’t wake her up — Unless there’s a pressing reason to awaken your four-legged family member from a nice snooze, try to avoid it. Being shaken or shouted awake is stressful for all of us.
Tips to Calm a Stressed Dog
|Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, playtime, mental stimulation, attention and affection. Daily rigorous exercise is one of the most overlooked, free and effective treatments for reducing stress that very few pet parents take advantage of.|
|When your dog will be home alone, leave him with an article of clothing or blanket with your scent on it and a treat-release toy, place small treats and his favorite toys around the house for him to discover, and put on some soothing doggy music before you leave.|
|Also play calm, soothing music before a possible stressor occurs. This may relax your dog and have the added bonus of drowning out distressing noises.|
|If you’ve adopted a dog who may have had a rocky start in life, I highly recommend a program called A Sound Beginning, which is designed to help rescue dogs and their adopters learn to communicate effectively and form an unbreakable bond.|
|If your dog responds well to pressure applied to her body, invest in a wrap like the Thundershirt; also consider Ttouch, a specific massage technique that can help anxious pets.|
|Consider adding a probiotic supplement or fermented veggies to your dog’s fresh, nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate whole food diet, as studies show probiotics reduce stress-related GI disturbances in dogs.|
|Consult a fear free or integrative veterinarian about appropriate medications or natural aids that may reduce anxiety. Homeopathic and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) remedies, Rescue Remedy, or other specific flower remedies may be helpful in alleviating your dog’s intermittent stress.|
|Products I use, always in conjunction with behavior modification, include homeopathic aconitum (or whatever remedy fits the symptoms best), and Hyland’s Calms Forte or calming milk proteins (variety of brands). Calming nutraceuticals and herbs that can be of benefit include holy basil, l-theanine, rhodiola, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP and chamomile.|
|The essential oil of lavender has been proven to reduce the stress response in dogs. Place a few drops on your pet’s bedding before a stressor occurs or diffuse the oil around your house. There are also great oil blends specifically for calming animals. Also consider adding a flower essence blend like Solutions Separation Anxiety to her drinking water and invest in an Adaptil pheromone collar or diffuser.|
|If your dog’s anxiety seems to be getting worse instead of better, consider an individualized approach to managing her stress by allowing her to choose what best soothes her via applied zoopharmacognosy (self-healing techniques offered through a trained professional) and a force free behaviorist.|
Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital (OVSH) has been serving the Portland and Beaverton area community since 1979. Dr. Robert T. Franklin (Internal medicine) welcomes referrals from veterinarians all over the Pacific Northwest. Our goal is to help your pet regain health and live a long and happy life.
Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital
9339 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy,
Beaverton, OR 97005.