What are the critical signs of stress in a dog and what can be done?
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One of the keys to having a dog that behaves properly is to make sure that your dog isn’t being stressed out by something. Similar to people, each dog is different when it comes to what stresses your dog out.
Some dogs have separation anxiety, meaning that they cannot handle being separated from their owner for a period of time. Other dogs have trouble in cars, as the experience of being in a car can be extremely unfamiliar and terrifying to dogs, especially younger ones.
Some dogs might become stressed because they are not being cared for properly. With this many reasons why your dog can be stressed, you might feel at a loss as to what you can do. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can help reduce stress in your dog, no matter what the situation is.
What Are the Critical Signs of Stress in Dogs?
Humans can usually identify when they are stressed, and they can communicate it with others so that people around them know what is going on. Sadly, as much as dog owners would like it, dogs cannot speak about how they feel.
This leaves it up to you, as the owner of the dog, to determine how your dog is feeling based on the way it is behaving. For example, some of the signs that your dog is stressed can include things such as:
- Excessive barking or whining
- Digging and chewing
- Tense muscles
- Excessive tail wagging
- And more
Because each of these symptoms can be caused by another issue, you will have to make sure that there isn’t anything else going on in your dog’s life to cause these issues. If nothing else is causing these issues, then you can confidently determine that your dog is stressed out.
The next step will be attempting to figure out why your dog is stressed. There are some situations where the cause is obvious, such as your dog being in a new environment or the dog’s owner not being there.
Other situations are a little less obvious, such as when your dog needs to be let outside more. Regardless of what is causing the stress, there are a few things that can help every dog.
What Should You Do During Car Rides?
Many dogs are scared of being in the car for long periods of time. It is an unfamiliar experience for dogs that can be very difficult to get used to. Sadly, this can often result in your dog vomiting in your car, which is something that nobody wants to deal with. However, there are several ways you can reduce stress in your dog during a car ride.
For instance, if your dog simply isn’t used to riding in cars, you should help your dog get used to the car itself. In many cases, the stress from riding in a car comes from the unfamiliarity of it.
You can help your dog get more familiar with your car by helping your dog into the car and letting them sniff around. As they sniff around, praise your dog to let it know that a car is a safe place and that it is okay.
If your dog is extremely stressed about being in an enclosed space such as your car, you might need to praise your dog with treats that they love. You should continue doing this every few days, even increasing the amount of time spent in the car to let your dog eat meals in the car.
This helps your dog’s brain correlate the car to positive experiences, such as praise and food. Over time, your dog will slowly get used to being in the car.
Once your dog is a little more familiar with being inside the car and is comfortable in it, you should start taking slow and short drives around your neighborhood so that your dog can get used to how a moving car feels.
Praise Your Dog
You should continue giving your dog praise and treats throughout the ride so that they can correlate the car with positive experiences. As your dog becomes more comfortable with being in the car, you should start taking longer trips that your dog will enjoy.
For instance, taking a long drive to a dog park, or to visit a friend’s dog, or someplace else that your dog will enjoy. In some situations, you might want to go to the same location, but you should take longer and different routes each time.
Not only does this desensitize your dog to the car, but it continues to help your dog correlate it with good experiences. Before you know it, your dog will be able to handle car rides without an issue.
Despite how smart dogs can be, there are some things that they simply cannot comprehend. One of the most common examples of this is your dog becoming extremely excited to see you, even if you only went outside to get the mail.
This is often thought to be caused by the fact that dogs simply do not understand that their person will be coming back. This is relatively normal for dogs; however, some dogs have a much harder time coping with this.
Some dogs will begin to panic when their owner leaves the house as if the owner is never coming back, resulting in destroyed furniture, clawed doors, and more. This is known as separation anxiety in dogs and it is a massive source of stress for those affected by it. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help your dog cope.
When it comes to more minor cases of separation anxiety, there’s a lot that you can do. For instance, you shouldn’t make a big deal about leaving or coming back. Instead, ignore your dog when it is trying to greet you and wait a few minutes to pet your dog.
Keep Your Dog Calm
This will help it realize that you leave the house isn’t a big deal. You can also help your dog calm down when you are away by leaving clothes that have your scent on them with your dog. When your dog becomes stressed about the fact that you aren’t there, it can sit with your clothes for comfort.
Depending on how young your dog is, you can work to establish a certain word or action that you say or do every time you leave, so that your dog will be able to understand that you are coming back.
If your dog has a much more severe case of separation anxiety, you will have to consider other options in addition to the ones above. In this case, you should create a space for your dog that it considers safe.
This space should limit your dog’s ability to be destructive, while still allowing for your dog to move around and get its energy out. For example, having a room with locked windows and toys and a door that can lock is a good place to set up your dog’s safe space.
Inside that room, you should also consider placing some busy toys that can serve as a distraction for your dog. In addition to this, you should also put some dirty laundry or another safety cue in the room so that your dog understands that it is safe, even if you aren’t there. These are just a few of the ways you can reduce stress in your dog while you are away from home.
What Can You Do When Your Dog Is Stressed by Other Dogs?
In some situations, your dog might have a form of social anxiety. This can be seen as either very passive behavior or very aggressive behavior. If your dog is more passive, it usually means that it is a little less scared, but still stressed. This can show itself as hiding, trembling, tucking its tail in, and generally being very passive. On the other hand, in more stressful situations, your dog can switch and become aggressive.
This can show itself in relatively obvious ways, such as snarling, growling, lunging, loud barking, and so on. Thankfully, there are ways that you can help your dog understand that being around other dogs is not so terrifying.
One of the most helpful things you can do is introduce socialization at a slow pace so that your dog does not get overwhelmed. Make sure that there aren’t too many people or dogs around, but enough new things that your dog will get used to the feeling of being around people or animals that are unfamiliar.
You will want to make sure that you keep a good watch on your dog to ensure that it behaves appropriately. Dogs that are stressed tend to act out in more ways than one.
Generally, if your dog is stressed out by other dogs, the only thing you can do to reduce stress in your dog when it meets other dogs is to slowly desensitize your dog to that experience. It might take time, but before you know it, you will be able to take your dog to the pet store without having to worry about what will happen.
What Are Some General Things You Can Do for Your Dog’s Stress?
In a few cases, your dog’s stress might not be caused by a trigger. It could be pent up stress from a number of different things, such as being in a new location or not having enough exercise.
With that being said, there are many general things you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable in your house or in any location. Just as young children need a security blanket at times, dogs can also benefit from a version of a security blanket.
It can be quite easy to make one yourself. All you really need to do is take a blanket or towel, make sure that it has your scent or another calming scent, and give it to your dog when it is stressed. This has been shown to help your dog calm down. There are even times when your dog might actively seek out the security blanket on its own when it learns to associate the security blanket with comfort.
Training Your Dog
If your dog understands commands such as “sit,” “down,” and “heel,” you can use this to your advantage. Sometimes, dogs are stressed because the situation they are in is unfamiliar and that unfamiliarity is something that your dog cannot handle well.
When this happens, you should remove the dog from the stressor as best as you can, though this might not be applicable in some cases, and try to restore normalcy by talking to your dog in your normal voice. For some dogs, just hearing the usual commands can help it understand that things are normal and that everything is okay.
Some dogs are stressed because they do not have an outlet for their energy. Unless your dog is stressed because of an immediate trigger, such as being in a car or you not being there, you can help your dog calm down simply by taking it for a walk.
Similar to humans, a simple walk around the neighborhood can help you calm your dog and help it to realize that everything is okay. You should also make sure that you are feeding your dog regularly as well.
Your Dog’s Routine
Most dogs enjoy having a routine that is regular, as it gives them something to base time off of. However, if you do have a strict routine set up for your dog, you should make sure that if you make any changes, that they are slow and not sudden.
Dogs also respond to touch and voice. While you shouldn’t overly pamper your dog, just hearing your voice, in a calm, normal tone, can help your dog realize that things are fine. After all, if you, the owner, aren’t stressed out about anything, then there’s really nothing to worry about, right?
If you can, there are certain ways that you can pet your dog to help it calm down as well. Moving your hands in circular motion has been shown to help reduce stress in your dog, and thankfully, there are many sources available that will help you understand how to reduce your dog’s stress with just a touch.
At the end of the day, if your dog is still stressed after you have made sure to provide any means to calm it necessary, you should look into medicines.
There are some dog medicines that you can find over the counter that can help in certain situations, but in a more chronic condition of stress, you should consider talking to the vet about a form of anxiety medicine for dogs. Unless there are obvious signs that there is an underlying cause for your dog’s stress, this should be one of your last resorts.
What Shouldn’t You Do?
There are some things that can end up making your dog even more upset and stressed out. You should always avoid making the situation worse, especially when you are trying to help your dog calm down.
For instance, you should never punish your dog for being stressed. That would be on the same caliber as punishing a person for being stressed about a situation that they are physically unable to comprehend.
More often than not, when your dog causes damage to your house because of stress, it is actually a panic response. Your dog is trying to understand what is going on and isn’t trying to punish you. If your dog does end up destroying things when stressed, it should instead indicate that this is a serious problem that needs to be attended to.
You should also make sure that if your dog is suffering from a form of separation anxiety, that you shouldn’t crate your dog. This can result in injuries as your dog desperately tries to escape.
Music Can Help
You also should leave radio noise or television noise on, or consider some music-specific for de-stressing. Unless you have established that as a safety cue for your dog. Also, another dog won’t help you out, as your dog is reacting to the fact that you, its owner, isn’t there, not loneliness. You also shouldn’t rely on obedience training to solve your dog’s separation anxiety, as it is not a matter of disobedience, but instead, stress and fear.
While it might seem counterproductive, you shouldn’t pamper your dog when it is stressed. This can accidentally justify your dog’s concerns, which only reinforces the behavior. Likewise, you shouldn’t speak to your dog in a harsh, angry voice, as this won’t make matters any better.
Instead, you should talk to your dog as you would any other day. This can help establish a sense of normalcy in your dog, which can help it realize that things are okay and that the world isn’t ending. After all, dogs do have some ability to comprehend situations and attitudes.
If the dog senses that you are stressing about the dog being stressed, it won’t do anything well. Staying calm, talking calmly, and just generally acting calm and confident will help reduce stress in your dog.
By making sure you understand how to deal with your dog’s stress in a number of situations, you can rest assured knowing that your dog will be living a much more comfortable and stress-free life.