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Articles by Val Bonney

REDUCING AND RECOGNISING STRESS IN DOGS

Written in 1994, but I feel this is still relevant.

Stress and Stress situations are not restricted to any one particular Breed.  It is one of the most debilitating diseases a dog has to handle.

The problem of Stress can be linked to many training and behavioural methods.  It can be linked to man's misunderstanding of what makes his or her dog tick.

It is something that almost every dog will suffer from at some stage of its life, and will certainly be at different levels.  Some with very small stress situations, and others, unfortunately will live with stress possibly forever.

The Positive Method of training, can in many ways reduce the level of stress for the dog, but often even the most positive method can produce stress levels.  Fear, Anxiety and confusion are the instigators of stress, and these can occur even with the best of intentions.

Of course physical problems can also create Stress.  Ageing, poor diet, illness, Heat waves, very cold spells can all add stress at a physical level Mental Stress can cause physical traits. These can usually be diagnosed fairly easily.  Loss of appetite, diarrhea, loss of energy, a temperature, fits of depression.  "My dog is just not itself" is a common comment from the owner.

SOME SIGNS OF STRESS OF A MENTAL BASED STRESSED SITUATION

To identify Stress in our dogs, we need to look at the whole dog.

  1. Are his ears back?
  2. Are his pupils dilated?
  3. Is its tail down and under?
  4. Is its body lowered (as though it is cowering) ?
  5. Is it sweating through its paws?
  6. Is it panting rapidly with the corner of the mouth back?
  7. Does it tremble when you take it out for a training session?
  8. Is its body hard?
  9. Is it shedding hair or dandruff?
  10. Is it vocalising by whining, or repetitious barking?
  11. Scratching?
  12. Yawning?
  13. Comic Relief?
  14. Shaking as though wet?
  15. Avoiding eye contact?

The above are some of the things that denote Stress in our dogs.  You may know of others.

VOCALIZATION

This barking, whining, can be caused by different stress situations.  The owner has gone and left the dog alone.  The dog finds by barking it releases the endorphin in the brain which gives the dog a sense of calm.  It can be the dogs way of covering up an unpleasant situation. People who have to work through the day, often have a barking dog, which then becomes the neighbourhood menace.  These owners then have to look for alternate ways to reduce the stress in their dog which has been created by being left alone.  They have to provide their pooch with an alternative, and a feeling of security.

PANTING

If the weather is cool (not hot) and you see a lot of panting from the dog ,and a lot of Drooling,  this can be Stress related.  Remember though, panting is natural for the dog which has just been exercised, or excited in some way. Even after light training the dog may naturally pant.  This should be not excessive however, and should not cause DROOLING.

SWEATY PAWS

If it is not raining out, and your dog has not just put his feet in a bucket of water to cool off, you see wet foot prints across your floor, remember this can be a sign of stress in your dog.

HARD BODY

If you put your hands on your dog and it feels very hard, or you watch your dog move across an area, and it appears very tense, if the jaws appear clenched, these can all be signs of stress in the dog.

SHEDDING HAIR OR DANDRUFF

These occur when the body is tense from stress.  Of course dogs shed hair at other times.  Winter to summer.  Hair comes off.  An extremely hot bout of weather, can often make a dog shed.  This is normal.  The stressed dog sheds hair at times when it is not normal for the dog to shed coat.

DILATION OF THE EYES

Is a dead give away of stress.  If the light is normal, but you see your dog with obviously dilated eyes, you can be pretty sure something is stressing him /her.

The Natural Instincts of the dog are Fight Flight Bite and Hunt.

Some dogs will show they are stressed by Freezing in one spot.  It can be fear which has caused the stress.  Fighting can be caused by Stress.  Unsocialized dogs find it very hard to communicate in an appropriate manner when confronted by other dogs.  They stress. Then fight.  Flight.  How many times has your dog run away from you, or from a stressful situation.  Biting.  Dogs will bite when frightened or stressed.  There is no such thing as a dog which will not bite given the provocation of stress.or indeed any other reason which promotes provocation.

Look to yourself as the owner on every occasion your dog show signs of stress, and work out what is causing the stress to build in your dog.

SCRATCHING

The dog on a sit or down stay which scratches.  Do you automatically think it has fleas.  No most times it is stress related.  The dog needs to have confidence in you the owner that you are going to return to it, and that there is nothing for it to be concerned about.

YAWNING

Like sniffing, the dog will yawn.  It's not tired. It is stressed.  Of course dogs yawn and scratch when they are bored or tired or just plain itchy.  You must understand and read the difference.

SHAKING OFF

Not after a swim or something of like ilk.  Relief can be achieved by the dog from a stress situation by Shaking.  Calm them down by stroking backwards. A long firm stroke is required here.  Go the full length of the dogs body several times.  This disturbing of the coat will cause the dog to give a good shake, but the actual stroking has calmed the dog down.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO REMOVE STRESS?

Calming Signals

Calming Signals are a wonderful way to alleviate the stress in the dog.  There is a small book written by a Norwegian called the Work of Turid Rugaas CALMING SIGNALS.  Try to get a copy of this book it is excellent. She tells of several ways you can recognise and give calming signals to the dog.

Some signs of calming you will see in dogs are:- Turning the head away from another dog which wants to confront it.  You can do this to your dog when you want to diffuse a situation as well.

Moving in an arc

Normally when dogs approach each other they very rarely approach nose to nose.  They will move in an arc or curved line, and walk past the nose to sniff rear ends while standing side to side. This is very common particularly in the Border Collie or any of the working breeds.

Moving Slowly

If a dog wants to give signals to another dog when it sees it, if normally starts to move slower.  This slow movement if a calming signal on its own.  I don't want to worry you  or cause you concern, I am no threat to you.”  We can use this signal for calming often.  Approach a dog you don't know or you are concerned about in a slow walk, but positively.  Don't slink along as though you are afraid.  This movement could have the opposite effect to the one desired.
Watch, when a young dog or an inexperienced dog bounds up to another dog, possibly wanting to play, but not giving the calming signals first, there can be a problem.  The dog which is being approached in this boisterous manner can see this as a threat, and treat the situation accordingly.  We can now have a brawl on our hand.  All because the calming signal wasn't given first.

Free running areas

Ever wondered why there are very few altercations in a Leash free area where the dogs are running about.  This is because of several reasons, but mostly because the dog is stress free.  It does not have an owner standing over it, lead in hand all the time.  It is now free to give to those other dogs, the body language required to diffuse most situations.  Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, and you may come across a dog that is a natural bully, and lets fly at anything that is there.  Normally, however the dogs will run freely together.  Sit and watch their body language It can be fascinating.  They play bow, jump on each other without aggression., and just naturally run and play.  It is very good for the dogs to be able to interact with one another, without human intervention.  It is great socializing, especially for the dog which is heavily into Obedience Work.  It relieves many different forms of stress in a natural way. You will possibly have more dramas from the humans within this Leash Free Area.  They can often be difficult to handle, particularly if they feel their dog can never do anything wrong.

Averting eyes or blinking

Any experienced handler will tell you that it is easier to gain a dogs confidence, especially when it is worried, by avoiding direct eye contact.  An even better method is to turn the head or even the body away from the dog. You can even go as far as turning the side or back to the dog.  Slitting of eyes is common when one dog confronts another.  This can  also be a calming signal. Don't make a mistake and misread it.

Lip Licking

When the dog is stressed it will often give a quick little flick with the tongue.  We often miss this little sign, but it is the dogs way of saying calm down to everybody.

Removing the cause of the dogs stress is of course the answer.  Sounds easy.  It is if we know why the dog is stressed.  We really have to have a wonderful relationship with our pet, and have bonded with it and understand it totally, before we find relieving stress easy. It's not an easy thing to do.  However often Stress can be alleviated by removing the cause of the stress. For example:- The dog who barks every time the children next door come out into their yard.  Ever watched those children.  They may be poking sticks or hands over the fence, causing your dog to stress.

You can't remove the children, so you have to move your dog away.  Bring him in when the children are outside.  Dog will be happy.  It's now inside with you. If you are outside working in your garden, Put the dog on a lead and stake him out next to you.  He'll be happy to be next to your side while you work anyhow.

The dog who barks as soon as you leave for work...Sometimes just changing your pattern of leaving will stop the stress from developing.  Change when you pick up your car keys, leave by the back door instead of the front, stop saying goodbye to the dog, anything that you have formed a pattern of leaving may need to be changed. We are creatures of pattern, so we may need to look hard at just how we do leave.  Think about it, you will possibly solve your own problems if you start to think DOG.

Lots and lots of things that happen daily in our own lives, as well as the lives of our dog are Stress Related.  Sometimes, it is easy to call things that happen Stressful.  It is a term, I believe, that often is very loosely used.

If we remain calm, confident and above all quiet in the manner in which we deal with things, then our Stress will be less, and its amazing, but so will the dogs level of stress drop.

When we yell all our commands to our dogs, dogs like people can develop selective hearing.  Remember , a dogs hearing is so much better than ours, but we continually speak or yell loudly in the presence of our dogs.  THEY DON'T NEED US TO DO THIS.  A quiet word will get us a much better response from the dog, will lower not only our blood pressure, but everyone else around us also.

There is so much can be written on this subject, but I hope this small amount may give someone out there a little hope and understanding when dealing with Stress Related Dog issues.

Regards,

Val Bonney (Canine Behavioural Specialist / International Trainer.) www.bonnies.com.au | info@bonnies.com.au