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Stress in Dogs

A fearful dog

Our dogs usually do their best to please us, but we should remember that they are not machines but living breathing individuals who experience emotions and are able to suffer from stress and anxiety just as we can. It is obviously more difficult to detect and recognise than it is in ourselves, they cannot tell us how they are feeling, but just as we should recognise when our dog is injured or behaving differently through illness we need to recognise when they might be under stress. This can come from a number of sources;

Trauma, whether as the result of accident or mistreatment
Physical restraint
Change of routine
Boredom/lack of stimulation
Unwanted interactions, such as with overly aggressive people or other dogs

How to Recognise when a dog is feeling stressed.
Dogs are a species with complex and subtle communication skills, they exchange information with each other through body language and try to do the same with us. Similarly, if they recognise that we are feeling stressed they will do their best to try to calm us. Much of their communication goes un-noticed by us, either due to an un-trained eye or because we are simply not looking for the subtle signals they are exhibiting.
Observe your dog in everyday life to learn the signals of stress that are specific to that particular dog, and what has triggered the stress. Each dog will be different, what causes anxiety in one dog will not necessarily do the same in another. We cannot completely prevent it but can certainly help the dog through it and can reduce some of the stress factors if we know what to look for. Anxiety is cumulative, and can easily be communicated from person to dog or from one dog to another, a dog who is highly stressed, anxious or frightened will be incapable of paying attention and will become a further cause of worry for both. Once a dog is stressed it can take days for the hormone levels to subside to what is considered normal and therefore for his behaviour to return to normal.

How do you know when your dog is feeling stressed?
There are many indicators to watch out for in the dog’s body language, some are;

Body tense/stiff
Lip licking
Dilated pupils
Repetitive behaviors
Aggression, such as biting, growling,
or snarling
Lack of bowel or bladder control
Loss of appetite or overeating
Ceaseless pacing
Sweating paws

Many of these signals are quite subtle and be difficult to spot, and obviously some might be normal for a particular dog but what we need to identify are behaviours 'out of context'. Some can be possible signs of health related problems, once we learn what the signals are and what the triggers the stress, we should be able to address the problem before it becomes excessive. There will, of course, always be situations beyond our control such as the weather, gunfire, proximity of other animals etc. when we will need to look for alternative coping strategies. Stressful events or circumstances that are constant or repeated can lead to symptoms of chronic stress and take an emotional and often physical toll on a dog, as it does on people. Since dogs communicate through body language, they know the meaning of each little gesture you use. If you are uncomfortable, tired, frustrated or stressed, they will be aware of it. They will react to you as well as to the environment.You may find them trying to calm you down with their own calming signals which are unique to dogs; approaching you in an arc, turning their head away, averting eye contact, licking lips and nose, turning their back and sitting down, or simply jumping up on you and offering a cuddle.

How to help:
This depends on the circumstances but some suggestions are;

* Take a break from whatever is causing the discomfort.
* Use calming signals, similar to those the dog uses. Yawn, blink your eyes, look away rather than direct eye
contact with the dog, and take a deep breath.
* Relax yourself but maintain a confident posture to confirm to the dog that you can control the situation.
* Reassure the dog. Carry on a conversation in a light hearted and reassuring manner - your voice can be very calming - but don't overdue it.
* It can be useful to do some training with stress control in mind, this will help you and the dog learn to cope.
* Put a calming word into your training vocabulary and use it often when life is relaxed and safe. Use it at home, on walks, during training, until the dog realizes that it is the cue that everything is fine.

Your dog needs to have confidence in you and this will go a long way to helping in times of discomfort and worry. If in any doubt about your ability contact a dog trainer or behaviourist who you trust to help you both. Your vet is there to help, so consult him/her if you have worries about your dog. Remember, stress is cumulative and dogs feel it too!


Anxiety Wrap
The anxiety wrap is a patented pressure wrap which applies constant, gentle pressure and is considered to help reduce anxiety.


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