If you’re like many dog parents, you may find it hard to believe your over-indulged pet who doesn’t have a care in the world gets stressed out. But it’s important to keep in mind that canine stressors are very different from human stressors, and studies show dogs can and often do experience stress.
Research also shows that stress can affect a dog’s health and longevity.
According to one study: There is evidence to suggest that the stress of living with a fear or anxiety disorder can have negative effects on health and lifespan in a domestic dog.
An example: When your dog is under stress, his body releases an excessive amount of norepinephrine, the fight or flight hormone which can alter gut bacteria and interfere with GI tract motility.
Next thing you know, your dog has diarrhea, which just adds to his stress level and yours, especially if he has an accident in the house. Some dogs primarily experience short-lived stress, but others deal with chronic stress.
The more you know about what triggers your pet’s stress, how he behaves when he feels stressed and what stress can do to his health, the better equipped you’ll be to identify the signs and take action to minimize or eliminate stressors.
According to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) 2009 Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine, there are 10 common signs of stress in dogs:
- Nose or lip licking.
- Reduced or absent appetite.
- Tail lowered or tucked.
- Ears pulled or pinned back.
- Cowering or crouched body posture or hiding.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Increased vocalizations -whining, howling or barking.
The same manual also lists the 10 most common stress triggers in dogs:
- Novelty – exposure to new items, new people, new animals, etc.
- Loud noises – fireworks, thunderstorms, etc.
- Changes in housing – moving to a new home, boarding, etc.
- Changes in household members – new baby, new pet, loss of pet or human, house-guests, etc.
- Changes in household routine – new job schedule, kids returning to school, holidays, etc.
- Punitive training methods – shock collars, yelling, hitting, etc.
- Invasion of personal space – disruption when resting, hugging, kissing, forcibly restraining, etc.
- Lack of outlets for normal breed behaviors – herding, running, retrieving, etc.
- Separation from human family members – separation anxiety, etc.
- Poor, strained relationships with other household members pets or humans, etc.
Some of the things that cause stress in dogs can be unavoidable, such as a move to a new home or a change in work schedules. However, as you can see from the above list, there are several triggers you can exert control over to minimize stress in your dog’s life.
- Replace punitive training with positive reinforcement behavior training.
- Make sure everyone in the household understands and respects your dog’s need for uninterrupted sleep and appropriate canine-friendly handling.
- Most dogs, especially working and sporting breeds, need much more exercise than they get, so a great place to start in reducing your pet’s stress is to increase her daily physical activity level.
- Dogs are social creatures who get lonely and bored when forced to stay alone for long stretches.
If there’s no one home during the day to keep your dog company, I recommend recruiting a friend or neighbor or hiring a dog walker to take him for a stroll around the block, at a minimum. An alternative is doggy daycare.