We all get a little stressed out from time to time. Traffic, rough days at work, last-minute house-guests, and so much more can contribute to our stress levels. Luckily, we have things like television, YouTube, nature hikes, yoga, medication, and more to help us get back on track. What many dog guardians don’t always realize is that our dogs get stressed, too. And just as with humans, their stressors come in a variety of forms. One of these stressors could even be us. However, doggos don’t get the benefit of taking themselves out for a lovely hike or a bit of yoga. So, let’s take a look at what stresses our dogs out, how to recognize when they are feeling stressed, and what we can do to help them.
One of the biggest reasons to understand how to recognize stress is because stress in dogs can result in what looks like bad behavior. This bad behavior can then lead to unwarranted punishments on our part. We may react inappropriately, such as with anger or impatience. Of course, our dog’s do not like it when we get upset with them, so we give them added reason to become stressed and unhappy.
How are we stressing our dog out?
Our dogs are highly sensitive to everything we do - the different tones of our voice, our every gesture, and our moods are all important. Here are some common stressors for which we’re responsible and which we can minimize or eliminate to avoid stressing out our dogs.
- Confusing gestures. If, for example, our dog has learned to associate our wagging finger with scolding and disapproval, he will get stressed every time we wag our finger even though we’re doing it for a completely different reason.
- Misinterpreted words. If, for example, we always say, “There, there,” right before his vet sticks him with a needle, Fido would associate those words and the soothing voice that comes with them with something bad or painful. So when we say the same words within a different context, Fido will most likely become agitated if not panicked.
- Unwanted affection. This may be tough to accept, but not all dogs love to cuddle with their humans. Some dogs are a grouch by nature or just aren’t the touchy-feely type. If Fido is such a dog and we often try to give him a hug, we can make him feel stressed.
- Direct eye contact. Among dogs, direct eye contact is a sign of aggression. Among humans, it can be a form of intimacy, and we might think that looking deeply into our dog’s adorable eyes while telling them we love them is the best way to get our message across, and we would be wrong.
How do we NOT stress our dog out?
If we are causing them stress, then we should also do what we need to do to relieve them of this stress. Try these suggestions to help Fido relax. What will work best for our dog will largely depend on his personality and our relationship with him.
- Give him space, without making him feel as if he is being punished or rejected because he misbehaved.
- Get his favorite toy and play with him. This will reassure him that we are not upset with him.
- Take him for a walk to distract him and help him release some of his anxious energy.
- Give him a belly rub or a massage.
- Give him a few low-calorie treats. They need to be low-calorie, so we don’t mess with his diet. And they should be all-natural and nutritious to minimize digestive distress. Don’t fall back on this option too often. However, mixing this solution in with the other, more reliable options can be a great way to show our puppers everything is okay, and they’re doing great.
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Of course, once we figure out what it is that we do that stresses out our dog, we should remember not to do it again. Just as we train our dogs to behave properly the way we want them to, so should we make some behavioral changes to minimize Fido’s stress levels. We must make the extra effort to better understand what our dogs are trying to communicate to us when they exhibit behavior that is out of character. A state of constant stress could become the norm for a dog if his human doesn’t take enough care to figure him out.
- “You May Be Stressing Your Dog Out,” NPR
- “5 Things You Do That Might Be Causing Stress for Your Dog,” American Kennel Club (AKC)
- “If you’re chronically stressed, your dog could be too,” National Geographic