The Stressed Dog

People mainly pay attention to the food that their dogs eat and misunderstand the way that dogs should behave or be treated. And begin to panic when they realize their beloved furry companion begins to respond differently in behaviour or mentally. Or when a severe health issue surfaces.

Beyond the animal communication that I do. Let’s focus on something more tangible that you can use through observation and practice. So that you can work better with your furry companion immediately.

Firstly animal owners should be re-labelled as Guardians. Justifiably to set things right you are a ‘guardian’ to them. Because animals are not owned. They come into your lives to teach you lessons that you are not aware of. When the perception of master(leader) and slave is there or has been ingrained. The animal gets to be treated with some extreme commands and expectations. That’s when problems begin. Stress is in the picture.

Now that you are with me. All the training that you have known which relies on the master and slave approach is WRONG.

What I am about to share is from a renowned animal behaviourist, Turid Rugaas.

Dogs get stressed in situations of threat, pain or discomfort. When people get angry with them or are too demanding. Like behaviour training through given commands that are too loud, done aggressively, too constant or expressed through an environment of fear. The dogs cannot cope and feel they are being punished. This results in signs of negative behaviour or ill health. Of course ill health can also be inherited or through improper feeding and diet.

Dogs generally learn to live in this world through a series of behaviours known as calming signals. If you are observant enough you will notice the following actions.

The dog begins to lick his nose, yawn, sits still on one spot, turns his face sideways, looks away, turns his body away from you, lies down in a prone position, walks towards you in a curve, shakes, shivers or urinates on the spot. These are some of the ways that he calms himself and hopefully you too when there is stress, danger or a threat. You are exposed to these signals but are not observant enough to notice them.

Would you like to learn what he is trying to tell you?

As puppies the parents show them such signals(behaviour) to educate them to use whenever they want to calm themselves, other dogs and humans around. When dogs are taken away too soon from their parents these skills are lost. Eventually they either learn from other dogs or become dysfunctional. Imagine what they experience when they encounter an uninformed human. So its true to say some dogs learn some of these signals at an early age or along the way in their lives through other dogs. But rarely does a dog learn all of these signals. This has to do with the personality of the dog too. When a dog is unable to display these signals and understand how it helps him. That is when you have a dog that exhibits aggression or fear in the most extreme forms. He will be labelled as a mental case or one with severe health issues. It is essential that a dog at the early developmental stage of his life learn calming signals. It is set into his psyche permanently.

But a dog with constant stress levels never really calms down. He will likely get stomach problems, allergies and heart trouble. He can also get more defensive and become violent quickly towards other dogs and people.

Let’s look at the causes…

What makes a dog stressed?

  • Direct threats by people or other dogs
  • Direct threats through violence, anger, aggression in his environment
  • Over exercise for young dogs
  • Too little exercise or activity
  • Hunger or thirst
  • Not having access to his toilet area when he needs it
  • Temperature – too hot or cold
  • Pain and illness
  • Too much noise
  • Being alone
  • Sudden scary situations
  • Over-excitement playing with balls or with other dogs
  • Never being able to relax
  • Always being disturbed while they rest
  • Sudden changes to his routine

 How to identify stress?

  • Inability to calm down
  • Over-reaction to things happening. Eg, doorbell ringing or a dog approaching
  • Scratching
  • Biting himself
  • Biting and chewing furniture and shoes, other things
  • Barking, whining, howling
  • Diarrhoea
  • Smell – through bad breath or body odour
  • Tense muscles
  • Sudden attack of dandruff
  • Shaking
  • Change of eye colour
  • Licking himself
  • Chasing his own tail
  • Fur that seems to be hard, standing on end, breakable
  • Generally looking unhealthy
  • Panting
  • Losing concentration
  • Shivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Going to the toilet more than normal
  • Allergies
  • Fixation on certain things – glimpses of light, flies, other prevailing sounds in the home
  • Looking nervous
  • Behaving aggressively
  • Dog not entirely comfortable – constant turning of the head, looking away, open mouth and light panting. Looking very edgy.

What we can do about the stress that they face?

  • We learn their calming signals and use them with our companion animals
  • Change environment and routines whenever possible
  • Stop using harsh methods, violence and painful things in training
  • Avoid putting them in situations where he experiences hunger, thirst, excessive heat or cold
  • Ensure he has opportunity to go to the toilet whenever necessary
  • Find out his level of exercise activity. Ensure there is not too much or too little
  • Allow him to be with someone. Until gradually you can leave him alone

Now that you have an idea on how to look out for the signs and to treat your companion with a totally different perspective and action. It’s time to make the change and show that love and recognition in a proper way.

I will share about calming signals in another post that will help reduce their stress levels. Look out for it.