Dogs can get stressed just as easily as humans. And often, we are the cause of that stress. In Part 2 of this series, we are look at things humans do to our dogs and their environment that can cause them stress. Knowing how we affect our dog can help us have a better relationship with them. A dog with less stress in their life will be happier, healthier, and less likely to do unwanted behaviours.
Bringing in a New Animal
Being social creatures, humans often think “the more the merrier” and bring other animals into our house without thought. However, for some dogs, this can be a real stressor, especially if the dog has lived alone for most of her life. Not all dogs want to share their space with another animal, whether a dog, cat, rabbit, etc. Before bringing in another animal permanently, trying to have one visit and see how your dog reacts. Does she show signs of stress? Some prefer the solitary life and forcing them to co-habitat can not only cause stress but lead to fights.
Dogs can hear four times the distance of a human with normal hearing. This means things that are kind of loud to us – vacuum, blender, lawn mower – are downright ear piercing to a dog. Loud noises can really stress out a dog as they are scary, but it can also cause pain and damage. Be respectful of your dog’s keen hearing and, whenever possible, don’t have him in the same room as you if you are being loud. You can also help your dog get over scary noises through counter-conditioning (pairing the noise with something good, like food or a toy). Even after counter-conditioning, though, it’s nice to keep your dog at a distance from loud noises when you can.
Waking Them Up
Anyone who has had to wake up an older dog that is going deaf probably already knows this. You can see the fear in their eyes as they jump up, frantically trying to gain their bearings and figure out what is going on. The old adage “let sleeping dog’s lay” came from the truth that often, a dog scared awake will bite. So, whenever possible, let your dog sleep. If you do have to wake them up, like sometimes you do senior dogs to take them out to go the bathroom, try to wake them as easy as possible. Say their name as you approach before touching. If it’s a deaf dog, tap your foot on the ground near them, so they feel the tremor under them. If they are on a bed, tap the bed. Try to wake them without touching to reduce stress and avoid the possibility of a bite.
Hugging and Kissing
Hugging and Kissing are human signs of affection, but to many dogs, especially little breeds, they are super scary. Imagine something ten times your size coming in, grabbing you without your permission, pulling you to them and sticking their face in yours. Yeah, that’s scary. And that’s how a lot of dog’s feel about hugging and kissing. It’s much nicer to pet them, give them a scratch behind the ears and a meaty bone to say “I love You.” Your dog will understand that far better and not associate you with stress and fear.
Allowing Strangers and Strange Dogs to Greet Them
Along the same vein of hugging and Kissing is the idea that your dog needs to say “Hi” to every person and dog they meet. Do you say hello to every person you pass in a store? How about at the mall or walking across the park? No. So why should your dog be made to greet every dog and human they see? And for many, it’s a stressor. Dogs on leash, especially, tend to be more stressed about greeting other beings, because they have no way to escape. The leash adds to the tension and it is why many dogs are reactive (bark, lunge, bite) on leash but are fine off leash at the dog park. Just remember to watch your dog and if he doesn’t want to greet, don’t force him.
Dogs have soulful eyes, and many have beautiful faces that make us want to stare at them forever. Especially dogs with blue eyes or unique markings. But to a dog, a long stare is a challenge that can mean, “I want to fight.” For them, staring is uncomfortable and if your dog is already stressed or nervous, a long stare can push them into an action you are not looking for, such as a lunge, barking fit or even a bite. If you happen to have a puppy with a face that is going to get a lot of stares (blue eyes, merle markings, etc.), you may want to teach a “watch me” cue that conditions your dog to stare back at you without getting riled up. You can then generalize the training for non-cued stares with strangers. This can help ease the stress of this behaviour that is, in canine language, very rude.
It’s important to note that not all of these are stress triggers for every dog – just like humans, each dog has their own stressors. However, realizing that stress could be there is a good first step. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and make changes to your routine if you notice the following stress/fear/anxiety signals:
· Ears out and/or back (depending on their natural position)
· “whale eye” (showing the whites of their eyes)
· Bulged out eye
· Cowering and/or shaking
· Licking the lips
· Furrowed brows
· Slow movements
· Won’t eat
· Hypervigilant (looking in many directions at once)
If you see your dog doing any of these, it’s time to change up your habits to make your dog more comfortable, which will result in a better relationship with him. Most dogs that bite do so out of fear or stress more than aggression