Stress in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Finding Relief
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You're probably all too familiar with your own responses to stress. And you can probably tell when your closest friends or family members are feeling anxious, too. But what are the signs of a stressed-out dog?
As their pet parent, you are your dog's best ally when it comes to defeating stress, so it's important to be able to identify when they're stressed and to know how to help them relax.
Here's everything you need to know to understand, identify and relieve dog stress.
Causes of Stress in Dogs
Your dog can feel stressed for a number of reasons. According to the American Kennel Club,the three most common causes of anxiety in dogs:
- Confusion and memory loss associated with aging.
- Fear (of loud noises, new environments, large or strange objects and big groups of people)
Additionally, recent studies indicate that your own emotional health and stress levels could impact your dog's stress. According to research published in Scientific Reports, "dogs, to a great extent, mirror the stress level of their owners."
Common Real Life Situations That Can Stress a Dog Out
Below are some of the more common situations that may stress a dog out with resources to help you guide your dog through each of them.
- Loud noises: Dogs have super sensitive hearing, so a loud noise to you is only amplified to them. Learn how to help your dog around loud noises like fireworks.
- Moving: Whether it's moving houses, rehoming a dog after the loss of a loved one, or just bringing home a dog for the first time after adoption, new places can leave any dog anxious. What you might see as a dog acting out (such as peeing or throwing up in the home), might just be a dog stressed about their new environment.
- Leaving Your Dog at Home: There are a variety of reasons why you have to leave your dog at home alone for extended periods of time: new job, going back to work after the birth of a child, day trip out to go shopping and so on, but for a dog that is used having company at home may act out from separation anxiety. Here are some helpful tips for leaving your dog home for the first time.
- Introducing Your Dog to New People: Despite the old phrase of "dogs are man's best friend," not every dog likes being introduced to every human. Whether because of mistreatment from past owners or being territorial, your dog may need time to warm up to new people. The best thing to do is to go slow and do not force it. Give your dog plenty of time and space to become comfortable with the new person.
Signs & Symptoms of Dog Stress
According to the American Kennel Club, there are a number of ways your dog may display their stress, including:
- Destroying objects in your home
- Peeing or pooping inside despite being housebroken (incontinence)
- Sudden aggression
- Repetitive behaviors
- Pacing or restlessness
It's important to note that many of these behaviors could easily be confused with backslides in training or accidents. If you notice your dog engaging in behaviors that could be stress-related, first consider your dog's unique personality and situation, as well as your own emotional state. Speak to your veterinarian if the situation persists. If the issue is stress-related, scolding your pet may only exacerbate their stress and make the situation harder to address.
How to Help Your Dog Relax
There are a number of ways you can help prevent your dog's anxiety and help an already stressed out dog:
- Feed them healthy meals and give them plenty of exercise: High-quality nutrition and lots of movement are critical to your dog's mental health. Make sure your canine companion gets plenty of exercise and playtime, and be sure to feed them the right amount of high-quality food.
- Consistent Training: Good training creates a platform for communication between you and your pet, and sets expectations that you can deliver on, eliminating uncertainty for an anxious dog.
- Avoid bringing them into stressful situations: For some dogs, certain situations will always be too overwhelming to handle. If you know your dog responds poorly to loud noises, for example, don't bring them anywhere where loud music will be playing and keep music at a comfortable volume at home. This way, you can help your dog keep their cool. If the situation is unavoidable, do everything you can to ease the situation. This can vary based on the situation, but things such as giving them their favorite toy or an old sweatshirt that still smells like you can go along way at easing your dog's stress levels.
- Practice self-care: Science has spoken; your mental health affects your dog's. Ensure that you're able to manage the stressors in your own life so you can be fully present for your best furry friend.
It's true — dogs can get stressed! But luckily, there's a lot you can do to support your pup. By paying attention to their behavior, you can identify the signs and causes of their stress and help your pooch chill out.
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.