We don’t like to think that our dogs get stressed. They are often our own anxiety relievers and can be amazing pillars of support. Although they do not face the same problems as humans, dogs can be seriously affected by stress. In chronic cases, it can be very detrimental to your health. For this reason, we must determine why a dog gets so stressed.
We look at the main reasons why a dog is stressed, what symptoms dogs with stress exhibit, and what we can do as caregivers to relieve their stress.
Why do dogs get stressed?
To understand why our dog is stressed, we need to understand what he is experiencing. Stress is an automatic response generated by the dog’s body to a specific stimulus. Such a stimulus can be many things, including or especially things that we don’t necessarily interpret as stressors. For a dog, it can be another dog, a person, a car, or even an environment they don’t like.
Stress is an important part of a dog’s body. It sends signals to your body that can help if you are really in danger. For example, when a dog sees another dog, the release of adrenaline accompanied by stress can help it to evade the situation or defend itself. However, when the stress is excessive, it means that his body is negatively affected for no reason.
These negative reactions are often related to feelings of insecurity.
There are several factors that contribute to a dog’s well-being. These are represented in the five freedoms of animal welfare:
- Free from thirst, hunger and malnutrition.
- Freedom from discomfort.
- Free from pain, disease and injury.
- Freedom of expression.
- Freedom from fear and stress.
When the first four freedoms are fulfilled, the dog is more likely to be free from fear and stress. However, there are some specific reasons why a dog may be stressed.
Common causes of stress in dogs
Here are some specific reasons a dog may become stressed:
- Inadequate Socialization: How a dog relates to others is a vital part of maintaining his well-being. This is especially so when they are young, as their early experiences will define them in many ways. If this period of socialization is neglected or if they have negative experiences, it can lead to stress in the future.
- Lack of basic care: When dogs are not provided with shelter, food, exercise, companionship or some of their basic needs, they will feel insecure and develop stress. Our responsibility in adopting a dog is to satisfy his needs, something that requires capital, commitment and time.
- Inadequate education: we can educate and train our dog in different ways and each dog will have its individual needs. However, negative reinforcement of education is never recommended. When we scold, yell or use physical violence against a dog it will be counterproductive to their learning and is likely to lead to stress and behavioral disturbances.
- Environmental changes: Changes in the environment can lead to feelings of stress due to fear of the unknown. Bringing a new dog into the house, changing addresses, having a baby, or making any changes can be stressful, especially if the dog is not supported throughout the process.
- Trauma: if the dog has suffered an accident, has been attacked by another animal or suffers some type of trauma, he may suffer stress. More anxiety can be provoked if they encounter some stimulus that reminds them of their trauma.
Symptoms of stress in dogs
Signs of stress in dogs include:
- Stereotypes: these are repetitive behaviors or movements that have no obvious function. A common stereotype in kennels can be seen when dogs walk in circles for prolonged periods. They may also obsessively lick patches of skin, eat foreign objects, or display other behaviors that can lead to physical harm.
- Aggression: When a dog is in a stressful situation, he may fear his safety is being compromised and become aggressive in reaction. When stress is prolonged, aggressive behavior can intensify.
- Apathy: As stated above, dogs are individuals. Not everyone will react to stress in the same way. While some can become aggressive, others can withdraw into themselves and eventually become apathetic and depressed.
- Excessive activity: it must be distinguished from a naturally hyperactive dog. The latter can be due to various reasons, not necessarily unhealthy. However, a stressed dog may find it difficult to relax.
- Fear: Pervasive fear is a common result of stress. When the dog is in non-threatening environments, he may show signs of fear due to other stressors.
- Excessive expression: Stressed dogs are more likely to respond to stimuli unnecessarily. When they hear a noise or feel a disturbance, a stressed dog is more likely to bark or growl. They can also bark when we are not around or generally make a lot of noise.
How is stress treated in dogs?
The first thing we need to do when we see signs of stress in our dog is to understand the underlying cause. The above reasons for canine stress may provide some help, but it is important that we take them to a veterinarian to differentiate if their behavior is related to physical discomfort or illness, or if it is emotional.
Once you’ve assessed your dog’s specific needs and implemented education and training plans to help alleviate stress issues, there are also some basic steps you can take at home to help reduce stress.
- Meet the dog’s basic needs: review the dog’s care and make sure he is receiving the right type of food at the right time. Make sure he gets adequate levels of exercise and this is another reason to visit the vet as he will also be able to help determine if he suffers from any nutritional deficiencies.
- Provide more education: If the dog has had training before, reinforcing his education will have a positive effect. It allows the dog more opportunities to spend time socializing, provides exercise, rewards and cognitive stimulation, all factors to improve the feeling of stress.
- Environmental enrichment: If lack of stimulation creates stress, an important way to help a dog is by improving her environment. Provide toys, intelligence games, a cozy resting area and other accessories that will help the dog in her well-being.
- Spend time together: Even if you can’t be around each other all the time, you should make your time together special. More than taking them for their necessary walks, giving them massages, petting them regularly, encouraging them in general and looking for activities that you can do together. All of this will go a long way in eliminating your dog’s feelings of stress.
Understanding why a dog is stressed is very important to continue advancing his well-being. Once you’ve ruled out a physical problem and tried the steps above, you should improve your quality of life and relieve stress. Remember to know the dog and act according to his individual needs. If you’re still stressed after all, it may be time to talk to a professional.