Are You Stressing Your Dog Out?

Published: August 1, 2021
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Just like humans, dogs have different personalities and some dogs are more inherently prone to anxiety than others. However, a dog's environment and the way humans interact with the dog can be stressors.

How To Recognize When Your Dog Is Stressed

The main form of communication for dogs is body language. Learning to interpret your dog's body language can help you tell when your dog is feeling stressed .

1. Growling

Growling is usually an indicator that your dog feels uncomfortable with a situation. Dogs often growl when they feel their space is being invaded, they are in pain or they feel threatened. Many owners scold their dogs for growling, but this can lead to dogs who bite without warning, so it is generally a better idea to determine the cause of the growling and find another way to deal with it rather than punish the dog for doing it.

2. Body Language

Dogs often reveal their stress through body language. Typical signs include revealing the whites of their eyes, tucking their tails and ears, lip-licking, yawning, raised hackles and panting. A dog that is feeling stressed may also avoid eye contact or look away. However, dogs may do some of these things for reasons other than stress, such as overstimulation or excitement.

3. Pacing

A dog who paces because it can't settle down may be experiencing stress. Making note of when this behavior occurs can be a clue to what is stressing the dog.

4. Barking or Whining

Dogs bark or whine for many different reasons and the behavior is often involuntary. However, one of the reasons your dog may bark or whine is that it is experiencing stress.

5. Freezing

A dog that gets stiff or freezes is often reacting to a stressor that it can see. A dog that does this may be so stressed that it can not cope with a situation. If the stressor is not immediately removed, it could lead to a bite .

6. Shedding

Dogs that are experiencing stress may shed more than usual. Owners often notice this behavior at the vet's office.

7. Panting

Dogs normally pant when they are hot. However, if your dog is in a cool environment and hasn't been exercising, but is panting, stress may be to blame.

8. Changes in Bodily Functions

Some dogs may urinate or defecate when stressed. They may also stop eating.

Things You May Be Doing That Stress Your Dog

Most pet owners would never do anything to intentionally stress their dog. However, there may be things you are doing that unintentionally result in stress.

1. Feeling Stressed

Research has shown that dogs often mirror their owner's stress. However, don't let that stress you out further. The research also indicates that this doesn't cause long-term damage to your dog. However, lowering your own stress level can be beneficial to both of you.

2. Being Anxious Around People

If you are nervous around other people, chances are, your dog will be too. Try to avoid taking your dog into situations where you know you will be experiencing a high level of stress.

3. Leaving Your Dog Alone Too Often

Some dogs are able to tolerate long periods of being by themselves. Others, particularly dogs that already display signs of anxiety in other situations, may become stressed when left alone for too long. Signs of separation anxiety, which occurs in about 14% of dogs, include destructive behavior, inappropriate urination and barking. If your dog has separation anxiety, your vet may be able to recommendation anti-anxiety medications or behavioral changes to reduce it.

4. Giving Too Many Commands

Giving a dog more than one command at a time can be confusing for the dog. It may also teach your dog to ignore your commands. Give one command at a time and don't repeat it.

5. Confusing Anxiety for Dominance

There is no such thing as a dominant dog. Dominance is a situation-specific behavior and aggression related to dominance issues is rare. Behaviors commonly associated with dominance, such as humping, are more often signs of hyperexcitability or insecurity. Punitive training methods, such as prong collars and alpha rolls can cause your pet to fear you.

6. Assuming Your Dog Is Behaving Badly Intentionally

Dogs do not have moral codes. Your dog's behavior is either something that is a normal part of being a dog or something your dog is doing because your response reinforces the behavior. The best way to stop an undesired behavior is to make sure you are not unintentionally reinforcing the behavior and start reinforcing an alternative behavior that you want instead.

7. Punishing Your Dog for Normal Dog Behaviors

While digging, barking, chewing and chasing can be distressing to humans, it's a normal part of being a dog. Find alternative outlets for these behaviors, such as providing your dog with appropriate chew toys , creating a designated digging pit and teaching your dog to speak and be quiet on command.

8. Failing To Set Boundries

Dogs don't know what behavior you consider acceptable if you don't teach them. Worse, if you sometimes reward a behavior, but then other times punish your dog for that behavior, your dog may become anxious and confused. Consistently reward the behaviors you want and avoid rewarding behaviors that you do not want.

Learning to speak your dog's language can be a challenge, but your life with your dog will be much more rewarding when you do. Careful observation and consistency are key.

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