Stress is a dog's reaction to stressful change. They might pee, chew or poop in a spot guaranteed to upset you, rip screens or curtains, not come when called, suddenly breaks rules where he was previously well trained, bite or growl. Bad behavior is a really good indicator of stress and can be caused by numerous scenarios. For example, going an hour longer than you normally would between meals can be a stress or going in and out in inclement weather. Although waiting to eat and bad weather may not be a big deal to you, it can be to a dog.
Signs of Stress
Your dog may not be able to speak, but they will act out if they are stressed. Look for differences in behavior patterns, or if behavior is bad from the beginning what is causing it. I have listed everything I can think of, but it is possible for me to miss one or more.
- Constant whining
- Ceaseless barking
- Ruins furniture or other processions
- Refusing to come when called
- Food aggression
- Toy aggression
- Peeing or pooping in inappropriate places
- Chewing on paws or constant scratching
- Excessive Panting
- Pulling on leash
- Peeing when approached
- Whimpering when approached
- Losing hair/ appearance of bald spots
- Loose or bloody stools
- Loss of Appetite
- Loss of thirst
I am sure there are more, and you can be sure I will add as necessary. You may get the point, but I have had calls from owners surprised their dog's behavior was stress induced. Knowing is half the battle since knowing the cause allows you to remove or correct the cause of the stress and improve your dog's behavior. On the other hand, many of these stress signals can also be signals for other health problems. Constant scratching or chewing on paws, loss of appetite or losing hair can be allergies. A loss in appetite can also be a clue to hypoglycemia. Excessive peeing can mean diabetes, panting can be heat stroke, and loss of thirst is not something to fool around with as it can be a signal for many health problems. Look into health first, but if you are sure they are healthy stress is your next best bet.
Stress might develop from different causes, but they can affect dogs just like they can people. Any stress-related syndromes that affect people can be applied to dogs. It is just harder to diagnose. If a dog engages in inappropriate behavior or has health problems that appear to be linked to stress, ask yourself about changes in the household.
- Is there a new member in the family or has someone moved away?
- Have you changed the puppy/dog's diet?
- Is a companion animal suddenly absent?
- Has it been boarded at a kennel or left with someone unknown?
- Has it been groomed?
- Have you moved?
- Have unknown visitors come to stay for an extended period?
- Has anything belonging to your dog been moved?
- Is there a difference in the weather?
- Is he home alone more often than usual?
Any of these, and more, can cause stress in a puppy. If, on occasion, you might find a little blood in the stool and/or it has become soft, put your puppy way for some quiet time and reassure the puppy that everything is fine. Consult your vet as to his/her opinion on safely dealing with stress. There are many suggested methods and many supplements you could give your puppy but it will be much more reassuring for you and your puppy if you involve your vet before using any home remedies or store-bought relief. Most adult dogs will be able to handle some changes better than a puppy, but every dog is different. I would suggest that you watch your dog for signs of stress and be prepared to act should he become so. Do not constantly worry about whether or not he is stressed or your stress will certainly cause his when he might previously not have been. You can try some of the same techniques as you would with a puppy, but you may have to change for your dog's normal preferences. You should know your dog better than anyone and should know where and haw to make him more relaxed and happy. I would never suggest any type of drug to relax you dog since they rarely work and are very expensive. If you do not have the time to give him what he needs you will have to rethink your ownership or your schedule.
The best ways to reduce stress is to make sure your puppy is happy in a crate. This is the biggest mistake dog owners make and they think they are doing it for the puppy. The crate should be their special place that does not change without their permission. A place no one else can go, it is all their own. Gee... does this sound familiar? We all need such a place, a sanctuary. It is not fair to your dog to deny them this peace, but if they do not realize the benefit as puppies they will not understand it as adults. Start now or you have lost your chance. If you have crate training under control you do not need to always have your dog in it. Once your puppy is house trained I suggest you continue to leave bed, food and water in the crate and either wire it open or remove the door. Then your puppy can use it as needed, but has free roam of the house. If you remove the door, keep it handy. When family comes to stay you can move the dog and crate to a quieter part of the house that is familiar and away from constant company until he calms. Also helpful to move him if you have company or there is a planned party, construction, etc. If the dog has to stay with a sitter in another location you should sent the crate and all inside with the dog so he has his own space that is familiar. If it is too late for your dog and a crate you will have to try a little harder to make him comfortable. Take him for walks at the same times you would without the changes. Make sure you take time to stop what you are doing and just hold him. Watch for the dog's reaction to company and do not encourage the dog to meet them if he is uncomfortable. Allow him to be removed to a more comfortable part of the house. If you do not have a crate, try to introduce him to a bedding or pillow that could be his space. You can also encourage the use of a closet or laundry room, where he can be alone when needed. Take the time to put his wellbeing into consideration.
Reversing Bad Behavior
If you have a dog/puppy that has always suffered from bad behavior, their stress is linked to their lack of attention and discipline. I do not think Cesar Milan is perfect, but he is certainly smart. Dogs are like children. They need ground rules and punishment for crimes. They need to be loved, cleaned, talked to and cared for. If you cannot give your dog the time it needs, it is time to find it a new home and take better care before you take another dog/puppy into your home when you might be denying it a better home elsewhere. We are all human. We make mistakes. I am a firm believer that puppy and owner should fit well together. These are not children, they were not sent to you without your choice of personality, health, stature or timing (in some cases). You have a choice. If you are capable of changing your relationship with your dog start with a schedule. Plan a general, if not set, time for feeding, play, walks, outings and sleep. This does not work nor is necessary for every breed. If your dog will benefit from a schedule but it is not possible in your home, you have chosen the wrong breed. Make sure you practice good behavior with your dog. They should treat visitors and passersby with respect or at least safe and happy enthusiasm and not dominance. They should be on good terms with all permanent and long term residents of your home. If someone in your house is not treating the dog well, you need to rescue your dog from the situation. Your dog deserves to be protected as much as anyone else in your home, but do not forget that they are also required to show respect for others. Properly training your dog to fit your lifestyle, not everyone cares if their dog can beg, is the best way to reduce stress and bring peace back to your home.
A good article on Stress for Dogs is found in the June 1996, issue of DOG WORLD MAGAZINE.