Stress in dogs is a growing problem. Our dogs are regularly exposed to many stimuli. They are expected to be the perfect everyday companion and to be able to relax always and everywhere. Innumerable noises and smells pelt on them and it is our task to look closely to recognize stress signals. Today I will give you tips from my experience on how to recognize stress in dogs and how you can support your dog.
Stress in dogs – What is stress anyway??
To understand why stress can be so harmful to your dog, it's important to understand what stress is in the first place. Every one of us has stress at times – you just like me.
The body of the dog as well as of us humans reacts with stress to threats. Stress in dogs is therefore, at first glance, perfectly natural. Can even be essential for survival. Through stress, the body mobilizes all resources to be ready in case of emergency. It is like an alarm button that is activated completely automatically. It becomes adrenaline. Cortisol is released. As with us humans this leads to a higher heart and breath frequency and the blood prere as well as the blood sugar level rises. Your dog gets into tunnel vision. Even the sense of pain is often lowered.
Normally, a stressful situation is followed by a recovery phase
After an acute reaction by stress follows in the Normally a recovery phase. This brings the body back into balance. However, if your dog cannot compensate for a stress response because it occurs too often or too much, the stress condition can become chronic. And now imagine you are permanently under stress? Not a nice idea, or?
Internal stress vs. External stress
A distinction is made between internal and external stress. External stress is the reaction to external stimuli, by which your dog feels endangered. These include things like the lack or absence of stimuli or the opposite: stimulus overload. Especially social stress factors are a trigger for this like incompatibility with another dog living in the household or even with a human being. Also overstraining, understraining or punishment can lead to external stress. In the case of internal stress, the body is permanently in an imbalance. This can be caused by food, water or sleep deprivation. But also fear and pain can trigger inner stress.
What consequences can have permanent stress in the dog?
If your dog is permanently under stress, this can have serious consequences for your dog. You know this certainly also from yourself: If you are under stress for a long time, you become susceptible to various diseases. On the one hand, the dog's psyche also changes: dogs that are under stress react more extremely to stimuli, often have a high propensity for aggression and are irritable. Also the concentration. Willingness to perform clearly decreases. Under strong stress no dog can learn, he is blocked and not receptive. He blocks out all things and focuses completely on the thing that triggers the stress in him. This is also the reason why many dogs become unresponsive in training – they Can not react differently at that moment.
Physical consequences are a weakened immune system, which in turn leads to a higher susceptibility to infections. There is also a higher risk of allergies. Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (such as gastritis). The possibility of a stroke or a heart attack increases.
As you can guess, it is therefore important that your dog can recover from acute stress in order not to get into this hamster wheel in the first place.
How can you recognize stress in a dog?
Now you are asked as an attentive dog owner. Because the signs of stress can be very different and depend on your dog. Many affected dogs show hyperactivity and restlessness, others react through the stomach and intestines. Apathy and exhaustion as well as permanent fatigue can also be signs of stress in dogs.
I would like to give you here a small overview of possible signs. Often different signs come together.
– Pay attention to the body language: How does your dog hold his tail?? Is he tense or stiff? – Restlessness, nervousness – high reactivity and disproportionately high aggressiveness – gastrointestinal problems, for example also diarrhea (here, of course, other factors should be excluded) – panic and fear – auto-aggressiveness, i.e. self-destructive action (very typical, for example, is the paw and tail chewing) – destructiveness – red under-run eyes – stress face (it falls one, the vision and veins become visible) – tension in the muscles – salivating, trembling – bad pH in the mouth, which is manifested by an unpleasant odor – shallow panting (for no apparent reason) – excessive grooming or licking objects such as pillows or the dog's bed – yipping and whining – especially if the dog has not learned to stay alone
A typical appeasement signal is licking the nose. However, this is also part of the normal communication of our dogs. So if your dog licks his nose, you don't have to panic immediately. Pay attention to the whole package.
If your dog should show one or more of these signs, you must go on cause research, if the reason is not immediately obvious for you. A lot can be controlled with a good training, but I will come to that.
What can cause stress? The triggers of stress are just like the symptoms. The reactions extremely different. I had already briefly touched on possible causes above on the subject of internal and external stress.
A big trigger for stress is when basic needs are not met. This includes food, water, sleep, lack of exercise and boredom. But also an overload can lead to stress – for example in dog sports, by extreme running, playing or hunting. In dog sports also play the prere to perform. The fear of failure plays a role.
If your dog is in pain, this also triggers stress in him. Frustration, strong changes in everyday life or general insecurity are still strong stressors.
Are there any other stressors?
The above mentioned points are of course very general. But there are also triggers of stress that apply individually to your dog. These are certain situations (which he may have once linked negatively). Maybe he is also stressed by too many dogs or people around him – not every dog is happy when he is exposed to a horde of dogs and has to cope with it himself. A too low individual distance should also be considered – unfortunately, many dog schools pay far too little attention to this.
As you can see, there are countless causes that can trigger stress in your dog. Now it is certainly so that no one manages it, the complete life of his dog without stress to master. In small measure with afterwards following rest phases a dog can put away this also. Depending on the character, history and experience of your dog, it can also lead to serious consequences. Every dog is an individual. Reacts differently to different stimuli. Therefore, as a competent dog owner, it is up to you to keep a close eye on your dog to make sure he is not overwhelmed with stress and stimuli.
Let's talk about adrenaline
As already explained above, adrenaline is released when you are stressed. Did you know that it can take between six and up to ten days for adrenaline levels to return to normal?? Especially if you lead your dog in dog sports, this is important information for you. Because if your dog stands every day on the place and has stress, your dog has no possibility to come down from it.
The consequences are very clear: hyperactive, reactive and sometimes aggressive dogs that only have tunnel vision. In agility, for example, the poles fall because your dog can no longer concentrate, the risk of injury increases and your dog no longer responds to your commands and instructions.
If a strong stress situation could not be avoided, make sure that you take it easy the days after.
If your dog – for whatever reason (for example, tournaments, birthdays with many people, a move to a new environment, etc.) has a high stress level, you should make sure that the next few days are calmer and more relaxed. Arrange your walks calmly, provide for sufficient sleep and let your quadruped come down in the truest sense of the word. By the way, this is also an important tip for dog owners whose dogs are very under New Year's Eve suffer: Even if the desire to properly exercise the dog is great. Let it go slowly!
Recognize stress in dogs
Now you have learned how to recognize stress, what can trigger stress in dogs and what stress is in general. But the most important thing now is that you learn to read your dog and to assess the situations correctly – and to make the right decisions. Does your dog really have to play full throttle with five other dogs for two hours?? Does he really need to be in the dog park and perform every day?
It is extremely important to take an individual look at your own dog. Does he show signals of stress? What is enough for one dog to be stressed, the next dog may not care and vice versa. In part, susceptibility to stress is certainly also breed-related. An Australian Shepherd is much more sensitive to stimuli than, for example, a rather relaxed Bernese Mountain Dog. And also this is generalized, because there are of course very relaxed Aussies and certainly also more excited Bernese Mountain Dogs.
You have to decide for your dog how much is tolerable and when an urgent break is necessary. Pay attention to the symptoms I mentioned above and listen to your gut feeling.
How to deal with stress in dogs?
In the following I would like to show you a few solution approaches. I would like to divide these into three sub-points: The prevention of stress in dogs, the reduction and the avoidance. Surely you can not always avoid or prevent every stress, so the mixture of these three points is important.
Have your dog's health checked out
If your dog is permanently stressed, your first way should lead to the vet. Because this can also have health reasons. Dogs with thyroid dysfunction tend to be stressed, for example.
Another great help for you can be a behavior therapist especially for dogs. This can specifically and individually respond to you and help.
Prevent and avoid stress
Before your dog moves in with you, you can already set the right course when choosing your dog. Mira, for example, is not originally from a healthy breed. The puppies have not been socialized enough. She was simply passed on to a family who wanted a family carriage and got a fast sports car. In this family was then in principle also still made everything wrong, which one could make wrong.
So make sure when buying that the breed suits you. If possible, look at the parents: Is the mother relaxed? How is the procedure in the family? I was often asked if Mira could have a litter – everybody wanted a puppy from her. I have decided very early against it. Due to their poor imprinting in the first most important months of life, this would have been transmitted to the puppies. And even though I really love Mira with all my heart – there is definitely no need for more Miras in this world🙂
If a puppy moves in with you, it is important to continue to work on it. Your dog learns early to endure frustration. A dog should thus learn a frustration tolerance in order to be able to deal with disappointments or postponed expectations later on. In addition, you should of course always be consistent, so that your dog can rely on you. Because trust is a very good basis for a relaxed dog.
Rest phases are important
From the very beginning you should make sure that your dog learns to rest and that he also respects rest periods. A dog needs at least 18 hours of sleep – depending on age and dog even more. This allows you to process and compensate for stimuli. So train from the beginning with your dog that he also takes these rest periods. This is certainly not easy at the beginning – especially if you have a puppy that wants to discover the world. But you will be grateful for this advice.
Sufficient rest periods are important. For this your dog should have a cuddly little place as a retreat. Pay attention however also on the way to rest breaks.
The right occupation
Also pay attention to a species-appropriate, reasonable occupation. Three hours of wildly flitting around with other dogs doesn't always have to be. Also the ball, which is thrown over and over again, is not a good occupation. That doesn't mean I consider it a no go, but it has to be in balance. Often people pay a lot of attention to the physical workout, but not at all to the mental workout. Here are several possibilities. For example you can use intelligence toys, you can start with some simple tricks, involve your dog in the household, use the search lost game to encourage nose work as well. As you can see, there are many great ways to exercise your dog without stress and to work with him together Having fun. Because if you work on something together, this promotes your connection and gives your dog me security that he can rely on you.
You should also pay attention to the place. If your dog associates play with the apartment, he has a harder time to come down. The same is true for outside: If there is always a "party" on the way, he will already feel stress when you leave the apartment door. Build in also outside from time to time resting possibilities. Just sit on a bench during the walk and enjoy the surroundings.
Muscle building and balance training
Also simple exercises to build up muscles and balance training are great exercises, which will mentally and physically stress your dog and also do something for his health. These don't have to be done when your dog is already injured, they are also great prevention and keep your dog healthy and fit.
Create positive experiences
Another important point is that you offer your dog as early as possible many positive experiences. If he links things well early on, this makes him stress resistant. But please make sure that you do not expose him already as a puppy to an absolute overstimulation.
I notice however with Mira again and again that she got to know too little with the previous owners. When she moved in with me, even wind in the trees was too much for her to handle. She could never generalize certain situations.
If there are certain situations where your dog is extremely stressed, you can slowly introduce your dog to the stress trigger. And when I write slow, I mean it. Pay attention to sufficient distance. If you introduce him, proceed carefully, because if your dog comes under stress, you have already gone one step too far. This way you can slowly get your dog used to it. Of course this does not always work. It needs a lot of patience.
Evaluate if a situation could be too much for your dog
"He just has to go through it!" – Maybe you know this sentence. Certainly there are things where the dog has to go through. Visits to the vet also usually mean stress. Can still not be bypassed.
But you don't have to "force" your dog through all situations. If there are certain situations that are extremely scary for your dog, you can of course avoid them. I am firmly convinced that no dog needs to be dragged to a Christmas market so that he "just learns".
Provided that it does not affect your everyday life too much, you can simply avoid certain stress factors. There is nothing wrong with that – not every dog has to be able to do everything! Mira has unbelievable stress when the barrier of the railroad crossing near us goes down. I used to think that I had to train her so that she would eventually be relaxed about it. I had some trainers here, but nothing helped. I have decided for myself not to train it anymore and to avoid the closed barrier. It does not affect us much in our everyday life. Is therefore absolutely justifiable for me.
A healthy and balanced diet is important, so that your dog has enough nutrients. Because various amino acids are important as messenger substances so that serotonin and melatonin can be formed. With Mira I noticed a clear improvement when I switched to AniFit dog food.
How to reduce stress in dogs
As I have mentioned (I think now several times🙂 ), you can not always avoid stress. There will always be situations where stress arises. The important thing is how you handle it. Therefore I give you a few tips on the way, which have helped us and can certainly help you too.
Get plenty of rest and sleep
This is the most important tip for me. Make sure that your dog keeps his rest times. Of course, it does not depend on a minute, but especially after days in which more was going on, you should ensure sufficient sleep on the following days. It is very helpful if your dog accepts a certain place as his place of retreat. For example, a dog crate, a certain blanket or a dog bed. In order for your dog to be relaxed in other places as well, I can only recommend you to build up a blanket training with your dog. How this works, I explain you in my contribution to the reactive dog here.
By the way: It is proven that most dogs sleep much more calmly on an orthopedic dog bed, because this relieves the joints and the spine, did you know that??
Pay attention to your own behavior
If your dog is excited, you should react in a more relaxed way. Try to get your dog out of the unpleasant situation – of course without prere or even punishment. If you yourself are stressed in the situation, take three deep breaths and think of something nice (at least this always helps me).
If you have a bad day, don't go to the gym. Just leave it at a relaxed walk.
Licking / chewing reduces stress
If your dog is stressed, it can help him if you offer him something to chew or lick on. Because this calms down. Great are for example filled Kongs, licking mats or simply a good chewing article, with which your dog can occupy itself.
Licking (and also chewing) relaxes and calms down. Perhaps a lick mat would be something for you?
Pay attention to a calm movement
If you now start to play with your dog like crazy or throw the ball, this will increase the stress level even more. That's why you should now resort to quieter activities. I have already described some possibilities above. Does your dog like to swim? Then take him for a relaxing walk by the lake. Also some nose work (you can find some tips on this in my article "Exercising your dog in bad weather") is helpful. Also, these sessions will strengthen your bond.
Condition a relaxation word
This may sound strange, but you can also teach your dog to "relax on command". Here you condition a word over a longer period of time, which your dog then later associates with relaxation. This of course takes time. It is therefore helpful to start it early. You should also refresh it again and again.
If your dog likes to be petted? Then a massage can be pure relaxation for your dog. In the meantime, courses are offered by many animal physiotherapists.
Besides many different massage techniques and the Tellington Touch method, you can also massage your dog with a massage hedgehog – this also stimulates the blood circulation. But do not exert prere, just let the ball roll lightly over your dog. Never stay in one place for a long time. Please do not massage on bones.
Conclusion on stress in dogs
Too much stress is not only harmful for humans, but also for your four-legged friend – that much is certain. It is up to you to make sure that you prevent, avoid and reduce stress. If you are overwhelmed by it yourself, it is not a big deal. But then seek professional help. So you can your dog a relaxed. Giving dogs a long life.