Is My Dog Stressed? The Holistic Approach to Canine Wellbeing
You feel it, I feel it, Marcell from next door feels it when I accidently back out into his bin with my car. Everybody feels stress and anxiety, and we all feel it differently. It’s a perfectly normal reaction when work gets hectic, our daily routine is changed unexpectedly, or when we meet new people. As individuals, it’s also true that we all have different ways to relieve that stress and calm the feelings of anxiety. We talk to our friends, read books, exercise, or do something we enjoy.
Our dogs get stressed too and it’s important we understand when it happens and how we can help them overcome it. Prolonged periods of stress can have physical consequences to our dog’s health. Prolonged stress can impair the immune system which can give way to digestive upsets, kidney diseases, diabetes and even cancer. When a dog is stressed, their body goes through a change, much like humans. Energy is diverted from its normal purpose to ready muscles for fight or flight. Heart rate and blood pressure both become elevated to distribute energy around the body as fast as possible. Digestion becomes suppressed, growth and muscle repair is halted and the immune system is immediately impaired so that the body can be in peak physical readiness to deal with the stressor. When a body is in this peak for too long, that is when actual damage to their systems can occur, which is why it’s important to see the signs and learn how to minimize stress.
Here are some common indicators of stress:
- Highly reactive and unable to settle.
- Dilated pupils, sweaty paws, vocalisation and/or salivation.
- Frequent urination or defecation, sometimes incontinence, or intense bowel upsets.
- Low energy, lack of appetite, little to no desire for human or dog interaction.
Sometimes you can see anxiety or stress by the dog’s self-soothing techniques. Some of these are harmless but for more intense feelings of displacement or stress, they can become more dangerous. These can look like:
- Lip licking
- Excessive grooming
Obviously, we want to disrupt these more intense behaviours before they happen, so now we can start to look at what we can do to minimize their levels. To start with, there will be no one product that solves all your problems. It’s not possible, so best to leave that thought in the dust. Next, if any of these sound like too much for you, invest in a behaviourist or trainer. Now that you can recognise your dog’s stress, it’s time to pinpoint what your dog finds stressful. Once you have a list, you can tackle these issues one at a time instead of feeling overwhelmed. The best way to work off your dogs stress levels is training, desensitisation and counter conditioning techniques. Manage your dog’s exposure to these stressors and use confidence building exercises to desensitise your dog. Training takes time, but it’s best to take these things slow and do them right, rather than rushing, and making the problem worse. We recommend that if you’re in the Melbourne area, contacting Positive K9 Training if you’re not sure where to start. PK9 Training work to empower and educate owners to help their dogs reach their greatest potential.
Controlled exercise is another great way to relieve and manage stress, not only for your dog but also for yourself. Going for a walk outside, running with your dog, or playing fetch are all fantastic and have been shown to improve cognitive function, stabilise mood, reduce reactivity and encourage confidence. Not to mention improving your relationship with your dog. If you can’t go outside for some exercise, problem solving games or toys are another excellent way to switch out the stress response, for a more positive focus point. Playing these games with your dog also improves the bond between you. If you’re not sure where to start on problem solving games, we highly recommend looking at Calm Dog Games. It’s a fifty two card deck full of brain games, enrichment ideas, DIY puzzle toys and interactive activities. Providing mental stimulation can satisfy your dog’s cognitive wellbeing and relieves stress. Enrichment games allow your dog to “act” on being a dog by allowing their instincts to take over in a fun and safe way.
If you think you could be doing more to make the home a more relaxing space, you can look at including dog-safe candles, diffusers or room sprays. Shy Tiger has a range of diffuser oils and room sprays that are vet formulated to help soothe and calm your pup in times of anxiety. They’re lovely for humans too. Lastly, and one of my favourite things to recommend, especially to new puppy parents is calming dog music. It doesn’t cost you a thing if you have Spotify, and all you need to do is search up “calming dog music.” Canine hearing is infinitely more powerful than a humans, and as such there is specifically designed bio-acoustic music that you can play for your dog to help relax.
Here are two of my all-time favourite albums that helped me through two rounds of crate training.
- Dog Music: Relaxing Piano Music for Dogs and the Best Relaxation Music For Pets
- Music for Dogs- Relaxing Songs for Dogs and Puppies
We understand that sometimes, in extreme cases, a dog will need to see their vet to aid in their anxiety and stress relief. If there’s anything we can do at home though to aid in that relief, we should try. At Fetch Collective we believe in a holistic approach to canine care, which means more than just dealing with the symptoms of stress and anxiety. A routine of training, enrichment, exercise, and complimentary therapies can all be used together to give your dog the best shot at a fulfilling, happy life.