A dog’s life can seem like the best life: sleeping whenever you want, finding joy in little things, and getting snuggles. However, just like people, our pups can get stressed. They may not be stressed for the same reasons that we are - such as feeling overwhelmed at work or worried over money, but they can be stressed in their own way. In order to help our fuzzy family members handle, it’s important to identify the symptoms of stress and work to help them de-stress in various circumstances.
Your pup may be exhibiting symptoms of stress, similar to the symptoms that humans show. They may seem irritable, have a decreased appetite, prefer isolation, they may whine, show repeated behaviors, or have digestive issues. All dogs are different, so it’s important for you to note changes in behavior and consult a vet if your dog’s symptoms don’t subside. If they are exhibiting these symptoms consistently and seem to be caused by the same thing, work to change the cause for them. If their symptoms can’t be explained and persist, the vet is the best place for them. Pay attention to them and how much they eat, if they seem off, and if a stimulus seems to be bothering them. Stress affects the body and mind of a dog just like it can affect us.
Controlling their Environment
Many dogs are reliant on their environment, and it’s not uncommon for a dog to feel stressed when their environment is off. Moving can be a big stressor for them, so make sure you’re comforting them with their bed or a blanket that reminds them of an environment that is familiar to them. If they seem irritable and aggressive around others, you may consider keeping their environment free of other dogs or people that may be worrying them – or discussing socialization with a vet or behaviorist. Make sure their environment has their necessities: food, water, bed, and toys. Chewing can be a big stress reliever for dogs, so it’s important to offer them a chew toy so they don’t seek out relief on a shoe or furniture. If their environment is causing them stress, work to provide a place they feel comfortable in.
Keeping them Safe
There is a difference between what your dog realizes is unsafe, and what is actually unsafe. Your dog may feel extreme stress if they feel unsafe. That stress and fear can show in in a variety of symptoms from aggression to isolation. Be sure to remove any unsafe triggers for your dog or work with them to create positive connotations with those fears – as long as those fears won’t actually harm them. Many dogs are afraid of vacuum cleaners, for instance, but a vacuum will probably never harm them.
If your dog is afraid of car rides, make sure your pup feels safe in the car by providing treats and comforts from home. Also be sure to update tags and never leave them in the car alone. If they are afraid of others, work to socialize them with a vet’s guidance or keep them away from others. If your dog is afraid of fireworks, it might be best to give your dog a safe place during firework holidays instead of working with them to get past that fear. Your dog relies on you to keep them safe, so it’s your job to do that to reduce their stress either by working with them to get over a fear that won’t harm them, or keeping those fears away from their environment.
Exercise is essential for dogs for a ton of reasons – one of which is that boredom may be stressing your dog out. Some repetitive behaviors like tail chasing, whining, barking, and pacing can be symptoms of a bored dog. With all that pent up energy, they have the tendency to exert it in unhelpful ways for both you and your pup. Instead of them handling stress and boredom by digging or being disruptive in other ways, insure that they have a way to exercise. Going on a walk is a great way for your pup to get quality time with you while getting out some energy. Plus, they love all the new smells and experiences. If unknown places are things that stress your pup, you can always exercise with a ball in the yard as well. Even having a puppy playmate is a great way to ensure they will be active. If you have a pool, encourage swimming as exercise, just be sure to ensure your pup is safe in your pool. Otherwise you can take them to a pond or the ocean for a swim. Even something as simple as a sprinkler can be hours of active fun for your dog.
Reward good Behavior
It can be a slow process to help your dog de-stress when your dog is impacted by common occurrences like strangers coming over, or being away from you for an extended period of time. These dogs that suffer from extreme fear or separation anxiety are difficult to help, but those that love these dogs despite their issues are so important. By rewarding your pup every time they encounter something scary it’ll slowly help them to develop a positive connotation with strangers, being alone, or being in a new environment. A dog behaviorist or a vet will be the best help for these stressed pups, but it’s a great small step to make sure you praise your dog for handling a stressful situation. Every time they chew on a chew toy instead of the rug, sniff a new person, enter their crate, or have a positive experience with another dog, be sure to praise them. Slowly but surely it’ll help your pup understand they are doing well.
Some dogs are constant little balls of stress, and some only feel stressed in certain situations. Whichever type of stress your dog is dealing with, there are ways to help them de-stress. For some it’s a nice quiet space free of stimulation, for others it’s throwing a ball, and some just need a hug and a treat to feel better. If your pup is exhibiting symptoms of stress it’s best to try and determine the cause and remedy the situation for them – then it’s back to hours of naps and snuggles.