Stress is an inevitable part of life and can cause a lot of mental and physical trauma. Even our darling pooches undergo stress at one point or another and it is our responsibility to avoid stressful situations and help them cope with the challenging situation. Your love along with a few destressing techniques can revitalise and rejuvenate your canine friend. Let’s see how.
Dogs and puppies are easily aroused, wound up or stressed by their environment and the best way to prevent this is to avoid the situation in the first place. If your dog is easily stressed by children playing and a lot of activity, then do not take your dog to school when collecting children or into a children’s playground or any other place of high activity. This will only arouse your dog more, and it can take days for his arousal or stress levels to reduce. Places of high activity can be very stressful for your dog and he may not cope too well with the situation when stressed.
Analysing body language
If you can learn to read your dog’s body language and calming signals, you can then begin to see when your dog is getting a little worried or stressed by a situation and you can take action to help him out by taking him out of the situation or intervening.
If your dog barks, salivates, holds his tail low, cowers, whines, yawns, lunges, becomes highly active, licks his lips, pants, has red eyes, shows the whites of his eyes, blinks a lot, lowers his head, turns his head or his body, performs a play bow, chatters his jaws, wags his tail in a tense way, lies down or urinates, these signs are calming signals – signs of stress – your dog’s way of showing he is worried. When your dog shows these signs, it is time to help him.
Problems associated with stress
Stress can cause many problems in dogs depending on its level, such as loss of weight, fears, phobias, anxiety and many more problems. Prevention is better than cure. We can intervene in many ways to help our dog out when he is showing calming signals.
Preventing stressful sitautions
Wherever possible it may help to take your dog out of, or away from, the situation causing the stress in the first place. Sometimes it is not possible to take your dog out of a situation immediately, but you may be able to “split-up” by putting yourself in-between your dog and the object, person or dog that is causing the stress, then calling your dog away or using your body, a tree or other object as a barrier to help him out. You may be able to take a wide curve around another dog or human walking nearby or you may be able to change direction. Whatever you do to help your dog out will help him learn to trust you, and realise that his parent understands his need for help.
Along with taking these prevention measures with your dog, a hyperactive and stressed dog may need a stress reduction programme. If you know a behaviourist who understands calming signals and stress reduction techniques, it may be worthwhile working with him/her to help bring your dog’s stress levels down to a manageable level.
Massage : It is an excellent form of relaxation for your dog. There are many forms of massage available for dogs that you can learn, such as the Bowen technique, T-touch, Shiatsu, Swedish massage or just gentle stroking. Gentle stroking is something we can all do. This massage is not a deep muscle massage but is done by stroking the skin very slowly taking about 10 seconds to stoke from the top of the dog’s head to its tail.
If your dog will not lie or sit, then just stroke him while he is standing and eventually he will learn to lie down and enjoy the therapy. This is very calming for your dog. At first you will need to massage your dog for about 20 minutes a day (depending on your dog and what he will tolerate), until he gets used to it, then reduce the time down to 15 minutes, then 10 minutes and then you will eventually get the time down to just five minutes a day to do the therapy. This can be done while watching television or at any other time when you are sitting and relaxing.
Kong toys : Another calming tool is the kong. This is a toy that you can stuff with yummy food treats for your dog. These are great pacifiers for your dog. You can use fish and cream cheese to stuff in them, as most dogs seem to like these. However you will need to experiment on what sort of food your dog likes as a special treat. Once you have established the foods your dog likes, you can then stuff them into your kong and place it in the freezer. When you give the kong to your dog, it will be frozen. This frozen kong will keep your dog amused and mentally stimulated for an hour or two and when that is finished he will be tired and most likely sleep for a while. The stuffed kong is excellent for the type of dog who likes to hang around you at your dinner table begging for food. You can just place him in his own bed with his stuffed kong while you are eating and your dog should leave you alone in peace to eat your meal while he is occupied and mentally stimulated finding ways to extract the food.
The kong is also good if you are going out of the house for a couple of hours, as you can leave your dog with a stuffed kong to keep him busy while you are out. This will help keep his stress levels low and help prevent anxiety. It is also great to use when visitors arrive, as the stuffed kong will occupy the dog’s attention, keeping him away from sniffing around or jumping on the visitors. It will also help to lower the stress he may feel when people come to visit, especially if children visit. However, make sure the children understand they must never take the kong or anything from the dog. The kong is also great for puppies who are teething or like to chew a lot. The frozen kong helps to numb the sore gums of the new teeth pushing through and will also keep your puppy chewing on something he is allowed to chew on. This will keep him happy and amused for many hours of the day.
Yawning : One last tip to help your dog to calm down is yawning. You have probably seen how dogs will yawn when a little stressed in order to calm themselves. We can also use this simple behaviour to help calm our dogs (and ourselves). If you want your dog to settle down with you, but your dog is finding it hard to settle, it may be because he is still aroused by the daily activity. If you just sit and yawn for a few minutes, you should see your dog begin to settle and lie down. He may even start yawning to help himself settle. You can also use yawning at times when your dog may be frightened, to help him cope with that.
There are many things we can do to help our dogs to calm down and these are just a few tips to help you. Use them and see a change in your dog’s behaviour as he becomes more content, more mentally stimulated and more relaxed.
(Nicole Mackie has over 14 years of experience in handling, exhibiting, training, observing, studying and sharing her life with dogs, gaining many qualifications over the years such as canine behaviour, canine psychology, general animal science and experience in veterinary nursing. She is a regular radio speaker and writer for magazines, works with behaviour problems in dogs and runs socializing groups for dogs with social problems.)