Pets can get stressed in unpleasant situations. Here’s how to de-stress your pooches through various simple easy-to-follow techniques.
As responsible pet parents, it is imperative that we keep our pooches stress-free. Here are ways to keep your pooch happy and calm at all times.
Non-threatening approach – When approaching your dog, always approach sideways without looking directly at your dog’s eyes. Try to look smaller and never use threatening postures or noise such as arms in air, running towards the dog, leaning over the dog, high excitable or raised voice. Keep your voice calm and gentle, keep arms down, body slightly sideways and head turned to side and your dog is more likely to approach you without fear or feeling threatened. If the dog does not come to you when you crouch down, do not force him but respect his wishes to be left alone.
Noise level – When your dog is afraid of something such as loud noises, fireworks, thunderstorms, loud humans, etc do not try to comfort him while he is showing fear (or you will be rewarding the fear); ignore him, yawn, keep on yawning and only praise the dog when he is not showing any signs of fear, this should help him to feel a little calmer.
Visitors’ time – When visitors come, make sure they do not make a fuss of the dog. Tell them to just ignore the dog until he has calmed down. Have the dog sit in the same room as you and the visitors but give your dog something to do such as a stuffed Kong or treat ball (can be noisy), chew, raw hide or something your dog really likes. Make sure children leave the dog alone when he is eating or resting.
Use the right harness – Try using a harness (unless there are medical reasons not to) and wide soft, flat collar when walking your dog. Never attach lead to collar if your dog pulls, as this put your dog at risk of spinal damage, thyroid damage or blindness. Use the harness and teach your dog not to pull before using a lead on the dog’s collar. Collar should fit to cover two vertebrae and harness should also be wide, comfortable and well fitted.
Caring while walking – When out walking, be careful if you see other dogs or people walking towards you. If your dog is insecure about others approaching, you may need to help him out a little. Cross the road or turn around and go in the opposite direction. This will help your dog to learn to trust you to help him out when he needs it. Lunging, barking and pulling, trying to get to another dog or human is often mistaken for wanting to play but the dog may be fearful or very insecure about the approach, best to help him out and go in another direction.
A happy and safe environment – Enrich your dog’s environment (indoor and outdoor) with plenty of toys and things he is allowed to play with, chew up and destroy if he wants to. Things that are safe such as old shoes, toys (hard and soft), cardboard boxes, old containers or bottles (you can put treats in these), paper, plants to smell, make tunnels out of chairs and blankets, etc, anything to make your dog’s environment enriched, fun and safe.
Nutritious diet – Make sure your dog is on a good diet. See a canine nutritionist or a veterinarian with an interest in nutrition. Hair or blood analysis can be performed on your dog to determine if there are any areas of lack or too much of any particular nutrient, and it will also tell you the toxin levels in your dog’s diet.
Clean fresh water – Always have clean fresh water available for your dog. Filtered water is preferable as most of the harmful chemicals are filtered out. Dogs can develop behaviour problems if they have too much of any chemicals or toxins in their body, i.e. a symptom of too much manganese in the body – aggression, stiff limbs, fear, shyness, etc, while too much arsenic causes grumpy problems.
Grooming – a happy experience – Keep grooming regular, very slow and rewarding for the dog. Make sure you do not lean over the dog or brush fast or with a painful brush. If you are not sure if the brush is painful, try brushing your own arm with it, if it hurts you, it hurts your dog. Kneel by your dog, brush slowly and give dog treats from time to time while brushing.
Kong – This can be stuffed with yummy food your dog enjoys. When stuffed, place in freezer and give to your dog frozen as this will keep him occupied for hours (though some dogs prefer it not frozen), after eating it, your dog will be very tired and most likely sleep for an hour or two. Things you can put into the Kong are: fish, cream cheese, cottage cheese, meat paste, peanut butter, mashed potatoes and gravy, your dog’s meal, etc, or a selection of food.
Treat balls– These are balls or cubes in which you can place dry treats inside. Your dog has to find ways to get the treats out of the ball. This can be very mentally stimulating for your dog and can keep him busy while you are busy with something else.
Sniff to de-stress– Teach your dog nosework games. Hide treats such as hotdog sausages, preferably outdoors around your yard but indoors is also fine. Do not show your dog where the treats are but just say find and leave the dog to find the treats, his nose will tell him where they are without any help. You can also throw a few treats such as dry biscuits, cut up sausages or cheese, etc into your yard, preferably on a lawned area and tell your dog to find. Your dog will love this game as he is doing what he is born to do, and that is use his nose. Nosework games are very mentally stimulating for your dog and also very tiring; your dog will need plenty of rest after playing these games. Keep it limited to just a few minutes a day with young puppies.
Rescue remedies– A few drops of Rescue remedy can be placed in the dog’s water or food if he is feeling a little stressed or worried. DAP diffusers are also available from veterinarians which help to calm highly stressed dogs. Calm spray is another way to help calm dogs. This can be taken anywhere you go or even sprayed in the car to help calm dogs.
Use smells he likes – Before placing air fresheners in your home or burning incense or oils, first make sure your dog likes the smell. A dog will get a headache from smells well before we would get a headache. To find out if your dog likes a smell, show him the object of smell and if your dog sniffs it and maybe even tries to lick it, then he probably likes it. If your dog turns his head away, then he probably does not like it and it is cruel to expect him to live with the smell without escape, remembering a dog’s sense of smell is many times stronger than ours. Hot head may mean your dog has a headache or is perhaps stressed about something.
Safe play – Keep play to a minimal as this triggers the hunting instinct, especially chasing games. Play is very likely to cause your dog stress which is often mistaken for excitement. Play will increase and strengthen the hunting chasing instinct and in a breed where this instinct is already strong, such as in some Terrier breeds, problems can develop, i.e. chasing cyclists, children and runners. Perhaps throw and ball a very short distance only two or three times and then stop. If your dog has a ball obsession problem then it may be best not to throw a ball or any object for him at all.
Make car rides a happy time – When taking your dog out in the car, make it a good experience. Make the car an enriched environment. Place in the car with him a stuffed Kong, some toys, chews or anything you know your dog likes. If your dog is in a crate in the car, cover most of the crate with a blanket (leaving a gap to see you) so he does not feel the need to bark at people, dogs, motorbikes and other threatening things he may see out the window.
T-touch – Use this gentle form of light massage. Slowly stroke your dog in small circular movements, starting at the head and moving slowly down the dog’s body. This should take about 10 seconds to get from the top of head to tail. Do this for about 20 minutes a day for the first week, 15 minutes a day for the second week and then 10 minutes a day for the dog’s entire life. This will also help your relationship with your dog.
(Nicole Mackie has experience in handling, exhibiting, training, observing, studying and sharing her life with dogs, gaining many qualifications, such as canine behaviour, canine psychology, general animal science and experience veterinary nursing).