De-stressing your dog
It may come as a surprise for some of you to know that dogs, just like humans, also get stressed out. They too need to be rejuvenated. A simple T-touch, a Kong or making him yawn, can do wonders to your stressed out dog. Read on to know more about these simple calming techniques. – by Nicole Mackie He seemed totally irritated, and did not respond to my cootchie-cooing, that otherwise gets him all excited and always manages to lift his spirits up. But something was not right. He was not himself. I had to actually sit down and wonder what it was that was really bothering him. After all, I wanted our relationship to have that “zing” back. And then it struck me. He was stressed out. And after much cajoling and sweet talk, I managed to calm him down and we were back to being “the happy twosome”.
In case you are wondering who and what I am talking about, it’s none other than my dog — my very best friend, who needs to be calmed down once in a while. It might come as a surprise but dogs and pups are as easily stirred up and stressed by their environment as we humans are. If we pay attention, we just might be able to identify what it is that really excites and provokes our pets. After that, one will just have to take care to avoid the situations which increases their stress levels.
Sometimes dogs can’t cope too well with places of high activity if they get too stressed. If your dog barks, salivates, holds tail low, cowers, whines or becomes highly active, then it is probably because your dog is under more stress than he can cope with. It is up to us as their owners to help them out in these situations and intervene by taking the dog away from the environment. It would be better still if you could avoid placing your dog in situations where you know he cannot cope.
Interestingly, stress has almost the same reactions on dogs as it does on us. When in extreme anxiety, dogs face similar problems such as loss of weight, fears, phobias and edginess. So when one is aware of the problem, it’s best to follow the policy of ‘‘prevention is better than cure”.
The one novel method of helping your dog cope with stress is the use of T-touch. This Swedish massage of the skin is an excellent form of relaxation for your dog. The massage is not a deep muscle massage but is done by massaging the skin in very slow circular movements from the top of the dog’s head to its tail. If your dog does not lie or sit, then just massage the dog standing, eventually the dog 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 until he gets used to it. Then reduce the time down to 15 minutes, then 10 minutes and then you can eventually bring it down to just 5 minutes a day to do the therapy. You don’t have to take out time especially for this. It can be done even when you yourself are relaxing, such as while watching TV.
The Kong technique
Another calming tool is the Kong. This is a toy, which you can stuff with yummy food treats. These are great pacifiers for your dog. We use fish and cream cheese to stuff in them, as most dogs seem to like these. However you can fill in whatever you want. After all, as owners, you have the best idea of what your dog loves as a special treat. After stuffing the Kong, put 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. By the time he is finished with it, he will be so tired that he will sleep tight for a while. This will definitely relax his nerves and rejuvenate him. Most people also use the Kong technique to deal with the problem of having dogs hang around the dinner table, begging for food. With stuffed Kong to occupy all his attention, you can have your meal in peace, and gradually your dog will end up looking forward to his Kong-time whenever he sees you heading towards the dinner table.
One of the most practical uses of the Kong is when you have to leave the house for a couple of hours. You can easily leave your dog with a stuffed Kong to keep him busy while you are out without feeling jittery and tensed about what he might be doing at home while you are away. This also helps in keeping his stress levels low and prevents anxiety.
It also helps when we have visitors. At such times, most people face problems about keeping dogs away from sniffing around or jumping on the guest, which often can be embarrassing for both parties. But more importantly, it can be stressful for both the dog and the owner. And so, keeping a dog busy with the Kong can be of great help. However, make sure the children understand that they must never take the Kong or anything from the dog.
The Kong is also great for pups who like to chew a lot. The frozen Kong helps to num 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. More importantly, it will keep your slippers, shoes and other things safe, which are sure targets of a teething dog.
One last tip to help your dog to calm down is yawning. You have probably seen how dogs yawn when they are a little stressed, in order to calm themselves. We can also use this simple behaviour to help calm our dogs. If you want your dog to settle down with you, but he is unable to do so, due to the activities around him, then you can help by sitting with him and yawning for a few minutes. This will immediately make him settle and lie down. He may even start yawning to help himself settle. There are many things we can do to help our dogs to calm down and these are just a few tips to help you. When applied, these tips will actually reflect a change in your dog’s behaviour as he becomes more content, more mentally stimulated and more relaxed. And just as we need time to play and time to rest in peace, with these calming tips, you can help your dogs do the same.
(Nicole Mackie has a certificate each in canine psychology and behaviour along with many short courses in clicker training. She is a dog training instructor at the Sheila Harper Canine Education Centre in the Midlands of England. She also takes clicker training seminars in New Zealand and is currently producing a video with Sheila Harper on ‘Understanding your dog’.)