My Dog Is Stressed Out a Lot
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We don't like to think of our dogs becoming stressed. They are often the ones who relieve our own anxiety and can be incredible pillars of support. Although they may not face the same existential questions as their caregivers, dogs can be seriously affected by stress. In chronic cases, it can be just as detrimental to their health. For this reason, we need to determine why my dog is stressed out a lot. At AnimalWised, we look at the main reasons why a dog is stressed, what symptoms present in anxious dogs and what we can do as their caregivers to relieve their stress. In doing so, we both help to preserve their physical wellbeing and best ensure a good quality of life.
Why do dogs become stressed?
To understand why our dog becomes stressed, we need to understand what they experience. Stress is an automatic response generated by the dog's body to a specific stimulus. Such a stimulus can be almost anything, even or especially things we do not necessarily interpret as stressors. For a dog this can be another dog, a person, a car or even an environment they don't like.
Stress is an important part of a dog's organism. It sends their body signals which can help if they truly are in danger. For example, when a dog sees another dog the release of adrenaline accompanied by stress can help them to evade or defend. However, when the stress is undue, it means their body is negatively affected for no reason.
These negative reactions are often related to feelings of insecurity. This can be a physical insecurity, something they experience when they think they are going to be threatened. For example, when a dog hears a loud car, they may think they are being attacked by a larger animal. These feelings of insecurity can also be emotional. When we leave the home, the dog may become stressed because they worry we will not return. They are concerned we will no longer be able to provide their basic care needs, but they also fear they will lose the affection and emotional support we provide.
Several factors contribute to a dog's wellbeing. These are represented in the five freedoms of animal welfare:
- Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, disease and injury
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom from fear and stress
When the first four freedoms are met, the dog usually will be more likely to be free from fear and stress. However, there are some specific reasons why a dog might be stressed.
Common causes of stress in dogs
Responsible care for a dog requires respecting their canine nature. Often stress is generated from a lack of understanding how a dog behaves and communicates. We also need to consider each dog's individual needs as not all are the same.
Dogs are social animals which need suitable interactions to maintain wellbeing, but this can also vary according to the individual. They are animals of routine and need certain basic factors in place in order to feel secure in the home. Providing exercise, space to enact behaviors and even affection will all contribute to positive feelings. Any lack or withdrawal can result in feelings of stress and anxiety.
Here we look at some specific reasons why a dog may become stressed:
- Improper socialization: how a dog related to others is a vital part of maintaining their well-being. This is especially so when they are young as their early experiences will come to define them in many ways. The socialization period is when the puppy needs to have positive experiences relating to other dogs, people, objects and environments. If this period is neglected or they have negative experiences, it can lead to stress when they encounter them later in life.
- Lack of basic care: when dogs are not provided with shelter, food, exercise, company or any of their basic needs, they will feel insecure and develop stress. Our responsibility in adopting a dog means meeting their needs, something which requires capital, commitment and time.
- Improper education: we can educate and train our dog in different ways and each dog will have their individual needs. However, negative reinforcement of education is never recommended. When we scold, shout at or use physical violence against our dog it will be counterproductive to their learning and is likely to result in stress and behavioral disorders.
- Not respecting routine: you can provide for the dog's needs, but if you do so in an erratic way it can cause stress. For example, not feeding them regularly or leaving long gaps between walk can cause the dog to worry you will not provide these for them.
- Environmental changes: whether we make changes to the dog's environment or change it completely, it can lead to feelings of stress due to a fear of the unknown. Bringing a new dog into the home, changing address, having a baby or making any change can be stressful, especially if the dog is not supported throughout the process.
- Trauma: if the dog has been in an accident, has been attacked by another animal or experiences any kind of trauma, it can lead to stress. Further anxiety may be provoked if they encounter any stimuli which may remind them of their trauma.
Symptoms of stress in dogs
Although we may respect the freedoms of animal welfare, there are still reasons why a dog can experience stress. These are often exacerbated in dogs which have faced abandonment or have been through the shelter system for any reason. It can happen that we do not have a specific history for the dog, so we need to be particularly observant for symptoms. Signs of stress in dogs include:
- Stereotypies: these are repetitive behaviors or movements that have no obvious function. A common stereotypy in kennels can be seen when dogs walk in circles for prolonged periods. They may also lick areas of their skin, eat foreign objects or display other behaviors which can result in physical harm.
- Aggression: this is especially the case with dogs which have otherwise displayed normal behavior. When a dog is in a stressful situation, they may fear their security is being compromised and will become aggressive as a reaction. When stress is prolonged, aggressive behavior can intensify. Take a look at our article on the different types of dog aggression to learn more.
- Apathy: as stated above, dogs are individuals. Not all will react to stress in the same way. While some may become aggressive, others may retreat into themselves, eventually becoming listless and depressed.
- Excessive activity: we should distinguish between this and a naturally hyperactive dog. The latter can be due to various reasons, not necessarily unhealthy ones. However, a stressed dog is likely to find it difficult to relax. This can lead to a lack of sleep and persistent movement.
- Fear: generalized fear is a common result of stress. When the dog is in environments which do not pose any threat, they may show signs of being scared due to other stressors.
- Excessive vocalization: stressed dogs are more likely to respond to stimuli unnecessarily. When they hear a noise or sense a disturbance, a stressed dog is more likely to bark or growl. They may also bark when we are not there or generally make a lot of commotion.
When a dog suffers from stress for prolonged periods, it can affect them physically. They may not want to eat, have hormone imbalances and or traumatize themselves to the point of causing pain. If we see a dog is underweight, has skin wounds and displays a poor coat, but is otherwise physically well, the problem may be related to emotional stress.
Treatment of stress in dogs
The first thing we must do when we observe signs of stress in our dog is to understand the underlying cause. The above reasons for canine stress may provide some help, but it is important we take them to a veterinarian. Physical illnesses can result in stress-related symptoms which will need to be treated. Doing so may stop the dog becoming stressed.
If the reason for the dog's stress is not physical, the veterinarian can help us to assess the problem. In severe cases, they may require the help of a canine educator or ethologist. They will be able to assess the dog's specific needs and implement education and training plans to help alleviate the problems of stress.
However, there are some basic steps you can take to help reduce stress in your dog. They include:
- Meeting the basic needs of the dog: review the dog's care and ensure they are receiving the right type of food at the right time. Ensure they have the right levels of exercise and This is another reason for visiting the veterinarian as they will also be able to help determine if they are suffering any nutritional deficiencies.
- Provide more education: whether the dog has had training before, reinforcing their education will have a positive effect. It allows the dog more opportunity to spend time socializing, provides exercise, gives rewards and stimulates them cognitively, all factors in improving feelings of stress.
- Environmental enrichment: if a lack of stimulation is leading to stress, one important way you can help a dog is by improving their environment. Provide toys, intelligence games, a cozy bed area and other accessories which will help the dog to be engaged, even when you are not around. This can be good for dogs with separation anxiety when you're not home.
- Spend time together: even if you cannot be around all the time, you should make the time you do have together special. More than taking them on their necessary walks, give them massages, pet them regularly, encourage in general and find activities you can do together. These will go a long way to removing your dog's feelings of stress.
Understanding why a dog is stressed is imperative. Once you have ruled out a physical problem and you have tried the steps above, you should improve their quality of life and alleviate stress. Remember to get to know the dog and act according to their individual needs. If the dos is still stressed after this, it may be time to speak to a professional.
For some general guidance on how to improve a dog's quality of life, take a look at our article on 10 essential tips to make your dog happy.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Is Stressed Out a Lot, we recommend you visit our Mental problems category.