I see dogs and stress every day. And unfortunately in our world today dogs and stress seem to go “hand in paw.” A dog’s stress can come from you and yet you may be totally unaware of how you are stressing your dog.
Too few people realize the stresses that their dog faces on a daily basis, what the causes are and how to resolve their dog’s issues.
Here’s a good example. I had the first of a series of private lessons a few weeks ago with Joe who had just moved here from out of state. Joe originally called because Chester was barking during the day while he was working at his new job. Neighbors began to complain.
A regular guy and his dog
Joe’s day started and ended like most dog owners that have to work for a living. He gets up in the morning, walks Chester, gives him enough food for the entire day and makes sure Chester has plenty of fresh water and then he leaves for work.
After work Joe comes home and let’s Chester out to potty, takes him for a short walk, feeds Chester and walks again before bedtime. The next day it starts all over again. Seems like a regular guy and his dog, right?
It was a weekend lesson so I arrived mid-day. Joe invited me in to meet Chester and talk about the reason for the lessons – barking issues. After talking for a while and getting some more details about Joe’s concerns, here’s what I found.
Joe had grown up on a farm in a small town, gone to college there and shortly after graduation got his first real job – out of town and out of state. He packed up everything and moved to Texas bringing his sporting dog, Chester with him.
Chester grew up on a farm and enjoyed a leisurely life with few boundaries or restrictions placed on him. He had settled into a comfortable life-style. Chester was occasionally entertained with the livestock or chickens and also enjoyed a good game of chase or occasional tug with the other resident dog.
Chester is an urban dog in a strange house with unfamiliar surroundings and is alone all day waiting for Joe to return from work. The first few days alone in the house were the worst – not knowing if Joe was returning or not. He always came home but “when” was unpredictable.
Let’s break down the stress.
• Being up-rooted and taken to a new location
• A once comfortable daily routine has now been replaced with a silent, long waiting game.
• Joe is working late some nights to make a good new employee impression so Chester can’t predict Joe’s arrival time – which delays Chester’s walking and eating schedules as well.
• Joe had been nervous about the new and first real job opportunity. Moving away from family and friends seemed like a real adventure but he was nervous and stressed. Chester immediately picked up on all of this and became stressed himself.
• Because Joe had been so focused on work, Chester had no predictable activities. Things happened – but never at the same time every day. Some days he got walked and others he didn’t. The total lack of consistent structure in Chester’s life began to stress him even more.
• Joe began to wonder if it was a good idea to have brought Chester in the first place. Chester began to feel this ambivalence in Joe through his energy. Joe was feeling bad for Chester and tried to make things right as best he could evenings and weekends. Chester became more stressed because how Joe felt on the inside didn’t match how he projected himself outwardly to Chester.
• Since dogs can interpret a human’s emotional state of distress or contentment, intentions, behaviors and patterns in body language, Chester was interpreting how Joe really felt on the inside which conflicted with how Joe was working with and talking to Chester on a daily basis. This too was influencing Chester’s behavior.
What to do?
I’m always open to learning new techniques and approaches to solving behavior problems in dogs. Lately I’ve invited a good friend, Lizzy Meyer, to ride with me on some private lessons and share her lifetime of knowledge working with and healing horses that have had problems.
She has shared her experience so that we can apply the same psychology to dog problems to help owners really understand “how their feelings and actions” towards their dogs affect their dog’s behavior – and more importantly how to go about improving their relationship with their dog on a different level to effect a positive change.
I felt the first order of business would be for Joe to be honest with Chester. At the risk of sounding silly, he needs to tell Chester how he feels and that he is trying to do the best he can and together they can make it work.
Now I know dogs can’t speak English but if Joe is sincere and honest, Chester can interpret his new, emotional state of intentions. So what Joe would be doing is matching his feelings inside with how he interacts with Chester on a physical level.
The second order of business is to immediately begin a dog obedience training regimen of sit, down and come that will give Chester a sense of working for Joe rather than Chester being his old “take charge” self. Joe should maintain his exercise routine of two walks a day and begin to set rules, boundaries and expectations for Chester.
Additionally, trying to be punctual in arrival times, feeding times walking times so that Chester can reliably predict when things will happen – thereby reducing anxiety and stress in Chester’s life. If Joe truly understands where his dog’s stress is coming from it is easier to fix. The less stress, the less barking. Do you know what’s stressing your dog