My client was so upset as she described what was happening. “My adorable, adolescent Golden Retriever has become really hard to handle. She chews on everything and I am feeling very overwhelmed, like a failure as a dog owner!
She wasn’t certain what was causing her dog’s chewing problem. She wished her dog could talk and tell her what the matter was.
I guess in a sense, a stressed dog is very much like a child who becomes stressed and acts out in some way creating a behavior problem. Neither the dog nor the child can tell you why, so you’re left to figure it out on your own. I know if I were your dog, I’d want you to figure it out sooner than later.
Let’s take a look at some things that can create a stressed dog.
I’d break it down into three categories:
It’s a simple way to organize it so you can see how things you might not even think about, could be stressing your dog. This way you can identify and manage your dog’s stress more easily. Now let’s get started.
Medical issues: Some can be physically debilitating like hip dysplasia. In fact back, joint or hip issues can be very painful for your dog and we all know that pain causes stress. It’s important to know your dog’s history and have him checked out by your vet so you can stay proactive in keeping him as healthy and pain free as possible.
Uncovering any undiagnosed medical issue like a bladder infection and treating it will relieve the stress in your dog.
Constantly being put into defense drive (flight or fight/bite): Especially by kids who mean well (and some that don’t) can stress a pup or dog.
Kids have a tendency to want to do an excessive amount of picking up the family dog; especially the small dogs. I think that while some dogs tolerate this well, there are other dogs that would prefer kids to leave them alone.
Some dogs will growl, snap or bite if approached suddenly by a well-meaning child that simply wants to hug and squeeze the neck just “because it feels good” to the child.
Dogs are usually very sensitive about their personal space so make sure you know your dog. If this is the case, kids should approach slowly to see if the dog wants to be petted.
With the holiday season in full bloom and the potential of your dog to be around many of your friends and family members, how he’s approached needs to be carefully monitored.
He will appreciate it more than you know; especially if he is sensitive to abrupt approaches.
A lack of exercise: This can leave your dog with a lot of bundled up excess energy and no way to appropriately manage it. Even if your dog is older and seems to have just gotten in the pattern of lying around the house, regular daily walks will be an added delight for him. These walks become especially significant, if you make a habit of walking him every day at the same time if you can.
Not walking your dog a couple times every day causes him to deteriorate more rapidly, especially senior dogs. It’s amazing what a difference you will see in your dog in just two weeks after getting on a regimen of walking twice a day.
Routines mean a lot to your dog: Your routines become predictable activities he comes to count on every day. Working late means you arrive home late and his dinner is late as well. Changes in his daily, predictable routines can cause stress.
If you skip your dog’s daily walk because you are in a hurry to go out that can stress your dog. Remember, he’s been sitting/lying around all day waiting for that predictable walk.
A change in pack dynamics: Changes can have a significant impact on your dog’s stress.
What’s does that mean.
- Stress can come from a new baby
- Visitors that stay for a long weekend or a week or two.
- Divorce or losing a housemate can stress a dog.
- Even moving can be especially stressful for some dogs.
And, here’s something very simple you might not have even thought of: Lack of structure in the home or more simply put, no expectations of what to do and when to do it can really stress your dog.
Too much love and affection: When you are home with your dog and engage in a lot of doting and affection, this can sometimes cause your dog to miss all that attention when you are gone. This may create anxiety, tension and stress.
When your dog feels emotionally insecure about his relationship with you he can become frustrated. He will then try to relieve the frustration caused by this tension and anxiety and the relief comes in the form of behavior problems like separation anxiety.
If your dog is a soft dog , he may internalize his problems by becoming depressed and may even chew on himself. If on the other hand he is more outgoing or bossy he may express himself outwardly in the form of barking or chewing on home furnishings.
These are just some of the things that can cause stress in your dog. You may already be aware of some of these stressors and some you may not have thought of at all. So what’s the bottom line?
If your dog’s core foundation of rules, boundaries and expectations (what to do and when to do it) are consistently reinforced daily in the home and his physical needs are met by twice a day walks, then you are well on your way to your dog having a stress-free life.
There are other things you can do to enrich your dog’s environment in your absence like busy toys where he has to work for part of his daily food allotment buy figuring out how to get his kibbles out of a “doggie food dispensing toy.” On some you can actually adjust the rate of flow.
Working on your dog’s core foundation (sit to earn everything everyday) will build a more enriched relationship that you both can enjoy in the years to come.
So, what did you think? I truly hope you found answers and hope for helping your dog. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. Please come over to my Facebook page to let me know how this article impacted you and the way you think about training. Are you looking at it a little differently? Remember:
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.