Dogs and Their Environment. Effects Are Greater Than You Think

Dogs and their environment. Dogs are influenced by their environment.

What if… came home one day and your dog had torn up something of value – something he had never touched before because well, he has never been a destructive dog? You’re really surprised!  You can’t put your finger on what might possibly have caused him to become destructive that day.

Maybe you have been working late for the last few days causing your arrival time, your dog’s feeding schedule and your dog’s evening walk all to be delayed and off schedule.

For many dogs this break in his schedule he has come to know as his routine can cause anxiety and stress in your dog. Surprised?

There are many other things of which you may be unaware – things with your dogs and their environment at home or relationships with family members creating stress and causing an unexpected behavior problem in your dog.  

Common symptoms of stress resulting from your dog reacting to its environment include such harmful behaviors as: destroying the house while the owner is away, barking, hyperactivity, over-shedding, excessive licking, attention-seeking behaviors such as nudging, pawing, compulsive disorders such as tail chasing, shadow chasing, and certain forms of aggression such as territorial aggression.


Dogs and Their Environment


Pack Stress at Our home

Here’s an example of the effects on dogs and their environment.
Last week I was in the hospital for 3 days. This totally changed the home environment for our dogs – at least in their minds. Dad was missing from the pack. Mom was stressed. My wife spent a lot of time with me in the hospital leaving the dogs alone most of the day for 3 days.

They do just fine at home with the doggie door but the normal routine was way out of sorts and they could read Leila’s emotions like it was on her sleeve. They were noticeably concerned – almost worried.

Even our feeding ritual was different. I feed in the morning and Leila feeds at night. Now for a few days, Leila fed both meals and fed a little differently than I fed.  They noticed.

Since this change only stretched out 3 days we noticed behavior changes but not significant behavior problems. But if their feeding schedule was noticeably off for weeks, behavior problems might start to surface.

Walking changed completely. Two trips had to be made to walk the dogs instead of walking the dogs as a pack as Leila can only walk 2 dogs at a time. This meant one got left behind until the second walk.

Again, if the difference had been longer than 3 days and their walking routine was stopped or only done every now and then, behavior problems would develop.

While these temporary but noticeable changes in our personal dogs environment didn’t create any behavior problems, the dogs were noticeably anxious and stressed.

When I came home you could see all the anxiety and stress melt away. All was right with their world. You know what happened next. That’s right. I dismissed my 5 minute rule of no interaction when you first get home. See, sometimes I’m human just like you!

The point here is that there is a direct correlation between changes with dogs and their environment and stress in your dogs. Many dogs are extremely sensitive to disruptions, things that are not routine and they can become anxious and stressed. If these irregularities are long term – then behavior problems may develop with your dog.

It’s important to understand that your dog will not do nearly as well in your home environment without “structure” as he will with structure (rules, boundaries, expectations.)

I’ve seen the effects of environmental stress on dogs over the years most of which could have been prevented with some clear, consistent structure.


Is there something stressing your dog?

There are many environmental changes, other than a break in your routine that can create anxiety, stress and tension in your dog’s life. Can’t put your finger on it? Maybe some of the following will help you connect the dots:

  • We’ve already talked about a change in routine but you could expand on that to include a varying work schedule. Remember, if you’re late getting home, your dog’s feeding schedule and walking schedule are off – creating anxiety and tension.
  • Skipping your dog’s walk because you are in a hurry to go out, also causes stress. One missed walk is concerning to your dog as long as it’s made up but repeated skips are not good.
  • A change in the home dynamics like a new roommate, significant other or husband/wife moving out can have a devastating effect on your dog.
  • Even kids going off to college can be difficult to deal with – especially if they have been a part of your dog’s life every day. Kids may dismiss the dog with the excitement of going off to college or summer camp but to the dog, it’s an unexplainable void.
  • Visitors staying over the holidays: Are they staying forever? (Another big concern for your dog because of the new people to worry about.)
  • A new baby. That’s a forever change! In a good way for the family, but your dog will worry about routine and his sense of place if nothing is done to reinforce his structure that keeps all the anxiety and stress at bay.
  • Did I say new baby? What about the in-laws that come to stay for weeks on end to meet new baby and help the Mom? Don’t forget there are two sets of in-laws – usually. Who are these new pack members? Where do they fit – in the overall scheme of things?

I’ve seen behavior problems develop in dogs during major home renovations take months to complete with all the workers staying around for endless days, weeks and months.

Moving to a new home can be exciting for the family because of all the great things that come with the move like more space, better neighborhood, better location to work, better schools. But a move can have adverse effects on your dog if he is not very secure in his sense of place because lack of rules, boundaries and expectations you have not set into place.

The lack of any structure (rules, boundaries and expectations) not having been set for your dog could cause dog behavior problems. As an example, a bossy dog might begin to resource guard his food, his space (even his space on your couch) or the house from a visitor – even though the visitor is your friend.

The dog has no expectation of what to do or when to do it. This refers to not being required to sit for his food, access to your space, toys, interactive games like fetch or even your love and affection.

The dog is crated for too many hours while you are at work.  Four hours is about the maximum any dog should be crated. Hire a dog walker to let him out to relieve himself, stretch his legs and get a drink of water.

So dogs are crated far too long during the day. This will become a huge stressor – if not already – for your dog.

I hope this has given you an insight into how the various environmental changes can trigger stress in your dog. I’m sure there are more things that can create anxiety and stress in your dog.

Just think if my personal dogs became noticeably anxious and stressed with me gone for 3 days, just think how your dog might feel experiencing long term stressors.


Simple Solutions

So what’s the solution to keeping stress down in your dog? Keep your ground rules consistent. Maintain a high standard of predictable activities for your dog which he can count on every single day – as best you can.

Predictable activities help reduce anxiety and stress.

If he knows these never change, he is less likely to be stressed with any of the changes mentioned above.

Take the time to do obedience training with your dog, if only for 3-4 minutes each day, it provides an opportunity to personally interact with your dog.

If you do it the same time each day – after his evening meal – it becomes predictable. You’ve just lowered your dog’s stress.

I’ve been off a few days and have been working with our dogs on obedience every day at the same time. What a difference in our dogs with just 3-4 minutes of dog training.

Try it. You’ll be surprised! Just be consistent.