Less Stress Means a Happy Dog

In the middle of a dog lesson last week, the wife blurted out, “I have one set of rules for our dog and my husband has another set of rules! We argue about this all the time. This has got to be confusing to our dog!”  

Now, I’m no marriage counselor so I’ll happily keep my distance from that couch. As a dog trainer though, I can say that not only is it confusing for your dog, but it can cause stress for your dog if you constantly correct your dog for something that your husband or whomever, lets him get away with!  Talk about mixed messages! 

Just like stress in humans creates problems, stress can cause behavior problems in dogs.  And, again, just like each person handles stress differently, each dog handles stress differently also.   

Stress In Dogs

I can recognize what is stressing a dog in a home on a private lesson, but most of the time the owner can’t see the forest for the trees.  They are just too close to the every day family/dog activities to recognize why their dog may be stressed. Sometimes it can be as simple as having different standards within the family for your dog as stated above. 

If you have a dog behavior problem, there’s a pretty good chance that it is stress related.  In fact, the stress your dog is feeling can probably be traced back to your dog’s relationship with you or another family member. I always say that your dog’s behavior is a mirror of the relationship you have with your dog. 

Your dog feels stressed because he is feeling anxious, insecure and tense – most likely because of something you did– or didn’t do. 

If you can figure out what is causing the stress in your dog and take steps to fix it, the stress usually goes away and the dog behavior problem disappears as well.  

Let’s take a look at the example below. 

Example:  You put your dog in the back yard because your dog is peeing in the house – which is more than likely stress related. Now, your dog is barking in the back yard, probably suffering from isolation causing this obsessive barking.  Your dog is stressed because of the isolation and the stress causing the peeing has been ignored. 

So, how would you fix this?  Start with a good house training program to solve your house soiling problem. This would allow your dog to come back into the house. The problem with isolation barking has now been resolved and the peeing problem has been solved because the stressors have been eliminated.  You now have a happy dog. 

I’ve found there are usually three “stress areas” where behaviors that are puzzling and difficult to manage are caused by stress.  

These three areas are: physical stress, environmental stress and emotional stress. Read on, as you might be able to see one or more stressors that could be causing your dog’s bad behavior.


Physical Stressors 

Medical Issues: UTI or bladder infection, back, hip or joint problems, recovering from surgery or any other medical issue of which you may not be aware. Any one of these issues can cause your dog to feel bad resulting in noticeable dog behavior problems. An example would be a bladder infection.  This could cause house soiling. Pain in the hips because of dysplasia could result in your dog growling, snapping or even biting you to say, “Don’t touch me!”  

Kid’s interaction with dogs: If you have children, you may see that your dog has to be defensive when the kids are around. Little puppies and dogs are constantly getting picked up by kids all the time. Kids can also be hard on puppies and dogs by pulling their ears, whacking them on the head or constantly invading the dog’s personal space. Dogs will often growl, snap or bite to say, “Stay away. I’m not comfortable with you doing this.”  

I actually saw a child climb on the back of a big lab to ride it like a horse – collar in one hand, dog ear in the other!  Mom did nothing. Talk about stress to this poor dog!  It would make sense to supervise kids when they are around the dog and teach them how to play with their puppy or dog.  

Find a way to give your puppy or dog a break from the kids – and teach your kids to be easier on the pup.  It’s a two way street with kids and dogs.  You can read more on this in another one of my articles on puppy biting.

Lack of exercise: If you do not walk or don’t take long enough walks, you’re not managing your dog’s energy.  This stress may cause him to begin to find ways to use his energy in a destructive way in your home.  

If your dog is a senior, exercise is just as important. Not walking your senior dog causes their muscles to deteriorate more rapidly. This can be very stressful for your senior dog often times resulting in excessive chewing or licking themselves – sometimes to the point of creating raw spots.  

Our most senior dog, Ginger is 15+ years old and I try every day to get her outside – if only to go two houses away and back – a distance she feels comfortable with because of her hips and age. 

Your senior could also be suffering arthritis or dysplasia. It might be time for your vet to do a doggie check up. Ask if he’s got a recommendation for senior dog care. There are also many holistic anti-inflammatory products available over the counter to ease hip and joint pain.|

Environmental Stressors 

A Break in your routine: If you usually work 8-5 and get home at 5:30, potty your dog, feed your dog and walk your dog then these routines become predictable patterned activities your dog counts on that adds to your dog’s secure feeling.  

A change in this schedule can cause stress in your dog because everything your dog counted on to happen on time is now late.  Your late arrival delays mealtimes and walks. This can stress out your dog and can lead to dog behavior problems.  

Change in family dynamics: Anytime there is a change in your family dynamics, there is always a possibility that it can cause stress in your dog.  Here’s a list of changes you might never think would have a negative affect on your dog: 

  • Have a new baby in your home creates new routines for the baby causing disruptions of your dog’s routines.
  • You have visitors coming to stay for the holidays or to meet the new baby
  • Divorce, loosing a housemate or kids going off to college all become unexplained losses – often times putting additional stress on your dog.
  • Extensive home renovation with workers in your home everyday can interrupt your dog’s routine. Loud construction noise doesn’t help the situation.
  • If you move to a new home, all things familiar to your dog are lost. This can be stressful to any dog. 

We all know that stress takes a toll on us, on our kids. So give some thought to what might be stressing your dog.   You might come up with the answer you wouldn’t have given a second thought to and a solution to your dog’s behavior problems.  

Emotional Stress 

Love and affection: Constantly doting on your dog – giving your dog a ton of free love and affection can cause your dog to miss that attention when you are gone from home. This could set the groundwork for separation anxiety.  

Lack of mental stimulation: Your dog needs mental stimulation. Without enough to do to keep your dog’s mind active, it can cause or make worse a number of behavior problems such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Destructive chewing, licking or other attention-seeking behaviors
  • Compulsive disorders and even some forms of aggression.

 Frequent walks and continuing obedience training is good therapy for this. 

Have a dog problem? Consider how your own lack of understanding might be causing or contributing to your dog’s bad behavior. I would challenge you to look at your dog’s life and your relationship to see if you can identify anything that may be a stressor to your dog.  

Eliminate the stress in your dog’s life by providing him with more structured and predictable routines.  Require him to earn things that you know he wants.  

You may find that you may need the assistance of a good trainer for some behaviors but you can start today by reading my article on setting boundaries and routines.   Also if house soiling in an adult dog is one of your dog’s issues we can help you with that here.


Please comment below and tell us how you’re relieving your dog’s stress.  I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.

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Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients.  Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years.  One of his clients says it best: There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant.  Jane Wagner

(c)Jim Burwell Inc.