HELP! My dog is stressed what should I do?

HELP! My dog is stressed what should I do?

Having a stressed do is unpleasant for the dog but also stressful for the owner!

If you have a stressed dog then you need to identify:

  • When the dog is stressed?
  • What are the causes (stressors / triggers)?
  • What is the solution?
  • Is the solution working?

When your dog is stressed?

You may believe your dog is feeling stressed but dogs cannot directly tell us so we need to look for outward signs e.g.:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Licking
  • Self-mutilation
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Chewing
  • Eliminating
  • Vocalisation
  • Escape attempts
  • Hackles up
  • Aggression

Identify what is causing the stress; the stressors or triggers

The dog’s genetics, early socialisation and subsequent learning may have played a part in his current stress; however the only thing you have some control over is the dog’s current environment e.g.

  • The home of a newly rescued dog
  • The home of a newly adopted puppy
  • A strange place
  • Being alone somewhere
  • A vet
  • A groomer
  • A boarding kennel
  • Travelling in the car
  • Thunder or fireworks outside
  • Strange people
  • Strange dogs
  • A stressed-out owner

The solution

You are not going to focus on the outward signs of stress but instead look at why the dog is feeling stressed. You need to reduce the feeling of fear and anxiety which should result in less of the outward signs of stress. The accepted scientific solution is a gradual exposure to the stressor ideally whilst positive things happen. In technical terms this is known as systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning. This exposure needs to occur at a very low level that the dog can cope with without becoming stressed. The level of exposure can then be gradually increased over time therefore increasing the dog’s tolerance. In practical terms owners often will not have the skills or experience to put this in to practice and therefore should seek out a dog trainer with a sound understanding of dog behaviour.

Is the solution is working?

This is more difficult than it may sound since you cannot ask the dog if he is feeling better. It is therefore time to look again at the outward signs. Have they reduced and only occur in more extreme situations? Then yes, it is working! It is likely that work is still needed to increase the dog’s tolerance and decrease his stress further.

What about drugs, holistic remedies, DAP etc?

Medications for a stressed dog

Only a vet can prescribe drugs. You may however consider drugs which alter the brain chemistry of your dog to be a last resort.

Holistic remedies for a stressed dog

Many people believe in holistic remedies but this is not backed up with a body of scientific evidence. Such remedies may help if the owner believes in them; reducing the owner’s stress and consequently the dog’s!

DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) for a stressed dog

DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) products are a chemical copy of the pheromone that the mother secretes after giving birth to her puppies. This helps calm the puppy and strengthen attachment during this turbulent period of the puppy’s development.Numerous clinical trials have provided evidence that DAP can increase feelings of security. Many of the outward signs of stress are consequently reduced in puppies and adult dogs especially when DAP is used in conjunction with behaviour modification to reduce the feelings of stress.

DAP products are available as a plug-in for a specific environment or as a collar which is especially useful when the dog is outside of his comfort zone.

Please contact us today for help to reduce your dog’s stress.

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Fireworks top tips

Dogs can find it hard to deal with the stress and anxiety of fireworks. Follow our simple top tips to help your dog cope.

How to help you dog cope with fireworks on the day

  • Take your dog out for a walk in the light before the fireworks start.
  • Don’t try to get him used to fireworks or over his fear of fireworks by walking him during the fireworks since this is likely to heighten his fear.
  • Don’t leave him alone whilst you go out to watch a firework display, he will find it harder to cope without you there.
  • Rescue centres fill up with lost dogs after firework night so be prepared for the worst, make sure his microchip details are up to date and he is wearing his ID tag.
  • Provide your dog with a safe den area in the living room.  This could be his create, covered by a blanket with the door open or a space under a table; covered to give him a feeling of security.
  • Get a DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) plug-in to help your dog cope. They give out a scent that can be comforting to your dog but undetectable to people.
  • Dogs can have a heightened awareness of sight, sounds and smell during fireworks so try to mask these.  Keep all windows closed, curtains drawn and the TV or radio volume up.
  • Give your dog something to do to distract himself: a favourite toy, Nylabone, stag antler, Kong, or Kong Wobbler.
  • Don’t try to reassure your dog since if you are feeling anxious he will pick up on your anxiety.  Don’t ignore him either; let him stay close if he chooses to.  Model the behaviour you want by staying calm and ignoring the fireworks.

Prepare your dog for fireworks night

You should also actively work to desensitise your dog to fireworks if he has any problems. Please contact us for an appointment to start work on this in time for the New Years fireworks.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

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