Some people believe that dogs have nothing to stress about. After all, if they’re living in a good home such as yours, what could they possibly worry about? However, dogs experience a wide range of emotions, just like we do. They learn from their environment, and sometimes their past environments have taught them to fear.
There are numerous dog stress signals and causes, which we covered in Part 1 of this dog stress series. Now, let’s look at ways to deal with it.
Remove Your Dog from Stressful Situations
The easiest thing to do is to distance the dog and the stressor. For example, don’t take your dog to the Fourth of July fireworks display. If the neighbor’s dog is too aggressive, keep them apart. If having strangers in the house agitates your dog, put them in a different room.
If stress has already been triggered, isolate the dog for a while. If your dog has a crate that they have been trained to see as a safe space, that’s an ideal place to let them decompress.
Sometimes, you can redirect the dog’s attention away from the stressor. Use their favorite toys or treats or find other activities to get their minds away from stressful situations. Returning to a familiar routine also helps; normalcy is a comfort. Some basic commands like “Sit” or “Heel” can reassure your dog.
Teach People How to Treat Your Dog
Make sure everyone knows how to treat the dog and respect their limits, starting with the people in your household. Let people know what will stress the dog. It is imperative to teach children boundaries. If they play too roughly with the dog beyond what the dog can tolerate, the dog can become stressed enough to bite to defend themselves. Let guests know what to expect, so they don’t accidentally trigger stress.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning
Removing your dog from a stressful situation addresses the immediate need, but the fear will still be there the next time the situation arises. So, you’ll need to take some extra steps to eliminate that connection between the situation and the fear response.
Two techniques gradually sever that connection: desensitization and counterconditioning. If you use them, please understand that both processes are gradual and require a lot of repetition. Therefore, you will need to be patient as you wait for results.
Desensitization progressively decreases sensitivity to that trigger. For example, let’s say that opening an umbrella causes stress, possibly from some incident before they came to your home. You might start by putting a closed umbrella several feet away on the floor. The dog learns that nothing bad is happening. Next, you gradually increase the interaction with the umbrella by moving it closer and eventually opening it, only progressing when you’re sure there’s no stress reaction to the previous setting. This way, your dog unlearns the “stress trigger = harm” equation.
Counterconditioning changes your dog’s response to the trigger from stress to desirable behavior. So, for example, you can gradually connect the umbrella to something positive for the dog and reward them for increasingly positive behavior.
Home “Remedies” for Dogs With Stress
You can implement several home “remedies” to help your dog cope with stress.
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress for both you and your dog. It releases that build-up energy that your dog initially devoted to being stressed.
Review how much exercise your dog is getting every day. This should include walks outside of the home and not only time in the backyard.
Dogs are intelligent beings and need mental as well as physical exercise. So make sure you’re teaching them new things, playing new games, and taking them to exciting places. Therefore, they will have less time to be stressed as you redirect their attention to something positive.
A study by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow suggested that classical music is soothing to dogs.
A little massage can go a long way toward stress relief. If you find the right spots—head, feet, ears, etc. —that get your dog to relax, 15 minutes of massage can do wonders. Good, gentle brushing can have the same effect.
We have found success with homeopathic remedies from plants and minerals. Remedies such as aconite, Ignatia, and phosphorus are available in supermarkets and health food stores. Visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association to find a veterinarian trained in homeopathy.
Some over-the-counter options can provide comfort for your dog dealing with stress. We have successfully used a quality CBD oil called King Kalm. CBD, or cannabidiol, provides pain relief without mind-altering side effects.
In more severe cases, we recommend consultation with your vet about the possibility of using medication to help alleviate your dog’s stress and anxiety and aid your dog during the desensitization and counterconditioning phases of training. However, we don’t generally recommend the long-term use of such medication.
Dog-Appeasing Pheromones mimic a lactating female’s natural pheromones and encourage a sense of well-being and reassurance in dogs. They are available in pet stores.
A Well-Balanced Diet
Sometimes good food is the best medicine. A balanced diet gives the body and brain the proper nutrients and the strength to cope, both physically and mentally. If your dog’s diet is missing these key nutrients, it may be harder for them to deal with external stressing factors. So, check the labels on their food packages. Are they getting the best nutritional value? Are they getting what they need?
One way to ensure a balanced diet is by choosing Volhard’s Natural Diet Foundation or NDF2! It contains whole food ingredients, and it’s biologically appropriate, natural food for your dog. By choosing NDF2, your dog will get all the nutrients they need to lead a happy, healthy life!
A Parting Reminder
Stress can be a serious condition that, if prolonged, can cause significant health problems. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of potential solutions for your dog’s stress.
However, if your efforts at home are not working and your dog is still struggling, ask for help. Have your veterinarian examine the dog to rule out any health issues underlying the stress. If all is well, seek a professional trainer.
At K9 Basics, we address the core of the problem and teach you how to deal with it. Contact us for more information and to make an appointment. We will help restore your dog to a stress-free, happy life with you!