Any stress and anxiety experienced by your dog can be extremely traumatic for both them, and you as their owner. Stress can commonly arise for dogs in situations where predictability is lacking, or when the needs of your dog are not being adequately or appropriately met. And this stress can manifest in a physical and/or psychological form.
In this article, we explore strategies to manage your dog’s because stress because if left unchecked, various diseases and behavioural problems can arise, including among others, gastrointestinal diseases and adverse impacts on the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Stress can have a profound negative effect on your dog, as well as the health of the relationship you have with your dog. Below are three strategies that when combined, can go a long way to helping to alleviate stress in your dog.
The importance of managing your dog’s environment
Uncomfortable or unfamiliar environments can lead to a lack of predictability for your dog, and therefore result in a physical or psychological stress response.
When at home, it is essential to ensure that your dog’s living area is set up in such a way that encourages calm and relaxed behaviours. This will particularly help if your dog is prone to separation anxiety, or anxiety in general. In order to achieve this, use a soft crate which can be made into a type of cubby filled with rugs and blankets, scented clothing you are no longer using, and favourite toys and chewable treats.
If you have children, it’s important to set boundaries, so that when your dog needs some time out, the children understand that their dog is resting in their crate/safe space and shouldn’t be interrupted. This act of allowing your dog to rest and recharge alleviates psychological stress associated with being ‘always on’.
Additionally, not allowing enough space for your dog in your home (so that they can freely move around and play, without feeling confined) can cause psychological distress for your dog. Having enough space to play, engage and rest, will help with relaxation. So too will the use of music, especially when your dog is home alone. Soft and soothing classical music has been proven to relax your dog and put them into a sleep state.
Often dogs are stressed when subjected to a sudden, unexpected noise or startling sound. By using specific training methods which focus on achieving calm and relaxed behaviours, this unintended stress can be better managed, and with time, avoided.
As well as incorporating the above, dogs love to have fun! So lots of fun and exercise-based activities both within and outside the home, can help manage stress. There are various types of toys to play with, including interactive toys, chew toys and tug toys, all of which help to promote health and wellbeing.
The need to control social conflicts
It's important to be aware of possible power imbalances that may inadvertently exist between you and your dog because any inappropriate or aversive actions on your part – even if by accident or unintentional – can result in unwanted additional stress for your dog. For example, shouting at your dog in frustration or not being aware that they require a trip outside for a toilet break.
Added to this, any miscommunication with your dog can also contribute to their level of stress. For example, your dog has been allowed on the couch for as long as they remember, but you buy a new couch and decide your dog is no longer allowed on it. Anytime your dog assumes a rule or practice is in place, that later changes, becomes confusing and stressful. Remember, dogs love routine and predictability!
Fear and/or anxiety shown by your dog to either unfamiliar dogs or persons, whether inside or outside the home, can potentially be a source of stress for your dog. Especially if your dog has a past history, which many rescue dog’s do, of being exposed to adverse environments, poor social conditions and past broken relationships.
If this is the case, then it will be necessary to manage these situations by shaping, and then reinforcing, calm and relaxed behaviours shown by your dog, whether it be around other people, children or unfamiliar dogs. There are special techniques to help with this, however gradually and safely exposing your dog to different outside environments, at your dog’s own pace, will assist with this.
The use of nutrition to help relieve stress
As the saying goes, “healthy body, healthy mind.” And it holds true here because what you feed your dog can have an important impact on helping to relieve your dog’s level of stress, through nutritional regulation.
Recent research has demonstrated that relieving stress through nutritional regulation works to improve anti-oxidation, anti-anxiety and maintain adequate intestinal health. In other words, ensuring your dog receives plenty of anti-oxidants has been shown to help improve immune system function, boost the endogenous anti-oxidant system and remove free radicals. A broad range of fruits and vegetables are therefore important to your dog’s diet.
Adding in Vitamins B, C & E to your dog’s nutrition (through either use of foods or dietary supplements) may also have a positive effect on the anti-oxidative capacity and health of the nervous system in your dog. While some mixed foods rich in Vitamin B, fish oil and other anti-oxidants have been shown to improve cognitive function in dogs.
Likewise, prebiotics and probiotics have many positive effects on intestinal and neural health, which may then lead to playing a role in relieving stress and related symptoms. This is because improving the composition of intestinal flora (and by virtue alleviating intestinal inflammation and reducing stress hormone secretion) may have the therapeutic potential in relieving anxiety and stress in your dog.
As I’m sure many of us can attest, managing stress is an ongoing practice that requires multiple approaches and interventions. Our hope is that by applying all three strategies consistently, it will go a long way towards both significantly reducing the chance of your dog developing stress and anxiety, and helping to manage the condition should it arise.
For a discussion about your dog and any stress and anxiety they are experiencing, please contact us for a free 15 minute consultation.