How to Practice Stress Relief for Dogs
Are you looking for stress relief for dogs? While it may sound unusual, dogs can have fear and anxiety just like humans, and this can be expressed in relation to new situations, new people, and being around other dogs.
According to a 2016 study of 3284 dog owners of 192 different breeds, about 39% of dogs are sensitive to noise, 26% have general fears about unfamiliar people, other dogs, and new situations, and 17% have separation anxiety.
These three issues can also be linked to behavioral problems in dogs such as aggressiveness. A dog who is afraid is more likely to become aggressive than a dog who has no fear.
Causes of Stress in Dogs
Because of the overlap between different kinds of anxiety and fear in dogs, it’s likely that some part of your dog’s temperament is determined by genetic factors.
Over my lifetime I’ve had four canine companions—all of them miniature schnauzers. And, while the breed was the same, the dogs were as different as night and day.
The first and third dogs were both fearless. The second and fourth differed greatly from those two. The second was cautious in new situations, while our current dog is the most anxious one I’ve ever owned.
He is afraid of walking on solid surface floors and generally does not leave his bed. When we have large gatherings, he can’t be here, because I don’t trust him. His fear causes him to be unpredictable.
Just like people can be highly sensitive, so too can dogs. Dogs who are regularly stressed out may be the victims of physiological and behavioral overarousal, meaning that they have deeper processing of sensory information.
A 2017 study developed a 32-item questionnaire to measure this sensitivity in dogs. What they found was that aspects of the dogs had only a small influence on the sensitivity of the dogs. Gender, age, age at adoption, and also characteristics of the owners, such as age, job, and communication style really had little impact.
However, experiences in a dog’s life may influence later behavior. In a 2015 questionnaire study of 3264 dog owners in Finland, early life experiences related to later dog anxiety. In that study, they found that fearful dogs had fewer socialization experiences and lower quality of care by their mother as a puppy.
Signs of Dog Stress and Anxiety
If your dog becomes agitated in new situations with unfamiliar people or other dogs, look for the following signs of dog anxiety:
- licking his/her lips
- over salivating
- scanning the environment
I know in the case of our dog, when I take him in the car and he isn’t sure what is about to happen, he pants, shakes, and whines. What can you do in terms of stress relief for dogs? Let’s consider that next.
Tips for Stress Relief for Dogs
Don’t respond with punishment. This is likely to just make the situation worse.
Get out for daily exercise. In that Finnish study, they found that anxiety in the dogs was also linked to the amount of daily exercise. Dogs getting less exercise were more sensitive to noise and had more separation anxiety. Take your dog out in public and get some exercise.
Avoid anxiety-provoking situations. For example, in the case of our dog, I put him in a kennel for the night when I know we will be having a large number of people to our house, such as at a holiday party. It’s better for our dog, and it’s better for our guests.
Talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication. This can sometimes be prescribed for dogs. You could also purchase pet-branded CBD oil designed to help reduce stress in dogs such as that sold by NuLeaf.
Alter the association between trigger and response. For example, dog whisperer Cesar Milan helped a dog who was afraid of squeak toys; he gradually helped the dog to calm down by using lavender essential oil and a massage.
He then paired the lavender scent with the squeak toy, so that the dog, who had learned to associate the smell with being relaxed, would now react that way to the toy as well.
This is a simplified example, but you get the idea. Find a way to break the bad association (e.g., new situation = anxiety) and replace it with a new better association (i.e., new situation = fun OR treats OR relaxation).
Finally, don’t confine your dog to a crate unless that is something he or she is used to. This can just make the anxiety and panic worse and isn’t useful in terms of stress relief for dogs.