Dogs can become anxious and stressed for many reasons, just like humans. Unlike us, dogs have no way to alleviate stress themselves. As a dog owner, you will need to be the one who helps your dog through any challenging times, by knowing the signs of canine anxiety and stress, and by engaging with stress management practices with your dog.
Monitoring your dog for signs of stress and enabling him to feel better without over-comforting him is vital to help him overcome the stressors in his life. How you do this will depend on your dog, but there are many things that you can do to help alleviate his anxieties.
Here are a few of the best practices that any dog owner needs to know about dealing with canine stress.
Keep An Eye Out For Signs Of Stress
Signs of stress can vary in dogs from the very obvious, like whining or cowering, to subtler signs like licking his lips or blinking a lot. The most common symptoms of anxiety in dogs are pacing, wide eyes and being able to see the whites of his eyes, growling, whining and barking, his ears pressed back against his head and changes in posture such as tucking his tail in.
As a dog owner, you will need to know all of the potential signs so that you can intervene immediately if your dog displays anxious behaviours. It is also vital that you know your dog’s usual behaviours, as things like licking his lips could be a nervous action or simply a reaction to what you’re eating!
Take Him Somewhere Quiet
If you notice your dog becoming stressed in a situation where there are loud or strange noises, crowds or unfamiliar people, it is essential that you take him somewhere quiet to calm him down. If you are on a walk in the park, you could take him to an empty spot with no other dogs or people if possible. If he gets anxious at home, try taking him to a quiet place in the house for some one-to-one time.
Where possible, you should aim to have a space that your dog knows is entirely his own, like a crate or cage. This is particularly helpful if you have a busy family home. Make sure this is an inviting space by filling it with blankets, dog-proof cushions and toys. You could also cover the top with blankets to create a dark, calm space for your dog. This way, when he is feeling overwhelmed in your house, he can go there to nap or calm down away from the bustle of your home.
Make Sure His Diet Is Right For Him
The right diet is essential to your dog’s happiness. Like humans, dogs enjoy variety in their meals, so if you are feeding your dog the same meal day after day, adding some variety to his diet could help to improve his mood.
One form of dog food that is quickly gaining popularity among the dog owners community is grain free dog food. This diet can do wonders to improve a dog’s physical and mental health.
Grains tend to cause bloating and upset stomachs in dogs, which can negatively impact your dog’s mental health. Just like humans, dogs don’t enjoy feeling gassy and bloated! Check out this excellent guide to grain free dog food from Bella & Duke for more information on how your dog can benefit from a grain free diet.
Avoiding over-comforting can be challenging for many dog owners, as their natural instinct will be to give fuss and reassurance until he feels safe. This can often do more harm than good, as your dog will take this to mean that he was right to be stressed, and he will continue to be anxious in similar situations in the future.
Instead, you could do some basic commands like sit and lie down, and give him treats to reward him. This will help distract him from the source of his stress and give you a better reason to fuss and reward him.
Your dog should look to you as the pack leader. This means that in situations where he is stressed, you will need to be calm and steady, to show him that there is nothing to be afraid of and that you are in control of the situation. He will need to trust you to be able to take care of him in stressful scenarios.
Dogs are very intuitive, so if you worry about him being stressed, your dog would likely sense this, and it will only compound the problem, making him more anxious.
As with humans, exercise can be one of the best cures for stress in dogs. It would be best if you aimed to take him on walks daily, the length of which depends on the size, mobility and age of your dog. This can also include energetic play sessions, off lead walks and anything else your dog enjoys.
Regular exercise will help to reduce your dog’s stress levels while enabling him to live a happy, healthy life.
Consider Desensitising Him
If your dog gets anxious in certain situations, you could consider desensitising him to the trigger of his stress. This should be done very carefully to ensure that you don’t inadvertently cause more stress to your dog.
A good example is if your dog is nervous around strangers or other dogs. If this is the case, you could get him used to other people and dogs in a controlled environment. It is important not to do this too quickly so you could start by introducing him to a smaller dog. If one of your friends owns a calm, older dog, this could be perfect. Keep both dogs on their leads and allow your dog to slowly get used to the other dog’s scent.
Desensitising may not work for all stressors in your dog’s life. If in doubt, it is worth consulting with a professional dog trainer to ensure that you do not accidentally make your dog’s anxiety worse.
Play Him Music
Playing calming music can help a dog to relax. This can be anything you like, but it is best to steer clear of anything overly energetic if the aim is to help calm your dog. Classical music or other instrumental music is perfect for promoting a calm atmosphere in your home.
You could also consider leaving music playing for your dog when you are out of the house. Particularly if your dog suffers from separation anxiety, having soothing music playing or even leaving the television on while you’re away can help reduce his anxiety levels.
Stress is a natural part of life for any animal. It stems from a vital survival instinct that all animals possess from living in the wild. It is important to remember this while dealing with a stressed dog so that you can provide the right type of reassurance.
While stress is a normal thing, and you will never be able to eliminate stress from your dog’s life completely, you should do what you can to reduce any unnecessary stress so that your dog can live a full, healthy and happy life.