Dogs can get stressed just as easily as us humans, and often, we are the cause of that stress. Knowing how we affect our dog can help us to have a better relationship with them. A dog with less stress in their life will be a happier, healthier dog, and much less likely to do part-take in any unwanted behaviours.
Dogs can hear four times the distance of a human with normal hearing. This means things that are kind of loud to us – vacuum cleaner, blender, lawn mower etc – are downright ear piercing to a dog. Loud noises can really stress out a dog not only are they are scary to some, but they can also cause pain and damage. Be respectful of your dog’s keen hearing and, whenever possible, don’t have them in the same room as you if you are being overtly loud.
Dogs have soulful eyes, and many have beautiful faces that make us want to stare at them forever. Especially dogs with blue eyes or unique markings. But to a dog, a long stare is a challenge that can mean, ‘I want to fight.’ For dogs, staring is uncomfortable and if your dog is already stressed or nervous, a long stare can push them into an action you are not anticipating, such as a lunge, barking fit or even a bite. Staring in canine language is rather rude.
Hugging and Kissing
Hugging and Kissing are human signs of affection, to many dogs, especially little breeds, they are frightening actions. Imagine something ten times your size coming in, grabbing you without your permission, pulling you to them and sticking their face in yours. Scary! And that’s exactly how alot of dog’s feel about hugging and kissing. It’s much nicer to pat them, give them a scratch behind the ears or offer them a meaty bone to say ‘I love You.’ Your dog will understand that far better and not associate you with stress and fear.
Allowing Strangers and Strange Dogs to Greet Them
Along the same vein of hugging and kissing is the idea that your dog needs to say ‘Hi’ to every person and dog they meet. Do you say hello to every person you pass in a store? How about at the mall or walking across the park? No. So why should your dog be made to greet every dog and human they see? And for many, this is stressful. Dogs on leash, especially, tend to be more stressed about greeting other beings, because they have no way to escape. The leash adds to the tension and it is why many dogs are reactive (bark, lunge, bite) on leash but are fine off leash at the dog park. Just remember to watch your dog and if they don’t want to greet anyone, don’t force them.
Waking Them Up
Anyone who has had to wake up an older dog that is going deaf probably already knows this. You can see the fear in their eyes as they jump up, frantically trying to gain their bearings and figure out what is going on. The old adage ‘let sleeping dog’s lay’ came from the truth that often, a dog scared awake will bite. So, whenever possible, let your dog sleep. If you do have to wake them up, like taking them out to go the bathroom, try to wake them as gently as possible. Say their name as you approach. If it’s a deaf dog, tap your foot on the ground near them, so they feel the tremor under them. If they are on a bed, tap the bed. Try to wake them without touching to reduce stress and avoid the possibility of a bite.
Bringing in a New Animal
Assuming dogs are social creatures, we often think ‘more the merrier’ and bring other animals into our house without a thought for the existing pet. For some dogs this can put them under alot of pressure, especially if the dog has lived alone for most of their life. Not all dogs want to share their space with another animal, whether it be a dog, cat, rabbit, etc. So before committing to another animal, try to have a visit and see how the dog reacts. Do they show signs of stress? Some dogs do prefer the solitary life and forcing them to co-habitat can not only cause stress but ultimately lead to fighting.
Restricting Animal Instincts
As an animal, a dog has instincts that are born into them. Things like sniffing, chasing, barking, and chewing – these are ‘doggie’ things – it’s part of their nature. Unfortunately, these are the very things as humans we try to stop our dogs from doing, which can cause them to stress. While we do have to train our dogs to not bark at everything, giving them outlets for these instincts is important so we can have a stress-free dog, not a destructive one. When you take them out on their walks, allow them to sniff. Let them chase a ball and give them a meaty bone to chew on. Otherwise, a stressed out and bored dog will find their own outlets – and that may will cause you stress.
It’s important to note that not all of these are stress triggers for every dog – each dog has their own stress points. However, realising that stress could be there is a good first step. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and make changes to your routine if you notice the following signals:
· Bulged out eyes
· Cowering and/or shaking
· Ears out and/or back
· Furrowed brows
· Hyper-vigilant (looking in many directions at once)
· Licking the lips
· Showing the whites of their eyes
· Slow movements
· Won’t eat
If you see your dog doing any of these, it’s time to change your habits to make your dog more comfortable, which in turn will result in a better relationship with them. Most dogs that bite do so out of fear or stress, far more so than aggression.