We all know that too much stress can be harmful to our mental and physical health. So, to celebrate Stress Awareness Month this April, let’s focus on creating some new, healthy habits to reduce our stress and anxiety levels. Spending quality time with our pets certainly helps and maybe you’ve even wished you could trade places with your dog during stressful times in your life. It may seem like our pups have it made, going about their business with not a care in the world while all their needs are being met by you. But the truth is, our pets do feel stress sometimes and too much of it can affect their health and well-being too. Is your dog stressed out and you don’t even realize it?
Is Your Dog Stressed Out?
Observing your dog’s body language
is the easiest way to tell if they’re feeling anxious. Here are the most common signs to look for:
- Pacing or Restlessness
- Lip Licking or Drooling
- Sweaty Paws
- Tense Body or Hypervigilance
- Tucked Tail
- Raised Hackles
- Excessive Barking or Whining
- Shedding Hairs
- Uninterested in Playing or Eating
- Repetitive or Destructive Behaviors (Digging, Chewing, etc.)
- Hiding or Trying to Escape
- Shaking or Trembling
- Agitation or Aggressive Behaviors
- Urination, Vomiting or Diarrhea
That’s quite a list of symptoms ranging from very subtle to severe, but any behavior that’s not normal for your dog could mean they’re feeling stressed.
What Makes Dogs Stressed?
There are obvious stress inducers for most dogs, like visiting the vet, groomer or staying at a kennel. Traveling or changes in routine can also create anxiety for our pups. Other common culprits are loud noises, thunderstorms, physical pain or trauma and staying home alone. Dogs are also affected by stressful events in our lives, like moving to a new home, divorce or new family members coming into the home (human or other pets).
Other events that can trigger anxiety might not be as obvious. Boredom, exuberant play sessions, overexcitement, meeting new people or dogs and socializing puppies are a few examples of situations where you might not realize your dog could be feeling stressed. There’s no way to avoid all stressors but there are ways to limit excess anxiety for you and your dog. Here are ten easy ways you can work on it together!
10 Ways You and Your Dog Can De-Stress Together
Enjoy some downtime together by petting your dog or giving him a relaxing massage. You’ll soon notice that both of you are feeling much happier and less stressed. You could even try meditating with your dog
or practicing mindfulness exercises
. To better help your dog, check out TTouch
exercises or the helpful advice in Grow Young With Your Dog
Physical exercise is very effective for releasing endorphins and reducing stress in both people and their pups. Whether you take a walk or head outside for an active game of fetch, moving together will make both of you feel healthier and happier. Exercise is especially helpful for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety and don’t forget about providing mental stimulation exercises and games for your dog too.
3. Lower Your Voice
Whether you’re yelling at your dog or vocalizing frustrations about your day to someone else, take a break and practice some deep breathing exercises for a few moments to calm down. Yelling at your dog only creates confusion and breaks down trust. Rather than repeatedly saying “No!
” to your pup while shaking your finger in his face, work on positive, productive and peaceful approaches to dealing with his frustrating behaviors.
4. Work on Training
You can eliminate most of the frustration and stress from your dog’s unwanted behavior by working more on training so he understands your expectations and will demonstrate good manners. Also, be consistent about enforcing the rules of the house so your pup doesn’t get confused or stressed.
5. Protect Your Pup
Step in and protect your dog in situations where he might feel uncomfortable or anxious. Many dogs get stressed when meeting strangers or energetic children. Others may feel anxious when forced to greet or interact with dogs they may not like. By preventing a negative interaction, you’ll both avoid unnecessary stress. If you’re socializing a puppy, work at a pace that’s comfortable for them so they don’t feel pressured.
6. Take a Nap
Lie down next to your pooch and enjoy an afternoon snooze together. Just remember to let sleeping dogs lie
while they’re dozing. It can be stressful on a dog to suddenly be jolted awake from a deep sleep.
7. Reduce Household Stress
When you’re feeling overloaded or anxious, your dog may pick up on your stress. Whether they shy away from you or want to jump in your lap, take your dog’s reaction as a cue to practice some relaxation techniques. If there’s a lot going on in your household at the moment, make sure your dog has a safe place to retreat to and relax.
8. Keep a Consistent Routine
As much as we sometimes like to break out of a rut, routines help keep us grounded and our pets especially feel more comfortable when they have a predictable routine. Major disruptions to a dog’s routine can be very stressful.
9. Accept Your Dog
Don’t fight nature by expecting your pooch to act more like a person than a dog. Accept your pup and all of his canine qualities and you’ll be less stressed when he exhibits those typical dog behaviors like barking, chewing, digging, chasing cats or even being an opportunist around food. Work more on training and find desirable or creative outlets for unwanted behaviors.
10. Provide Balance
Strive to create harmony through balance. Too much of anything, even good things, can cause stress. For example, overstimulating your dog with too much excitement can cause excess adrenaline and stress. Too much exercise or activity can be just as bad as too little exercise and can lead to obsessive behaviors. Make sure your pup has plenty of downtime and relaxation as well as fun and exercise.
Every dog is different. Just like some people suffer more from anxiety, so do some dogs. If your pup is unusually anxious and none of these methods help, check with your vet to make sure there’s not a medical reason for their symptoms of stress, especially if you have an older dog that might be experiencing pain from an injury or arthritis. Consulting with a holistic vet can offer additional treatment options for calming anxiety, like herbal and nutritional supplements, aromatherapy, acupuncture and more.
I hope you take some time this month to focus on lowering the stress level for both you and your dog. Stress will always be a part of our lives but we can keep it at a healthy level by practicing these and other relaxation methods.
Is your dog stressed out? Share your thoughts and stress-reducing techniques in the comment section below!