Your canine friend is a valued member of your family, and it’s heartbreaking to see any family member feeling stressed.
Just as humans suffer from stress, so do pets. Your pet’s nervous system is susceptible to environmental and relational stressors, just like yours. In fact, stress is more common in dogs than you may think. Even worse, stress can negatively impact your dog’s health.
Dogs can feel stressed for a number of reasons, including a new person in the home, fireworks, storms, moving to a new home, being enclosed or in a crate, a vet visit or getting lost. Also, some breeds are more susceptible to stress than others.
Recognizing signs of stress is important, since your dog cannot communicate his feelings with words. There are several telltale signs of stress that every pet owner should know. These include:
- Excessive panting.
- Tail between the legs.
- Lip licking.
- Ears pinned back.
- Paw raises.
- Sweaty paws.
- Tense muscles.
- Biting the leash.
- Tail wagging.
- Shivering (when it’s not cold).
- Diarrhea, constipation or other digestive issues.
- Decrease in appetite.
- Increased sleeping.
- Aggression toward people or other animals.
Stress is bad for your pet’s health. It weakens the immune system and makes your pet more susceptible to diseases. A stressed dog is more likely to develop high blood pressure or coronary heart disease as well as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, ulcers, digestive issues, memory loss, muscle tension and fatigue.
No matter how stressed your dog is, you can help your pet cope with stress and overcome the problem.
Here are the top 10 ways to help your dog overcome stress.
1. Avoid Triggers
When it comes to coping with a stressed dog, you should identify the triggers that cause stress in your pet and avoid them when necessary. This can be one of the simplest yet most difficult treatment options.
Some common triggers that can be avoided are fireworks, a new guest or loud music.
For instance, if your dog gets stressed due to loud music, then keep the music volume low in your home. If you need to play loud music, keep the door closed and put your pet in his safe zone (see # 6 Create a Safe Zone below).
Desensitizing your pet is another effective option to reduce stress. Desensitizing involves exposing your pet to a trigger at comfortable time and gradually increasing levels, until your dog no longer reacts to it with fear or stress.
For instance, if your dog becomes stressed during a storm, you can work on desensitizing the fear by playing sounds of a storm in an otherwise controlled environment. The more your pet is exposed to the trigger, the sooner he will overcome the fear.
If your pet fears going to the dog park and meeting other dogs, slowly introduce him to another dog by inviting a friend to come to your home with their dog. When your pet will spend time with other pets and people, the fear of meeting new dogs or people will go away.
3. Build Trust
Help your dog build trust with you, as it will help bring down his stress level.
Physical contact helps both humans and dogs relieve anxiety, fear and stress, so try petting your dog or sitting near him whenever your dog seems stressed.
The more time you spend with your dog, the more opportunities you give your pet to build trust. It also helps to develop a mutual understanding and bond with each other.
Also, allow your dog to interact with you or others in the household on his own terms to build trust. Do not rush or force a level of interaction that makes your dog uncomfortable.
Exercise is good for a dog that suffers from stress. At times, stress can be due to inactivity and can be relieved by engaging your pet in physical activities.
It doesn’t need to be strenuous activity. You can take your pet for a walk nearby and allow him to explore new areas. Walking will help your dog expend stored-up energy and release some feel-good hormones, which in turn will help him calm down.
Also, play with your dog regularly. The more time you spend with your dog, the more secure he will feel.
5. Play Music
Just as music is soothing to humans, your stressed dog may also benefit from listening to music. However, loud music like rock, heavy metal and jazz can trigger stress in dogs.
To keep your dog calm and happy, play soothing and classical music.
You can also play music specifically developed for pets. Such music comes in handy when your dog suffers from separation anxiety. Keep the music playing while you are away from your pet, so that your canine friend can handle separation better.
6. Create a Safe Zone
No matter how big or small your house is, set apart an area in your home for your dog. This will be a place where your pet can retreat when stressed.
Just like humans, pets love the feeling of having their own place where they can feel safe from any intrusion or stressful situations.
Make sure the area is clean and dog-friendly. You can put a special blanket down for your dog or a favorite toy for him to play with.
Visit your dog in the safe zone often, as your presence can make a huge difference during a stressful situation.
7. Promote Independence
To help your dog handle stress, you must discourage neediness. This can be done by gradually promoting independence.
For instance, introduce new activities and toys and teach your dog to settle down and engage in activities without you. There is no need for your dog to hover around you. You canine friend should learn to keep himself engaged, even if there is no one around him.
If needed, install baby gates throughout the house, so you can move from room to room freely without your dog always being able to follow. This will train your dog to remain calm when you are not nearby and handle separation better.
8. Touch Therapy
Touch therapy is one of the best ways that you can use to help ease your dog’s stress. Touch is reassuring to dogs and raises their confidence level.
Cuddle your furry friend and give him a nice massage to help soothe and calm him down. You can also massage your dog to help him feel relaxed.
Reward your dog with a treat and praise him when he responds positively to your efforts. But no matter what, don’t punish your dog if he doesn’t respond well. That will only worsen the situation and make him more stressed out.
Just like humans, dogs can relax when they smell something soothing. When it comes to aromatherapy, chamomile essential oil and lavender essential oil are safe for dogs.
Put a few drops of chamomile or lavender essential oil on a handkerchief and wrap it around your dog’s neck. Your dog will smell the scent and soon feel relaxed.
You can also consult your vet for advice on balms and sprays that are specifically formulated for pets. Always follow the label instructions for proper use, and make sure your dog doesn’t lick the product.
10. Consult Your Vet
If your dog still experiences a lot of stress even after trying these methods, consult your vet. At times, stress can be related to some health problem.
With a proper checkup, your vet can identify any problem that may need treating. As the health problem gets under control, so will your dog’s stress level.
Also, your vet can recommend a good behavioral trainer, who can teach your pet how to cope with stressors. Prescribed stress medicines can also help.